An even Grander Strand: Inside the the latest renovations and improvements in Myrtle Beach

An aerial view of holes 14 and 16 at Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club.

An aerial view of holes 14 and 16 at Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club.

Golf Tourism Solutions

Myrtle Beach, S.C., has long been reputed as a destination with options. Cruise north on Route 17 from the airport and you’ll encounter a smorgasbord of tempting possibilities. Craving seafood? There’s an all-you-can-eat buffet ready to serve you at seemingly every corner. Interested in mini-golf? Drop a ball at one of a whopping 35 locations — many complete with erupting volcanoes. Seeking family-friendly entertainment? Glean some ideas from the numerous billboards along the highway advertising tried-and-true time killers like the Ripley’s museum, aquarium and even a pirate-themed dinner show.

And then, of course, there’s the golf. Myrtle Beach isn’t known as the Golf Capital of the World for nothing. With 90 courses in the area — more than any other single destination on the planet — the breadth and depth of the selection offered is the stuff of dreams for visitors looking to plan an itinerary around the game.

At a time when everything feels more expensive than ever before — and a single round at a bucket-list course is approaching four-figure territory — Myrtle is like a breath of fresh air. Here, you can create an itinerary to suit any budget. At the high end, you have Top 100 staples like Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and The Dunes Golf & Beach Club, with the latter tapped to host the PGA Tour for the inaugural Myrtle Beach Classic this week. Other standouts include the Barefoot Resort courses, The Resort Club at Grande Dunes, Tidewater Golf Club, True Blue Golf Club — the list goes on. The courses range from good to great without any fussiness. Myrtle just feels comfortable — a place for the everyman (and woman).

Like many warm-weather locales with loads of golf to offer, Myrtle Beach not only saw a significant uptick in visitors and rounds during the pandemic but also in its permanent population. According to U.S. News and World Report, Myrtle Beach is America’s fastest-growing city, outpacing popular Florida destinations like Sarasota, Fort Myers and Lakeland.

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That skyrocketing growth has been a boon for the local economy. And thanks to an influx of fresh investment, the Myrtle Beach you thought you knew is undergoing an unprecedented renaissance. Up and down the Grand Strand, properties are endeavoring to make what has long been a one-of-a-kind golf destination into an even better experience. “Luxury” and “Myrtle Beach” have not necessarily been synonymous in the past, but there is perhaps no better example of how Myrtle Beach is changing that narrative than the transformation underway at Sea Trail Golf Resort.

Located in Sunset Beach, N.C., on the northern edge of the Grand Strand, Sea Trail, which opened its first course in 1979, is in the midst of an extensive multimillion-dollar metamorphosis. The course fell into bankruptcy in 2012 and continued to languish after being purchased by an overseas owner. But in 2018, Parker Smith, the owner of Golf Trek, one of the area’s largest golf package providers, took over the resort’s existing villa rental program and was encouraged by what he felt was the resort’s untapped potential.

As an investor in the ownership group that took over the property in 2023, Smith has been an instrumental figure in overseeing the resort’s upgrades, which include renovating its three championship golf courses, removing hundreds of trees, planting new grasses and constructing brand-new greens, bunkers and cart paths. A complete renovation of the existing clubhouse is nearly complete, and the 40,000-square-foot convention center was recently reopened. There are also plans to construct a 150-room hotel on a site adjacent to the convention center, and the resort has approval to build up to 450 new residential units on the property. In short: Sea Trail is on track to become a top-tier stay-and-play option.

Hole No. 8 at Tidewater GC.
Hole No. 8 at Tidewater GC. Brian Oar

“A significant number of courses that are part of the Myrtle Beach area are located here in North Carolina,” Smith told me when I visited Sea Trail on a recent weekday morning. “I’ve seen the stay-and-play demand grow and grow, but there’s not a lot of that in Myrtle. You have to get in the car and drive. But this is different. We want Sea Trail to be a destination.”

Word of the resort’s new ownership and improvements is getting around, and the courses were busy on the day I visited. Rebuilding trust and consumer confidence is the first step to regaining steady play, Smith told me. Then, wowing guests with the new and improved amenities will keep them coming back for more.

The same rationale is being put to work at other area courses too. Established staples like Tidewater, the Jack Nicklaus–designed Pawleys Plantation Golf & CC, Grande Dunes and Barefoot Resort have all undergone recent facelifts in order to make the courses more playable and enjoyable, work that entailed removing trees, refreshing or removing bunkers, widening fairways and improving the clubhouse experience.

Despite the golf boom of the past few years, no one I spoke to in Myrtle Beach seemed content to rest on their laurels.

“We need to upgrade,” Dave Genevro, Barefoot Resort’s general manager, told me. “We can’t stay the same because you never stay the same. You’re either getting better or you’re going backward.”

Hole No. 15 at Barefoot Resort's Dye course.
Hole No. 15 at Barefoot Resort’s Dye course. Golf Tourism Solutions

That sentiment is shared throughout the Grand Strand. Myrtle Beach resort owners and managers gather once a month to share ideas, develop marketing plans and talk through problems. The way they see it, if a competitor’s customer has a good experience, they’ll come back, and that person could very well become their own customer down the line. That kind of support and collaboration is rare in golf tourism, and it’s something the industry veterans in Myrtle appreciate.

Steve Mays is the president of Founders Group International and Tee Time Central, a course management suite that has renovated 10 of the company’s 21 layouts over the past four years, including Grande Dunes and Pawleys Plantation. “There’s never been a time when anybody’s been renovating their courses like they are now,” Mays said. “We need to ensure that we’re redefining our product and reinvigorating our products. We can’t be your dad’s or grandfather’s Myrtle beach.”

Thanks to the area’s tireless pursuit of improvement, dad, grandpa and grandson will have a grand time on the Grand Strand for years to come. Editor

As a four-year member of Columbia’s inaugural class of female varsity golfers, Jessica can out-birdie everyone on the masthead. She can out-hustle them in the office, too, where she’s primarily responsible for producing both print and online features, and overseeing major special projects, such as GOLF’s inaugural Style Is­sue, which debuted in February 2018. Her origi­nal interview series, “A Round With,” debuted in November of 2015, and appeared in both in the magazine and in video form on