There's nothing easy about Long Bay Club
LONGS, S.C. -- Nicklaus Design, the course architecture arm of Jack Nicklaus's golfing empire, has designed approximately 275 courses around the world. One of them, Long Bay Club, located in Longs, S.C., just a few Golden Bear 1-irons west of North Myrtle Beach on Hwy. 9, has a historical distinction that few others in the collection can claim.
Work began on Long Bay in 1986, the year of Jack's last win in a major -- an unexpected triumph at the age of 46 at the Masters. Some of the Bear's Sunday-back-nine, come-from-behind, fist-pumping, yellow-shirt-and-plaid-pants, son-Jackie-on-the-bag, magical karma from that win at Augusta was fresh enough to have been transferred by green-jacket osmosis into this project.
So it's got that going for it. It also has unique design features on selected holes that include waste bunkers so massive that they serve secondary duty as cart paths, and man-made mounds radical enough that they should show up on Horry County topographical maps. Both elements were probably inspired by some of Nicklaus's adrenalin left over from Butler Cabin almost a generation ago.
"The design at Long Bay was something that was very innovative back at that time," said Jim Fellner, director of golf at Long Bay Club and Aberdeen Country Club, two of nine courses under the ownership of Myrtle Beach National Company. "I had been playing golf a long time (Fellner played the PGA Tour in 1980 after qualifying with the likes of Scott Hoch, Chip Beck and Mike Donald) and had never seen anything like it, particularly in this area. Some of his more recent designs, like Pawleys Plantation, have a couple of waste bunkers, but nothing like at Long Bay."
Long Bay Club officially opened for play in 1988. And like all Nicklaus Signature courses (Signature meaning Jack himself does the entire course routing on site), build it and they will come.
It has hosted the Carolinas Open, the Myrtle Beach Open, NCAA regional championships, U.S. Senior Open qualifying and over half a million rounds total since its inception.
Holes No. 7, 10, 13 and 18 made it into the pages of the book "The 100 Greatest Holes along the Grand Strand," an area that features well over 2,000 of them. Attracting crowds -- and accolades -- has never been a problem at this quality design.
"A Jack Nicklaus Signature course pulls golfers in," said Fellner. "Nicklaus is such a household name. In 15 or 20 years, this course will probably be an even more popular course to play. And being a Nicklaus Signature course, which is very, very important to many golfers, it offers everything the greatest player in the game wants a player to experience."
And what Nicklaus tests are a player's length and course management, two of his own strongest attributes in his heyday when he consistently bested Palmer, Watson, Trevino and Player on his way to 18 major professional championships.
"(Nicklaus) gives you plenty of room to hit the golf ball on this course, but from there you better be good," said Fellner.
The Myrtle Beach Sun News labeled Long Bay Club as "One of the (Grand) Strand's Most Difficult" among the 120-plus courses in the area.
Covering 7,025 yards from the back tees, it plays to an intimidating rating of 74.3 and a slope of 143. If those numbers mean nothing to you, it can be the equivalent of snow skiing down a sheer face. Stay on top of your game or your scorecard could get caught in an avalanche. Dreaded snowmen are not hard to find.
Fellner said visitors to the area are sometimes surprised at how much of a challenge they can face at the Long Bay Club.
"Some golfers here for the first time see the blue tees playing to 6,600 yards, which might be the same distance as the white tees at their home course. If they play the blues here, they are going to get beat up. It is not the same yardage. It is different here being close to the ocean. The humidity is high and the air is heavy at sea level. The ball is heavier and it doesn't fly as far."
The lesson being that golfers who view the game like it's a high school weightlifting contest had better know their own strength and choose to play from the correct tees. The course does not provide spotters to lift the layout off your throat if you overestimate your capabilities.
You will know you have stepped into the Bear's design lair when you step onto the tee box on No. 4, a 472-yard par-4. Ranked the No. 1 handicap, this is the first hole to feature waste areas running down both sides of the fairway. After hitting your tee shot and going after your ball, cart riders are greeted with a sign reading: "Waste Bunker Is Cart Path." For wayward drivers of the ball, it could just as well read: "Waste Bunker Is Your Next Shot. Get Used To It."
Jim Flick has yet to produce a video segment on hitting from a tricky lie in a golf cart tire tread mark (Carlisle Links tire 18x8.50-8NHS to be exact), so you are on your own.
Another feature on this hole, and many others on the course, is an unseen pot bunker on the back side of the green, so choose your approach clubs carefully.
As Fellner explains, ignorance can truly be bliss for golfers playing Long Bay Club for the first time.
"Your first time around you might say, 'This is not too tough.' Each time you play it and see more of the course, you know you can't hit it long here, or hit it right here or it means instant bogey. Every time you play it, the tougher it can get. You start seeing all the trouble you might have missed the first time around."
The signature hole on Jack's signature course is No. 10, a short par-4 of 352 yards that has a narrow fairway landing strip surrounded by a horseshoe waste bunker. The green is elevated and small with significant mounding behind. These elevated Nicklaus foothills, found mostly on the opening holes of the back nine, were put in primarily for privacy from heavily traveled Hwy. 9 that runs nearby, according to Fellner. But they can also come into play and leave delicate chips from a grassy precipice.
Another memorable hole on the back nine is the par-3 island green on No. 13. It plays to just 156 yards but can test your nerves and concentration, particularly when the pin locations flirt with the water.
No. 18, the second handicapped hole, is the final test of a player's skills and resolve. It is a 445-yard par-4 that doglegs right with water running down the right side. The clubhouse sits directly behind the green and is a welcomed sight for those anxious for a safe haven to share their stories of an encounter with the Golden Bear.
"When players come off the course for the first time, the most common thing I hear is 'What a golf course, a fabulous design,'" said Fellner. "It tests every facet of your golf game. That is one thing Long Bay Club is very good at. You have to hit it good. You have to hit it long. It requires you to hit it high. Course management plays a very big part. Most golfers realize that on all 18 holes there is nothing easy out there."
Just the way Jack wanted it.
Where to stay
Long Bay Club is almost 30 miles away from those staying in the heart of Myrtle Beach, but it is now easily accessible with the recent opening of the Highway 31 Expressway, a virtual autobahn (with speed limits) that runs from U.S. 501 with an exit onto Hwy. 9 between Longs and North Myrtle Beach. If staying in Myrtle Beach, you can't go wrong with accommodations at the Radisson Plaza Hotel at Myrtle Beach Convention Center, located at 2101 North Oak St. (843-918-5000).
It is a newly constructed 402-room hotel that is a few blocks inland from the beach, meaning it keeps you away from the suntan-oiled crowds and the only sand you will get in your shoes will be from stepping into pot bunkers. Make sure to try out Vidalia's low country dining restaurant inside the hotel. It is an excellent alternative to the hustle and bustle of the U.S. 17 dining strip.
September 9, 2003