Heathlands at The Legends
South Carolina, United States of America
Some courses never get their fair share of recognition. Perhaps they are out of the way (Pennard in Wales) or because they live in the shadow of great courses (Lundin or Elie in Fife, Scotland). Other courses just aren’t in an area that is treated seriously as providing top notch course design. One such example is Kapalua Plantation on Hawaii) and another example is The Dunes Golf and Country Club, Robert Trent Jones’ finest design. If The Dunes was removed from the melee of Myrtle Beach and was in Charleston for instance, it would stand out more and receive the recognition it deserves.
Another course that suffers the same fate is the Heathland, west of Myrtle Beach. It is part of the Legends Golf Complex that features three different courses. The complex itself is immense and features a gigantic parking lot that holds hundreds of cars and a fleet of golf carts (riding is mandatory). The carts themselves are equipped with the all-important electronic yardage device. In short, traditionalists are unlikely to find this to be dream golf!
With so much hindering the enjoyment of playing a simple game, it takes a truly fine design to compensate and make it worthwhile. Heathland is such a course but it is a course that owes its quality to the work of the architect rather than being a site that was blessed with tremendous natural beauty. So many of the courses profiled in this web site occupy stunning property (Royal County Down, Pine Valley, Sand Hills, the list goes on and on). Heathland is the exact opposite: it was flat and had no natural features to speak of and was entirely shaped by man. It showcases what an architect can achieve when he is presented with an undistinguished canvas.
Opened in 1990, the course was the second course built by Tom Doak. First thing Tom did was to strip the 175 acres and shape it wall to wall. From there, he laid the holes over the gently undulating terrain. He also created two burns for drainage, which are used to great effect on the thirteenth and sixteenth holes. True to its name, the course enjoys a genuine expansiveness. Only on the fifth hole do trees have any say in the strategy of how to play a hole. Otherwise, the course is handsomely dotted with seven foot or less low lying scrub. The wind – the course is only eight miles from the Atlantic Ocean – blows across the landscape freely. The width of the course encourages the better golfer to play aggressively while allowing the more modest Myrtle Beach golfer to still have fun.
At the end of the day, like all Doak courses, one’s score depends on how well one handles Doak’s original green complexes. Plenty of fairways and greens may well be hit on this course but a 40 putt round never helps a golfer’s cause, as the author sadly found out. When shaping land, man will never capture the subtleties that nature freely provides. Apart from anything else, it would take too long and blow any budget (ignore Shadow Creek). However, the result at Heathland is remarkably successful and represents some of the best shaping in modern times. Hole after hole falls naturally over the land and the overall consistency is matched by few courses.
Given how little he started with, the course highlights the skill that a golf course architect brings to a project, as we see below.
Holes to Note
Third hole, 210 yards; The golfer faces a green of unusual width (50 yards plus). Doak provides this kind of breadth on the first, fifteenth, and seventeenth holes as well. By laying the rolling greens across the line of play, a variety of hole locations are realised and the course is given a tremendous amount of flexibility.
Seventh hole, 460 yards; This rendition of the Road Hole green complex is so well done as to make Seth Raynor jealous. It measures the exact right distance for a true 4 1/2 par hole. The three foot rise at the front of the green is perfectly done and a chasing shot is of great fun to execute.
Eleventh hole, 400 yards; A deceptive hole, the fairway bunkers need to be ignored, first off the tee and then 70 yards short of the green. The fairway bunker 220 yards on the right hand side of the fairway should be well and truly missed as the better line to the green is from the left side of the fairway. The bunkers well short of the green pose depth perception problems and nine out of ten golfers come up short of this green. The green is angled away from the golfer to the right and slopes toward back right.
Thirteenth hole, 535 yards; An interesting par five and the very type that the United Kingdom misses: a par five that tests all three shots. The drive must skirt a fairway bunker on the right side in order to cross the ‘burn’ on one’s second shot. The second shot must be well executed and placed between three fairway bunkers in order to have a wedge down the length of the long green.
Sixteenth hole, 460 yards; A glorious par four that is buried amongst the 2,000 golf holes around Myrtle Beach. From the elevated tee, the golfer must decide how to tackle the burn that runs diagonally across the fairway from right to left. If the golfer successfully carries the burn into the right hand side of the fairway, he is rewarded with an uninterrupted view down the length of the green. A bunker with a sleepered wall fronts the left side of the green some 50 yards short of the green. The rolling green itself is a work of art and turns many a ‘5’ into a ‘6.’
Eighteenth hole, 430 yards; A perfect fairway bunkering pattern: four bunkers short down the right side starting at the 210 yard mark and three bunkers longer down the left side starting at the 230 yard mark. The green is long and narrow and is well bunkered on both sides. At 49 yards deep, the approach shot can be more taxing than on the hole’s inspiration, the eighteenth at Royal Lytham & St. Annes whose green is an easier target. But the real trick is the comparative narrowness of the green. After playing a ‘broad’ course, and just having played the 17th green which is more than twice as wide, Doak presents the golfer with a tight target. As this is at the crucial moment in many a match, it is a highly effective ploy.
The effectiveness of some holes is hampered by the need to build large greens to accommodate the amount of heavy traffic. For instance, the fifteenth green is too wide (45 yards) and deep (37 yards) and lacks the contour necessary for the green to be this short par four’s real defense. Indeed, the fact that Doak had to build this course for such traffic is a pity – a touch more fairway bunkering and smaller greens would make the course ideal. Also, as a walking course, it would be sheer pleasure.
Nonetheless, standing on the fourth tee one crisp January day, and looking down the expanse of the fairway and across to the seventh hole with a breeze in one’s face, there is a sense that one is truly out on a heath. That exalted sense is quashed the moment one gets in his mandatory golf cart and zooms off. Nonetheless, the course and its holes linger in the mind.