December Golf on the SC Coast...and Other Thoughts

        Weather on the golf courses this week in Pawleys Island, SC, reminds me of the climate changes during a June round of golf in St. Andrews. Back in 2009, I endured a little bit of everything on the Old Course; sunshine and 65 degrees on the first tee, dark clouds on the second and third holes, and sleet and heavy wind on the fourth hole before, almost as quickly, the skies and temperatures retreated to first hole conditions.
        Things don’t happen quite as precipitously on the coast of South Carolina, but over the course of four days in early December, I have seen just about the same conditions. I played in brilliant sunshine and temps in the mid 60s on Sunday, similar but more breezy conditions on Tuesday, and uniformly grey skies with imminent rain on Wednesday (but still low 60s temperatures and it only started to rain just as we finished in early afternoon). Today it is rainy and in the low 40s, and I am sitting it out.
Pawleys Plantation signature hole, the 13th, with Pawleys Island beach homes beyond.

        For those contemplating a move to the South Carolina coast, don’t expect to play golf every day in December — or January and February, for that matter. Recalling Christmas week vacations in Pawleys Island with the family for many years, the chances of playing golf in a heavy sweater or ski jacket were as good as playing in shorts and a golf shirt. One year it snowed, just an inch or two but enough to keep almost all the locals off the road, giving the veteran northerners a chance to get into the most popular restaurants in the area without a reservation. Of course, for those dedicated linksters who play through the winter in New England, 44 degrees and a little drizzle will do quite nicely in December. I return to CT on Saturday and they are expecting snow; 44 and rain starts to look a little better.

Caledonia shines again

        Brad Chambers, who publishes, joined me this week for rounds at both Pawleys Plantation and Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, located about three miles from each other in Pawleys Island. Although Pawleys Plantation features a great layout and, frankly, is the most challenging course on the Grand Strand, in my humble opinion, the club apparently had a litte trouble with grass growth on the greens earlier this fall. They are coming back, but Brad and I agreed that rarely had we putted greens before where reading the grain was absolutely fundamental to getting any putts close to the hole. That wasn’t a problem the next day at Caledonia where the greens were, as always, fast and firm without any grain to speak of. Caledonia is a tough course to play the first time, given that many of the forced carry approaches demand drives on the proper side of the fairways. But after a round or two, the best pathways to Mike Strantz’ enormous and wavy greens — some look like green tsunamis — become more obvious and a good score is possible. As always, the folks at Caledonia, from the bag drop to the pro shop to the friendly wait staff in the don’t-miss restaurant, took exceptional care of us. It is small wonder that Caledonia is typically ranked as the best golf experience of the 100+ golf courses on the Grand Strand.
Caledonia live oaks and green
Caledonia Golf & Fish Club

Dining adventures south of Myrtle Beach

        As mentioned above, the dining room at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club is not to be missed by anyone visiting the Pawleys Island area. For those who believe “you can’t eat atmosphere,” Caledonia may change your mind. A seat on the back porch, for example, where there are about a half dozen tables, looks out to miles of marshland, turned a golden color at this time of the year and a beautiful shade of green during the warmer weather. I had told Brad of the sight of boats on the Waccamaw River about a mile in the distance and, sure enough, as if on cue, one did just that, its white mast poking above the top of the field of gold. It’s only lunch, but the Caledonia kitchen behaves as if it is cooking for royalty, lavishing so much care on what is normally a simple, greasy patty melt sandwich that I found myself smacking my lips. And yet as good as my sandwich was, I looked longingly at Brad’s club sandwich for which one whole turkey breast must have been sacrificed. By the way, if you are given a choice of sides the first time you have lunch at Caledonia, opt for the house made potato chips; Brad ordered the french fries, also terrific, and I let him try one of my potato chips — but just one.
        The acknowledged best restaurant in Pawleys Island is Frank’s, and I didn’t want Brad, who lives four hours away from Pawleys, to miss out on a meal there. He wasn’t disappointed, and I certainly wasn’t either. The “Duck Two Ways” I had was the best preparation of duck I have had either way in decades, the confit moist and perfectly seasoned but not tasting of any of the fat it was cooked in, the breast exquisitely cooked into medium rare disks both firm and soft, as difficult to prepare and crazy good as that sounds.
        Many year’s ago at a conference in New York, I sat next to a professor from the University of South Carolina. When she learned I vacationed in Pawleys Island, she said she and a colleague drove the four hours roundtrip to/from Pawleys a few times a year to eat at a special restaurant there. “Don’t tell me,” I said. “Frank’s, right?” In dining as well as golf, long drives are rewarded.
Caledonia porch
The porch off the Caledonia restaurant almost hangs over the 18th green.

One final note about food in the Pawleys Island area

        I don’t know where to go for data on supermarkets per capita, but if I did find a source, I feel confident that Pawleys Island might have the most per capita in the nation. If you like to cook, there may be no better place to live and play golf. Take, for example, Pawleys Plantation, where I own a vacation condo. Less than one mile from our gate is a large Loews supermarket. Across the street from Loews is a Food Lion, and less than a mile north of Food Lion is a gigantic Publix supermarket, just a few years old. For those who favor more gourmet provisions, Fresh Market, a competitor of Whole Foods, is another 1 1/2 miles up Highway 17. That amounts to four supermarkets within about three miles of Pawleys Plantation.
        Of course, on the coast, you should have access to fresh seafood. During the spring and fall, local fishermen set up their refrigerated trucks in a few parking lots on Highway 17 and sell freshly netted shrimp at discount prices. They don’t operate in December, but this morning I drove just eight miles to the docks along the inlet in Georgetown and picked up a pound of humongous shrimp for just $8.99. The town fathers don’t tout Pawleys Island as a foodie destination, but they probably should.