River Club golf course near Myrtle Beach: A sand-covered classic

By Lisa Allen, Contributor

PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. -- The River Club, designed by Tom Jackson, is a sandy place.

River Club golf course - No. 14
No. 14 at the River Club is nearly surrounded by water and includes bunkers short and left.
River Club golf course - No. 14River Club golf course - No. 18River Club - No. 9
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River Club

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The River Club is one of the few courses in the area to feature true bentgrass, and it has become known for its outstanding greens. The semi-private course is a Tom Jackson design, with water on 15 of the 18 holes and more than 100 sand traps and bunkers. Putting purists like it as do long hitters, who are given plenty of room off the tee. The par-5, 18th hole is one of the top-100 holes in the Grand Strand, according to the Sun News, a risk/reward hole to those who can carry the water twice for a chance at eagle.

18 Holes | Semi-Private golf course | Par: 72 | 6677 yards | ... details »

The first hole, a par 4, has a water carry at the green and a cluster of bunkers at the green. The second is a par 3, where one expects to see a lot of sand, right? There is.

Then there is the par-5 third hole. Sand is near the tee, about mid-fairway and a whole lot more at the green. Because of that granular stuff, an approach from the right is preferable.

"The greens are well guarded," said Christa Bodensteiner, head professional and manager of both River Club and Litchfield Country Club. "The fairway bunkers don't really come into play."

Well, maybe she can say that. I beg to differ.

The sand mounds up on the par-4 fourth hole, amassing at the corner for the dogleg right -- directly between you and the green -- and more left and rear. They also dumped some sand on No. 5 midway and nearly all across the green.

There seems to be a pattern emerging.

River Club's par-5 sixth hole gives you an open drive area, a thin approach and then the sand pours forth again on the left from 115 yards on in to the offset green. If you're looking for a little fun, bring it in from the right and go for a water carry to the green.

The ninth hole is an interesting par 4. Swing it out a little left off the tee to avoid a bunker on the right, but then face a carry to the sand-fronted green if the pin is tucked left.

The trick to No. 10 is keep it right off the tee to avoid three bunkers on the left. There is so much sand on Nos. 10 and 13 that you'd expect to see a lifeguard.

The 11th, a par 5, has one of the most challenging approaches around. The offset green is surrounded by sand or water, so steel your nerves and launch one. And another. Maybe a third will do the trick. This green has elements of "Tin Cup."

One of the golf course's signature holes is the par-3 14th, a nearly island green with a set of bunkers in front. Slightly astray shots could end up wet if you get a bad bounce.

The 15th, a par 4, has a water carry in front of the green, and No. 16 is another tiptoe through the sand traps.

The River Club with a hole a bit unlike the others. It's a Pebble Beach-type hole that turns around water on the left to an offset green that likely will involve a water carry. It's no surprise that there are bunkers all along the back edge of the fairway and around the green. Play the course a few times and you'll notice you can place your drive on a peninsula, then have a shot at getting to the green in two.

If you like bentgrass greens, get to the River Club quick. The course will be closed from June 23 to Aug. 18, 2011 while the greens are converted to champion bermuda.

"Bentgrass is great nine months of the year," Bodensteiner said, adding that keeping it alive in the summer is a 24/7 job. "With the different strains of bermuda now, you can have the same putting surface as bentgrass, but the greens are going to be in better shape year-round."

River Club: The verdict

The variety of the holes makes the River Club a treat. Add to the mix pin placement in relation to the many bunkers and it's like a new course every time you play it.

"It's a very strong layout with a lot of memorable holes," Bodensteiner said. "It's always in great shape. Bring your cameras. There are a lot of really scenic holes."

With 55 bunkers on the course, you'll likely encounter sand, but that's okay. The bunkers are in good shape and extraction isn't that difficult. At one point in the club's 25-year history, they lopped off some of the lips to make the bunkers a little friendlier. They have our thanks.

Lisa AllenLisa Allen, Contributor

Lisa Allen is a golf, travel and business writer based in Beaufort, S.C. She has edited newspapers, magazines and books in Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina. Follow her on Twitter @LAllenSC.

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