Pawleys Plantation begins with what is probably its easiest hole. The 511-yard (from the tips) par 5 bends very gently to the right and is reachable in two for longer hitters and reachable with a wedge or short iron in regulation for most everyone else. In fact, if you’ve hit two solid shots on the first and you’re a mid-iron or farther out from the green, move up a set of tees. Don’t worry; Pawleys will still test you plenty.
The remainder of the back nine meanders through coastal forest, concluding with the course’s only bunkerless hole. But peril does nonetheless lurk at the par four 9th in the form of a stately live oak tree in the middle of the fairway and a shallow green fronted by a deep swale. The rule of thumb off the tee is to play to the opposite side of the tree from where the flag sits on the green. If in doubt, play right of the tree.
When you burst out onto the marsh as you arrive at the 12th green, you have begun one of the most memorable stretches of golf in the state. If you hit the near-island green 13th from the tee, the rest of your group will never hear the end of it, with good reason. If you make your birdie putt, no one will ever hear the end of it. Ever.
As famous as the 13th is, the 14th is the best hole on the inward nine. It’s a par five, flanked by marsh down the right, that demands a bit of backwards thinking for success. Unless you drive it very close to the marsh where the fairway begins to narrow, going for the shallow green in two is foolish. But if and when you lay up, hit as much club as you can well out to the left in the hopes of leaving an open view of the green. If you lay too far back, you will be coming in over wetland and sand. It is a brilliant hole that takes multiple plays to figure out.
After National Golf Management took Pawleys over in 2011, the place has been in phenomenal shape, its fairways lusher and its greens faster than at any time in recent memory. Your intrepid author has noticed the green edges receding from the bunkers a bit and would like to see them expanded back toward previous spots again, but this is a fairly minor gripe.
The staff, from the bag drop to the pro shop to folks at the après-golf Palmetto Pub, is welcoming and knowledgeable. The food is good, the beer cold and experience relaxed.
Pawleys Plantation is one of the four or five best golf courses south of Myrtle Beach International Airport and one of the dozen best courses on the Grand Strand. It’s tough, it’s beautiful, it’s well-kept and a generally peaceful, friendly place to play golf. Leaving it out of your South-Strand golf trip itinerary would be unwise.