Beyond The Gambler: On the King's North golf course at Myrtle Beach National, every hole's a challenge
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Bruce Findlay had never been to Myrtle Beach.
But between his friend's advice and some Internet research, he knew better than to make Myrtle Beach National's King's North course his first round of a week-long golf vacation.
"I think if you're starting out your first couple of rounds, you want to start out with [something easier] than this," said Findlay, a Toronto-area corrections officer. "It's a full golf course. We set it up so we had a couple of warm-up courses that were a little easier. Now we're starting to get into desire on day three, day four."
Desire, in this case, was the type of golf course where the 11-handicap golfer and his travel partner, co-worker Pat Godin, would be doing something more than simply walking up and cruising through a course.
Findlay and Godin (also an 11 handicap), found more than their fair share of challenges in a recent round at King's North. Collectively, they had plenty of decisions to make on how to hit shots throughout the 18 holes.
And even though they both finished in the 90s, they were more than satisfied that the King's North reputation as a risk-reward course was not only accurate, but also above their own expectations overall.
"It's a tough course. It's a beautiful course," Godin said. "I said to him, 'We've got to play King's North. It's gorgeous.' [It's] among the top 10, guaranteed."
Myrtle Beach National's King's North: The golf course
Conversations about King's North usually begin and end with hole No. 6, known as The Gambler.
In 1996, legendary country singer Kenny Rogers, who's biggest hits included "The Gambler," took to the course. One look at No. 6 and knew it was something special. With an island landing area stretching approximately 100 yards long, a successful tee shot can help the daring and skilled on to the green in just two strokes.
Most, however, find the hole calls their bluff.
Surrounded by plenty of water, Head Professional Michael Burnside calls The Gambler a "diver's dream."
"My bag can get a lot lighter after six," Burnside said. "Not necessarily the tee ball, but I've done the chunky cheese with wedge in."
The back-to-back shots require not only accuracy off the tee, but also considerable distance. If not, a player is looking at a possible 230-yard approach shot to a green that -- because the hole wasn't hard enough -- is also surrounded by water on three sides.
"I thought The Gambler, the risk was worth the reward to hit the island," Findlay said.
Said Godin: "It's a beautiful hole. No problem there. It's well named. No doubt. You hit two good shots, you're putting for eagle."
If not, you're potentially dropping once or twice and hoping for a double bogey.
No. 6, however, isn't the only attraction.
The golf course was redesigned in 1995. Arnold Palmer, after playing the course, put his stamp all over it.
Hole No. 12, a short par 3, has players shooting at an island green complete with two sand traps. The par-4 third also dares big hitters to clear a massive pond or hit a short drive around a dogleg left.
And for those who start on the front nine, their day ends at No. 18, which features nearly 30 sand traps of varying size.
"The Palmer image and name is just huge," Burnside said. "He was all over this one, the greens, everything."
Myrtle Beach National's King's North: Facilities and golf instruction
Myrtle Beach National has a large driving range, putting green and chipping area located alongside a full-service clubhouse, complete with a bar and grill with a full menu of food and drink options. Once on the course, water fountains and beverage carts were readily available on both nines.
Instruction is limited almost entirely to individual sessions, with Assistant Professional Ryan Roddy taking on most of that responsibility.
Myrtle Beach National's King's North course: The verdict
Godin's one other experience at King's North -– a round that took place several years ago –- was so memorable that he and Findlay chose it over the course at the resort they were staying at for the week.
That's not the first time the staff members at Myrtle Beach National have heard that.
The ultra-unique course offers the type of round that baffles half the golfers that set foot on it. In many ways, the course is a contradiction within itself.
"It's fair, but there's trouble," Burnside said. "You can score, but you can get clobbered. Every hole is different. Every hole is a challenge."
March 31, 2011