Every spring a group of us head to Myrtle Beach, and the Thistle Golf Club always makes it to our must-play list. The first time I played the course, when it was new, I hit an all-time low score of 83. That was when I golfed almost every weekend, often with clients — I packed my clubs and hit the links wherever business took me.
Thistle derives its name not only from the thorny bramble which grows in Scotland but also from the ancient Scottish golf society formed in 1815. The modern Thistle started as a golf course and, as is the trend in Myrtle Beach, a housing community soon developed around it. The clubhouse has been under construction for years — the pub and pro shop are now complete — and displays historic golf memorabilia and artifacts from the original Thistle Golf Club, including a handwritten rulebook from 1820.
Three nine-hole courses are available at Thistle — the North, South and West. We planned to play 18 holes one day and 36 the next, but on this trip we got caught up in the Myrtle Beach golf machine and played all three courses every day in a 36-hole marathon, leaving little time for other local entertainment. Here’s the battle between the South and the North.
The South Course
(378 yards, par 4)
This slight dogleg right is not particularly difficult, but John Ecklund and I both scored par and birdied the first two holes, so here it is. The only hazard off the tee is the massive bunker about 238 yards to the right, irregularly shaped and extending about 90 yards. Thick undergrowth runs along the entire right side. We both nailed our drives to left center and landed on the green in two from about 140 yards. Avoid three more bunkers left of the green.
(404 yards, par 4)
This is a dogleg right with an island green. The tee shot is significantly more difficult, extending nearly 150 yards from the back tees with water to the front and right. Trees line the left side of the fairway and halfway up the right. A good, clean drive should place you about 150 yards out, but watch for the twin bunkers on the right and left. The island green has three traps — one in the back to catch balls rolling off the green and two to catch errant shots front and left. My ball landed within a foot of the cup for a tap in; John had a significant putt for birdie.
(434 yards, par 4)
Ranked the No. 1 handicapped hole of the North and South courses, the biggest challenge of this hole is the enormous waste bunker that extends from the beginning of the fairway and runs up the entire right side to the green. The fairway landing area can be quite small, so your ball just might trickle into the waste area.
(211 yards, par 3)
This extremely long and difficult par 3 found all of us scoring bogie. Shots from the tee box have to clear the water running in front of the hole and several bunkers that are ready to catch short balls. This hole nearly plays as a par 4 in difficulty, depending on the prevailing winds.
The North Course
(414 yards, par 4)
It was the end of the day, and our threesome became a foursome with the addition of Mike “Corky” Donahue. We had already played 28 holes; the cigars came out and so did Corky’s wild swing — balls were flying all over the place! This hole has been my nemesis in past years; it is a very difficult dogleg right with water running all along the right side. Many goodlooking shots fall into the lake and are lost. Today was different. Perhaps it was the distraction of Corky’s ball landing in the house construction site to the left; I took a longer route and drove my ball along the left side, landing in the rough. Not the best stance, but still playable, and I sent my second shot to the green from about 150 yards and putted for par.
(183 yards, par 3)
Another island green found me coming up short in the sand in the front, scoring a double bogie. Jim Spratt, formerly of the NYPD SWAT, landed on the green for a one-putt birdie. It’s a nice little hole, but intimidating with the surrounding water. It makes you want to return for another chance — unless you are Jim!
(518 yards, par 5)
I remember this hole very well from a trip when the course was brand new. It was a turning point in my game: I was no longer a high 90s golfer, and was entering the realm of the 80s. It’s a very intimidating par 5 with water that must be cleared on the drive. A substantially small landing area — with a large trap on the right and a significant marshland to the left — awaits your drive. With each stroke, there are more obstacles to pass. Trees on the right seem to catch a lot of balls, and two traps left and right protect the slightly elevated green. Any score under bogie is a significant achievement.
(525 yards, par 5)
The course architect, Tim Cate, decided to beat you up on the last hole of the North nine. It is a long hole with a waste bunker running about a third of the way up the fairway; the bunker is then replaced with water. As golfers try to put the yardage behind them on long holes, the tendency is to get more aggressive — with the result of wayward shots ending up in the water. Three moguls on the left rough can make your approach to the green difficult. Ranked No. 2 on the handicapped scale, I logged a 7, the worst score on this 18.
Thistle Golf Club
1815 Olde Thistle Club Road
Sunset Beach, NC 28468
tel 910 575 8700
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