MYRTLE BEACH, SC - The man with the devilish grin who welcomes me to America’s golf mecca says he’s taking me to see a Wizard and a Witch and later we’ll tackle a Man-O-War. Now he’s got me wondering: Is this the golf vacation I signed up for or the Harry Potter tour.
My curiosity only heightens when Claude Pardue turns off the main highway and a pink castle comes into view. Suddenly, I feel like I’ve arrived in a Miagic Kingdom for golers.
“Welcome to Mystical Golf,” says Pardue, owner of Myrtle Beach’s most unique golf property, which is home to a trio of courses with the unusual names, which actually come from Pardue’s playful imagination. The course designs were born in the creative mind of golf architect Dan Maples, who Pardue employed to transform a swampy old logging forest into a golf wonderland.
The Wizard, whose clubhouse was designed to look like an old Scottish castle, and Man-O-War — its stilted clubhouse is a replica of a fishing lodge — share a plot of treasured land not far from the beaches of this vacation paradise, while the Witch is located about 10 kilometres away on a idyllic property that looks like it jumped out of a Monet painting.
“When I bought this property, there wasn’t a bit of water on it,” says Pardue as we survey the Wizard and Man-O-War — both dotted with lots of water hazards — from the rooftop of the Wizard’s castle-style clubhouse.
“We didn’t have to dig very deep to find water and the courses are actually built around one very big lake,” says Pardue, who opened the first of his Mystical troika in 1989.
Left: The Wizard clubhouse is a clubhouse like none other in the golf industry. Right: The Witch course is bewitching and may be one of the best tests of golf in North America.
The only thing better than the Mystical courses are the stay and play packages Pardue’s company can offer golfers: accommodation, rounds on all three courses with a bonus round, daily breakfast and on-course lunches with two complimentary beverages (beer or soft drinks), plus a free steak dinner at one of Myrtle Beach’s most popular restaurants, all for about $250 (U.S.) per person. No wonder the Mystical complex is rated by Golf Magazine as one of the “Best Values” in the game.
Frankly, there is no better value in golf than this trio, which all qualify as championship worthy.
The Wizard is where I tee it up first and it’s the perfect introduction to my Mystical stay. A course that’s fair to all handicaps, the links-style Wizard changes with the seasons — the problematic fescue that dominates the mounded fairways in the summer and fall are less evident in the spring when I play and thus less of a problem for a duffer like me.
Besides hiring one of the best designers in golf, Pardue spared no expense when it came to employing the best groundskeepers in the area and the results are easy to see at each of his courses, which are kept in impeccable condition all year long. Pardue has enhanced the Wizard experience by planting thousands of rose bushes throughout the course and when they bloom it transforms the Wizard into a Garden of Eden.
The Wizard’s wide fairways and large greens are a joy to play, but Pardue warns me that the Witch, which I play on the second day of my three-day visit to Myrtle Beach, will be a tougher test.
Even the Einsteins of golf would find the Witch a challenge, I discover.
The Witch is aptly named because its design and surroundings quickly cast a spell over you. It’s love at first sight for me on this course where black bear, deer, alligators and waterfowl abound. The indigenous South Carolina Lowland plants and flowers that flourish here are a treat for the eyes and the garden setting will certainly test your concentration throughout a round.
Above: The island greens at Mystical are a delight for the eyes.
Pardue is most proud that he and Maples created the 500-acre Witch “without disturbing one bit of nature.”
There’s water on five of the Witch’s first nine holes and the stretch from 4 to 7 may be the strongest collection of holes in South Carolina.
Cedar knees — stumps that grow in abundance in the swamps bordering the course — are used as tee block markers on the Witch and they have become prized souvenirs for players.
“We don’t mind if golfers take them home because we just go out to the swamp and cut some more,” says Pardue of the markers which have been recognized by industry publications as the most unique in America.
The Witch’s No. 5 hole is a remarkable test — the Par 5, 570-yard beauty zig zags through a corridor of pines and requires some accurate and thoughtful shots before arriving at a small green that drops off into a pond where I find a family of alligators sunbathing.
The par-3 7th, which is protected by a well-placed front bunker and a green that slopes back to a menacing pond, and the tricky par-4, 373-yard 9th, recognized as one of the Top 18 holes in South Carolina, are special holes on a very special front nine.
Inspired by what I’ve experienced so far at Mystical, I arrive early for my round at Man-O-War on the third day of my visit and enjoy the folksy atmosphere at the fishing lodge clubhouse and bask in the attention lavished on me by the courteous staff.
One of the strongest elements of a Mystical visit is the southern hospitality served up to golfers by Pardue’s long-serving employees — length of service averages almost 20 years.
Looking out from the first tee at the waterlogged Man-O-War — there’s water on all 18 holes — I’m not sure if this is a golf course or an extension of Myrtle Beach’s famed ocean-side Grand Strand.
The intimidation factor — water, water everywhere — is mind boggling at first but after a few holes you realize that Maples has compensated golfers with wide fairways and large greens and water rarely comes into play.
Man-O-War’s par-4 9th is actually an island hole from start to finish and there’s some knee-knocking moments here. Accurate shots are rewarded so you might want to keep your driver in the bag. No wonder this beauty is recognized as one of the best holes in Myrtle Beach.
The island hole experience doesn’t end on No. 9 — Nos. 14 and 15 are also island holes and each will have you gripping your club a little tighter.
The par-4 354-yard 14th really isn’t that difficult if you have faith in your approach shot and many low handicappers are rewarded with birdies here. The par-3,173-yard 15th is a different story — there’s little room for error off the tee and Pardue probably paid for his kid’s college educations with the balls he’s retrieved over the years from the hole’s pond.
Pardue, known as the “creator” by the people who admire what he’s fashioned here, is devoted to providing golfers with an experience they’ll remember for a long time.
“I see golf as a business opportunity and a hobby, but golf course owners have a responsibility to the players — we have to grow the game and it all starts here,” says the proud Mystical owner who can be seen regularly patrolling the courses or the clubhouses because “I like to keep an eye on things.”
“I love creating jobs for people, creating good experiences for golfers, so I’ll keep doing it,” says the man with the beaming moon face whose charitable work for Myrtle Beach’s troubled youth has made him a legend in the community.
Pardue is no doubt a magician who is creating some magical moments for golfers in a place that leaves you bewitched.
Mystical Golf offers some very affordable stay and play packages throughout the year — the company’s off-season rates are among the most attractive and affordable in Myrtle Beach. There’s many golf packages available so go to www.mysticalgolf.com to see all the options. Porter Airlines offers direct seasonal flights to Myrtle Beach and most U.S. carriers, like Delta and United, offer connecting flights to Myrtle Beach from Toronto. / For tourism information on Myrtle Beach, go to www.myrtlebeach.com