Myrtle Beach Memoir: A Golfer's First Trip to the Strand
I brought the exciting news home to my wife that evening after work.
"I've been invited to go to Myrtle Beach for a week!"
I went on to explain I would be joining seven Canadians during the first week in February.
"How do you know them?" she asked.
"I don't. I've never met them."
She then threw me a look maybe Columbus's wife threw Chris when he told her he'd be sailing west to go east.
"You're going on a week's vacation with 7 total strangers?" she finally managed.
Putting it that way made it seem odd all of a sudden, but I hadn't really given it much thought. I've often played a round of golf with people I've never met before. The experience has generally gone very well, and has led me to develop certain theories of male behavior.*
I should also point out that this would be my first ever visit to a true golf Mecca, and what I found when I arrived, exceeded even my wildest (yet quite superficial) expectations.
Here was a place that was clearly guy-designed, guy-supported, and guy-dominated. The only thing about the place remotely related to anything feminine was the name of the Beach. Everything else seemed a response to the question: if you were a guy and wanted a totally guy place to play guy games, what would it look like? Fellas, it would look exactly like Myrtle Beach.
I can't tell you too much about the accommodations, except to say we were accommodated. I mean we had bedrooms, bathrooms, a living room, a sliding glass door that opened to a - what can I say- a view of the beach for whatever that's worth.
There was a kitchen, but I couldn't really tell you what was in it, like a microwave or if there were enough spatulas, serving plates, can openers, or whisks. There was an oven. I know that because that's what we used to dry our shoes in the evening. There was also a washer and dryer, about which more later.
Oh, by the way, I met the guys I would be spending the week with. They seemed OK. I can't really remember their names, I remember calling all of them "Guy" (the French Canadian pronunciation) most of the week,until they told me to stop. I kidded them about their handicaps being worth 35% less on this side of the border, but the expression on their faces told me to back off on exchange humor the rest of the week as well.
I did a little research prior to going to Myrtle, and I learned there are about 4,000,000 golf courses there with about ten thousand being built each week. Or something like that. I don't really like research all that much.
But I know this. If you have to drive more than 15 minutes to your first tee time anywhere any time during the week, you either like to drive or your tour guide has a warped sense of humor. We had commutes of about thirty minutes a day, but after the way my currency exchange humor went over, I kept my mouth shut, editorially speaking.
The whole objective of a Myrtle Beach trip as I see it is to play as much golf as daylight permits, then try not to fall face first from exhaustion into the pudding bar that evening at dinner. Being February, our day began before the sun came up, and ended in darkness after 36 holes of play. Then we hit the strip.
There were several, but they were all set up the same: gas station, liquor store, golf store, All-You-Can-Digest-Without-Imodium AD buffet, and Gentlemen's Club. In short, you could gas up, liquor up, re-load on balls and tees, gas up again (as it were) then top off the evening with a few hours of silicone fantasies. Then back to the room for a good night's sleep before the "work" day began again the next morning.
Did I mention yet the family amenities that are provided here? Then I'll talk about the golf courses instead. You could take the view that Myrtle Beach is a kind of Wal-Mart of golf. The scale is grand, but the presentation is utilitarian, uniform, and indistinct. But there are no short white-haired grannies welcoming you to the "golf and housewares" department, and there was no sign strung across highway 17 heralding that "we golf for less".
The whole objective of a Myrtle Beach trip as I see it is to play as much golf as daylight permits.
To me every one of the courses I played was a gem in its own right. I realize that this is coming from someone who thinks cubic zirconium is pretty classy stuff, but I do know what makes a golf course great: rough and wooded areas sparse enough to slap a 4 iron back into play.
Now I can appreciate a fairway of thick, Bermuda carpet just like the next man, but frankly I don't play many shots from the fairways. To paraphrase how Peter Aliss might describe my game, I am a "marvelous sprayer of the ball". To hold my interest I need more than just generous fairways; I need charitable rough, and positively philanthropic woods. I found these traits just about wherever I played.
There were some exceptions. At a place called Wild Wing which boasts its "first eight holes through wetlands, and remaining 10 through a majestic pine forest", I became the Lewis and Clark of my foursome.
I wound up dunking so many balls into those eight wetland holes that day, there are probably dozens of nesting pairs of herons, cranes, sandpipers, and snipe still trying to hatch a collection of Titleists, Top Flites, and eventually Molitor X-outs into healthy offspring. And I paid so much homage to the majesty of the pine forest, that I could have owned my own barony by the end of the round.
But Wild Wing was the exception. More often my experience was more like that at Colonial Charters and Burning Ridge where the wooded majesties possessed a decidedly egalitarian approach to my errant wood or iron, often ejecting a slashing snap hook back into the fairway with even a slight draw or an occasional high fade.
These are my kind of courses, places where a barkie can stand shoulder to shoulder with a green-in-regulation, and making a par without creating a fairway divot or ball mark on the green is still a par. I can't tell you how many times I told my Canadian freres that it ain't how, it's how many. Actually, I do know how many times because they kept count, and that was something else I was told to stop by the end of the week.
I think the course I hold the fondest memories of, though, was Quail Creek. We played on the most forlornly rainy day of the entire week. (Of the seven days we were down there, we got rain on five of them - the other two were just cold.) To me there's nothing sadder than a beautifully manicured and proud looking track taking on a bellyful of rain, and chasing everyone but the most water-resistant of its player's back into the clubhouse for drinks and bitter talk.
I'm happy to report myself and my fellow Canadian geese stayed the course and played on through water that was hardly casual. We completed the first 18, had a quick lunch and change of socks, then went out for another 18, playing under lift-clean-and-pour rules.
These were ideal conditions for me, because I could line-drive a bladed 3-iron dead solid perfect into the engorged green and have that glorified worm-burner check up and even back up as the ball slammed into the tidal surge rolling across the greens.
Upon greater reflection, it's certainly true Myrtle is not the Wal-Mart of golf, but a better analogy might be to see it as a giant upscale mall - the Mall of America of Golf, if you will. In other words if you can't find what you need or want in an environment that's aesthetically pleasing to the visual senses, then you don't need it or you shouldn't want it. No matter if you're a 3 or a 33, there's at least a week's worth of courses that will challenge you to your limit, or at least leave you feeling it was still worth the trip.
Anyway, in my own case, by week's end I had held my own in the daily skins game (although winning four on the first full day of play put me on Sandbagger Watch the rest of the week), and all the "Guys" seemed to have accepted me as one of their own. At least they all said they'd mail me their addresses and phone numbers when they got back home. (I don't know where they're going to mail them too; none of them asked me for my address.)
On the last night, I got domestic and decided to do some wash. Since none of us packed detergent (as if it had been on a list in the first place) I decided to try some automatic dishwashing detergent previous tenants had left behind. What I learned is that the detergent that goes in a dishwasher is different than what goes in a clothes washer in this important way: The dishwasher stuff will turn your colored pants and shirts into a '60's era tie-dye wardrobe.
My Canadian compadres took one look at my wash, and told me intelligence must also be discounted by 35% on this side of the border as well. I thought this meant that currency exchange humor was back in vogue, but it turned out it wasn't when they paid off my skins winnings in what they said were Euros, and which I found out later is a currency that hasn't even officially been put in circulation yet.
Still, remembering the warm smell of golf shoes drying in the oven even now gives the place a homey feel I still miss, eh.
As a postscript to this tale, two months after my virginal trip to The Strand, I received a call from a buddy with an opening in his Myrtle Beach group. I mentioned this to my wife whose response was an emphatic, "No!".
"Hey, what about a little discussion," I countered. "Why don't we lay our cards out on the table"She cast a steely-eyed glare, like the one Mrs. Columbus threw her husband when he told her had left his wallet in Hispaniola and had to voyage back to get it.
"There's no cards and there's no table," my beloved replied, case closed. In other words, fellas, Myrtle Beach is a once a year proposition. Just keep that in mind for future learning, like my insights into detergents, and Canadian currency jokes, should the opportunities avail themselves.
*Here is one of my theories: "Men prefer superficiality in their relationships. Looks over substance, grunting and pick-up cliches over conversation, drinking beer instead of listening to Mozart, viewing a Renoir, or even just watching the Discovery Channel. Men also prefer talking about themselves in the most superficial and deceptive ways possible, all of which works best when men are dealing with people they've never met before and are likely never to meet again."
(Exerpted from my book, Men Are From Mars, And Women Have Scrapped All Future Space Exploration, 1997, Inmate Books, Cellblock 11, Attica, New York.)