Opened in 1927, the Ocean Forest Golf Club was the first golf course in Myrtle Beach. Renamed Pine Lakes International Country Club in 1946, the ‘Old Granddaddy’ survived several alterations over its first 82 years but inevitably developed a time-worn face. After a remarkable facelift, though, the course has now been bought back to shimmer!
The classic architectural style of Robert White, an émigré Scot and one of the founding members of the American Society of Golf Course Architects has been inscribed into the tertiary sand dunes of the Mid-Atlantic coast. White’s introduction to golf began at St Andrews where he nurtured his pragmatic style of design based on reverence to nature’s ocean-side choreography, the beach. He understood that dunes were originally formed by millions of years of wave movement in the littoral zone of a beach and as the beaches mature they are delicately stabilised by grasses (primary dune), scrub (secondary dune) and thicket (tertiary dune). Coastal ecosystems (like that of St Andrews) are the most dynamic in nature and must be respected or they will vanish or be destroyed.
Working on sand-based linksland is a delicate process and requires knowledge of natural dynamics. Implementing golf course architecture is the easy part, placing golf holes discreetly in sensitive environments without destroying them is the challenge. Re-working another’s creative artefact in such an environment offers a two-fold learning experience.
First, the natural process must be understood in order to integrate one’s work with lasting success. Nature is consistent yet unpredictable so weatherproofing is essential (surface drainage) and ecological vitality is indispensable (microclimate) to attain balance. Second, understanding the character of a golf course is essential when altering, restoring and renovating it. The rhythm of a course is formed by a combination of topography, vegetation, wind and soils. Golf course strategy is created by direction (routing) and green design. Challenge is brought to life via length, hazards, fairway width, mandatory carry and vegetative texture. The manipulation of this combination of elements produces golf course architecture.
The best of the original holes (now numbers ten to eighteen) were preserved and renovated to pay homage to White. When you begin to renovate another golf course architect’s terrestrial manifestation, it is important to respect the genius of their work, especially where it is duly merited. White’s site specific topographic ‘choreography’ could easily be over stepped if a different ‘score’ (new holes) were introduced. The character of a golf course is a result of the natural contours after they have been modified to accommodate a series of specific golf strategies arranged in a particular sequence.
White’s topographic signature style was natural, simple, straightforward, asymmetrical and efficient. Nothing was overdone. The greens were very simple and pitched from front to back. The bunker style was unique with a distinct shoulder at the rear of each hazard where he replicated a natural wind shaped landform in the shape of a small dune. This becomes obvious when you analyse one of his typical green details. This man-made landform was still easy to recognise and verify on several original green settings. Each roll in the topography was employed perfectly with great consistency and creativity to challenge each tee shot. Natural low areas were used for drainage and pond locations. The hillocks were used for landing areas and green sites. Few trees were present at the initial golf course construction so the constant ocean breeze was a design element of great significance. The lack of fairway bunkers was consistent with a links course that had barren areas of sand along most of the fairways and of course, native sand was used in the crescent-shaped bunkers.
The most important design element of the golf course renovation was preserving the best original holes, (now numbered 3, 4, 7, 8, 10-18). Also, these original holes (‘view corridors’) were preserved to keep the visual ambiance of the oldest residential neighbourhood adjacent to the course. All mature ornamental plants were transplanted to a holding nursery until the course renovation was finished. Then, they were replanted in highly visible more interesting arrangements to compliment the golf course and to enhance views onto the course from the clubhouse and neighbourhood. Preserving the historic look of the area was crucial to secure the State Historic Preservation Office and local residents’ approval of the proposed improvements. After all, this golf course was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996! It is the only golf course I am familiar with that has and still maintains that historic designation.
The variety of golf holes is greater now, with significant differences in both hole distances and direction. Par was lowered by one stroke to 70 to add longer fours on both the front (461 yard third) and back (450 yard eighteenth) nines. This playing quality was missing on the original course designed in a day when hickory shafted clubs were the norm! Shaping the golf course from tee to green became an important personal component of this project. My intent was to simplify the landforms (compliant with White’s modus operandi) while maximising and disguising drainage patterns. Shaping the course was a labour of love for me and allowed me to develop a consistent look to each hole while alternating shots and varying the playing quality of every shot.
Tees were enlarged and shaped to their original rectangular configuration while adding new back and forward tees to add spectrum. This improvement doubled the area of teeing ground on every hole. Bunkers (only 27 of them, plus two waste bunkers) were deepened and native sand was replaced to reduce the carbon footprint from off-site trucking.
Landing areas were raised and shaped to drain while turning a portion towards the green. This improvement provides a level stance at ‘Position A’ for long and accurate tee shots. Greens were extended back to their original shape and size (increased by 38 per cent on average up to 6,680 sq ft). Surface water was redirected off in at least three directions to improve turf quality and consistency. Each green now has at least one well protected flag location with the majority of putting surface designed for daily play. The shot values of each green have been fine tuned to adjust to the physical qualities of the new surface.
The amplification of the natural drainage patterns (lowering the lows and raising the highs) heightened my opportunity to shape a course to drain quickly and thoroughly resulting in consistent ball roll. Firm landing areas and approaches are a reliable playing quality of linksland courses. Pine Lakes once again has that Scottish quality that Robert White’s layout exemplified in his original 27 hole complex. The seaside nine and inland nine were sold to residential development in 1946 and White laid out another nine to make use of the perfect clubhouse setting on the high point in the centre.
Two new holes (four and five) were developed on a newly acquired parcel to the west. The new holes are situated around a wetland that is home to a wide variety of wildlife (deer, birds of prey, songbirds and future golf balls). All surface runoff is captured and diverted from the natural area. The new entry now occupies the area where two less desirable golf holes were removed (the old seventeenth and eighteenth). The site now has seven ponds with native grass buffers around half the bank slopes. A tree mitigation plan was necessary to remove older deteriorating species and to offset these net losses by planting newer more desirable species in better locations. The end result has been more sunlight and air movement on green settings while adding more separation between holes. All tree removals were numbered and a formula was applied to calculate the new total of replacements to conform to Myrtle Beach’s Tree Ordinance.
The majority of run-off was captured and is now utilised in the irrigation system. Capacity to hold storm water has been increased tenfold to eliminate residential flooding and to supplement the irrigation supply. Seashore paspalum was selected for all areas of the course to combat the high salinity content in the ground water. Shallow wells producing brackish water and surface runoff are the primary source of water for the golf course. Potable water was never considered for use on the golf course. This course is the first on the Grand Strand to use paspalum grass from tee to green. The savings of potable water is significant (over 40 million gallons per year) and one the owner is pleased with. Should you make a pilgrimage there, it will truly be a step back in time but one with many new ‘green’ amenities of 21st century technology.
This article first appeared in issue 16 of Golf Course Architecture, published April 2009.