Caledonia Golf and Fish Club Review
Caledonia Golf and Fish Club
Pawley’s Island, South Carolina
Teacher’s Comments: One of the best courses I’ve played.
Caledonia Golf and Fish Club has found a spot in The GolfBlogger’s Top Ten Public Golf Courses list. Indeed, I would rank it ahead of most of the high end private courses I’ve played.
One of just nine courses designed by Mike Strantz as a solo artist before his untimely death, Caledonia Golf and Fish Club is imaginative and fun. Named to such lists as “Top 100 You Can Play,” and “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses,” Caledonia Golf and Fish Club is a must-play in the greater Myrtle Beach area. (As an aside, I think a Mike Stranz course tour from South Carolina to Virginia would be amazing).
My enduring impression of Caledonia Golf and Fish Club is of its beauty and atmosphere. Every hole looked like a painting, with gracefully curving, tree-lined fairways and flashes of white sand. Flowering trees and bushes add a dash of color. An inlet of the Waccamaw River, which slices through the center of the layout, brings even more visual interest.
Built on a former rice plantation, Caledonia has “atmosphere” aplenty. The entrance takes you down a tunnel of ancient live oaks draped with spanish moss. The clubhouse, although modern, looks like a Hollywood version of an antebellum plantation house. The eighteenth hole plays along the edges of the plantation’s rice fields. At its peak in the mid-1800s, Caledonia’s fields produced some 700,000 pounds of rice annually. It continued as a farm until 1940.
Now THAT’s atmosphere.
From a playing perspective, Caledonia Golf and Fish Club offers a lot to think about. While the fairways are generous, they are organically shaped, undulating in and out; narrowing slightly, then widening; turning left, then right. A multitude of fairway bunkers — some of them vast and all irregularly shaped — further complicate strategy. Planning a good line off the tee is essential.
Similarly, the greens are large but well protected, and often at an odd angle to the fairway. There’s always an open play, but in many cases your ball won’t be in a position to take advantage of it.
Nearly every hole seemed to have a risk-reward element. The safest play rarely is the best. The best play always carries risk of having to add recovery shots. Caledonia Golf and Fish Club would be a great place to hold a match play event.
All of this makes it sound as though Caledonia Golf and Fish Club is a bit of a chore. It was not. Instead, the round at Caledonia was one of my most enjoyable in 2017. Mike Strantz’s design had a lot of “just enough.” Just enough fairway bend to make it interesting without being penal. Just enough width to be fun without being easy. Just enough bunker to make you sweat just a little. Just enough water to make you imagine a couple of different lines off the tee before settling on one. Just enough difficulty to make a player feel challenged but not beat up.
And for me, one play was not “just enough.” I wanted more immediately.
Uniquely, Caledonia’s tees are designated by duck species and marked by matching decoys. From the tips (Pintail), Caledonia measures 6, 526 yards and plays to a 71.8/138. The Men’s middle tees (Mallard), are in at 6, 121 and a 69.5/134. Caledonia Golf and Fish club also has tees at 5, 710 yards (Wood Duck) and 4957 (Redhead). I played the Mallard tees and thought it was perfect for this mid-handicapper.
Caledonia Golf and Fish Club is one of those rare courses where nearly every hole is noteworthy. The only disappointment for me was the ninth, a 110 yard par three which feels as though it was crammed into leftover space near the turn house. Still, Strantz made the most of that, fronting the dumbell shaped green with a vast waste area. Hit the green, or you’re in some awkward material.
One of my favorites at Caledonia Golf and Fish Club was the 394 yard par 4 fourth. With a vast waste area running down most of the length of the hole on the right, players will want to aim well away. Fortunately, there is a bulbous landing area on the left where most should find their balls after a tee shot. From there, the hole plays slightly to the right. The green, however, is angled such that a shot from there plays to the narrow side. Worse, the approach will need to carry a couple of unfriendly bunkers on the left of the green.
Another way to play the hole is to risk a shot down the right side. While bringing the right side waste areas into play, that decision leaves a straighter, and bunker free shot into the length of the green. Risk and Reward is a strong theme at Caledonia Golf and Fish Club.
For sheer fun, I recommend the fourteenth (photo at top). Blast a ball from an elevated green across a swamp and bunkers to the fairway, then take a straight shot into the green. But there again, the risk and reward comes into play. The more you bite off, the more water and bunker come into play, even as the fairway narrows.
Conditions on the day I played were terrific. It was mid July and Caledonia was in the best shape by far of all the Myrtle Beach area courses I played. I thought the greens were exceptional.
After the round, be sure to stop in the Clubhouse for a bite and a drink. I had the low country crab cake sandwich and thought it was terrific.
I would play Caledonia Golf and Fish Club again in a heartbeat. I look forward to some day trying its sister course, True Blue, which also is a Mike Strantz design.
The Caledonia Golf and Fish Club Review was first published on September 5, based on a round played in July 2017. More photos of the Caledonia Golf and Fish Club follow: