Return play fuels Black Bear Golf Club on the north end of the Myrtle Beach Grand Strand
LONGS, S.C. -- Bob Berends can't catch a break at Black Bear Golf Club.
The North Carolina resident has played the Myrtle Beach-area course a handful of times over the past three years, and he's greeted each trip with a marshal instructing him of cart path-only rounds. Normally, the restriction followed heavy rains. The limits during his most recent visit in early October, though, came after one of the course's strategic moves.
Black Bear has taken a different approach to its fall improvement the last five years. Instead of waiting until after the weather completely turns, Black Bear General Manager and Course Superintendent Bernie Lowe gets it out of the way a few weeks earlier than most of the courses in the area.
There's a method to the club's proverbial industry madness.
"It seems like we've always had a little more success to get it done a little early and take our chances then," Wilkinson said. "We try to be opposite of what the norm is. ... We're one of the few courses down here that do that. We'll match our course against anybody come springtime or even December.
"For the last four, five years, we haven't missed a beat. We'll match up with anybody."
Black Bear's reputation on the Grand Strand continues to rise because of that forward thinking. Combine it with Wilkinson's commitment to the junior golf scene, and the next wave of dedicated players isn't too far away, either.
The course doesn't need to worry too much about promotional details. In fact, when an employee recently sent out more than 49,000 free rounds of golf by accident via e-mail, no one panicked. Instead, they started honoring the freebies one by one.
The way Wilkinson sees it, Black Bear has the product to keep customers coming back for more.
Black Bear Golf Club: The course
Black Bear can pride itself on more than just a successful overseeding schedule.
The challenge of the course itself is deceiving, even for those who know what lies ahead. Black Bear has players going back and forth from wide-open fairways to slivers of green grass at which to aim at.
Trees and plenty of water make it a good idea to bring a few extra balls, even for the more experienced player.
"I thought it was challenging," Berends said. "It's not too easy; it's not too difficult. That's the best way to put it. It's good for the mid- to low-handicap."
The course plays at just shy of 6,800 yards from the blacks, with the average players teeing off from about 6,200 yards. And while the frustration of some of those tee shot angles can get you, the biggest frustration may be at the greens.
"The greens are fast; the speed is unbelievable," Wilkinson said. "Everyone likes fast greens."
The Champion Bermuda grass adds a touch of difficulty to the course. While most of the greens are relatively flat, surrounding bunkers and water make longer putts even more dangerous. A four- or five-putt hole isn't out of the question, and no, a drop after reaching the green isn't unheard of.
All four par 3s (No. 3, No. 6, No. 13 and No. 16) fall into that category, as do several of the par 4s and par 5s.
The Tom Jackson design has several other caveats to it, as well. Multiple holes, including No. 15, have trees in the middle of the fairway. There are 23 finger lakes in play.
And for those who begin their day on No. 1, they finish with a scene straight out of the movie "Tin Cup." After teeing off on the 495-yard par 5, players are tempted to hit their second shot over a large pond in order to reach the green in two.
Black Bear Golf Club: Facilities and instruction
The club's bag drop, like most courses, is located next to the parking lot. However, by the time players make their way into the pro shop, their bags are being carted behind the main building to where both a large driving range and the starter wait.
Each cart is GPS equipped to take some of the guessing out of the equation. And marshals have no problem giving scoring tips before and during the rounds.
Black Bear also offers a small putting green and full-service snack bar. Instruction is low-key, with lessons generally costing around $35 per person or $20 for juniors.
Black Bear Golf Club: The verdict
Black Bear Golf Club's reputation speaks for itself.
Even though Black Bear is not located in the main corridor of Grand Strand courses, it attracts plenty of attention from locals and tourists alike.
Most of the time, like Berends, players return time and time again.
Some of it can be attributed to the different challenges. For others, they keep coming back for a guaranteed fast-paced round on consistently solid conditions.
October 12, 2011