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Caledonia Golf & Fish Club in Pawleys Island, South Carolina: A Myrtle Beach-area stalwart

PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. -- There are not too many places -- whether a restaurant, resort, bowling alley or whatever -- that can wow visitors in the driveway.

But that's what the golf experience at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club does. Caledonia sinks its teeth into the soul of golfers who turn into the property and doesn't let go.

The drive into Caledonia's plantation clubhouse introduces the Lowcountry vibe of Pawleys Island. Towering old oaks draped with Spanish moss form a sort of tunnel that transports players to an intimate amphitheater of alligators, marshes, ponds and trees without the intrusion of houses.

Maverick architect Mike Strantz made a name for himself by transforming an old rice plantation into a modern classic in 1994. Strantz, who passed away from cancer in 2005, made the most of 130 acres. He unleashed a wildly creative par 70 of just 6,526 yards featuring five par 3s and three par 5s. One of those par 3s looks like a throwaway hole on the card, the 118-yard ninth, until you play it. It might be the toughest short par 3 in America -- over a bunker that crests like a wave to a shallow, hidden green.

Little touches -- wood-plank walkways and brick staircases leading to greens -- only enhance the natural elegance.

John Loblein, visiting from Toms River, N.J., called Caledonia his favorite course of the five he played during a recent visit. Golf Digest rated Caledonia No. 1 on its list of the Myrtle Beach Super Sixty, the best golf courses along The Grand Strand.

"It's beautiful," Loblein said. "The fairways, the greens, the sand traps, even the clubhouse view on 18 watching the golfers come in."

Strantz toys with golfers throughout the round, tempting them into risky shots that are rarely rewarded. The tee shot on the par-4 seventh uses visual trickery. Branches from a set of oaks form a low ceiling to shoot through, but they're never really in play. The huge tree guarding the right side of the green, however, is very much a concern.

A foursome of titanic fairway bunkers tempts players to carry them on the par-5 eighth, even though there's no need to mess with them. A ridge splits the green in two at the par-3 11th hole. The par-4 13th, a dogleg left, offers up only a finger-like fairway pointing to a tiny green sandwiched by two waste bunkers.

Caledonia's home stretch introduces the day's two toughest par 4s (No. 15 and the watery 16th) and the grand 18th. The par-4 finishing hole requires two deft shots to avoid the marsh. It's both scenic and treacherous. Those who pull off par or better might be rewarded with applause from those watching on the clubhouse patio. That scenario can only be described as a perfect ending to a special round.

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