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TRAVEL

5 MIN

What to Do in Myrtle Beach (If You Don't Want to Play Golf the Entire Time)

Our correspondent learns to wakeboard during a visit to the coastal Carolina city

Golf. Swim. Eat. Repeat. Lured by 100 odd golf courses in the vicinity and vacation packages galore, millions of tourists flock to beach year round – many with a bag of clubs in tow.

Canadians in particular have warmed to this East Coast destination, in part thanks to Can-Am Days promotions, designed to ameliorate the wallop on the wallet from the currency exchange. From January through April select hotels offer Canadians discounts as steep as 55%. As a result of the red carpet treatment the Canuck tourist contingent is highly visible here; Canadian flags are flown outside all the hotels, and you see Ontario plates in pretty much every golf course parking lot. There’s even a Second Cup on one of the main thoroughfares in town.

But Canadian or not, most visitors follow the familiar refrain: Golf. Swim. Eat. I’ve been guilty of that exact itinerary, drawn to the area by famous courses including Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, The Dunes and the Love course at Barefoot Resort & Golf, followed by the customary dip in the ocean or ride on one of Myrtle’s many lazy rivers.

You can rinse and repeat it all the next day – or you can discover there’s way more to Myrtle than meets the club. Onarecent visit, I tried to resist the seduction of the links and see what else awaits the traveller on the South Carolina coast.

Learn to Wakeboard

If the mere idea of skimming over water at 40 kilometres an hour grabs you, chances are you’ll fall in love with snowboarding’s summer cousin. As in that other kindred sport, wakeboarders are obsessed with “going big,” which translates in real terms to pulling off dizzying spins, flips, and upside-down aerial tricks (known as inverts in wake-speak). But before you can brave a ramp or even attempt an acrobatic manoeuvre, you first have to get up and get a handle on being pulled around like a leashed pooch being taken for a run.

Enter North Myrtle’s Shark Wake Park, which centres around a state-of-the-art, Danish-designed, five-tower Alta Cable Ski system, which pulls riders on a loop around a manmade lake.

Courtesy Mike Dojc / Billy

Wakeboarding looks hard, is hard

I find myself feeling a little bit of trepidation as a I grab the rope and commit to letting the pulley system take me for a ride. I keep flipping my board around trying to determine if it is more comfortable with my left foot forward or my right. Both ways seem about the same: awkward. The operator, sensing my apprehension, tells me most right-handed people do opt to put their left foot ahead, but not to let trivial stats limit myself. Maybe I’m “ambifootrous.”

“Quit overthinking and start doing,” I tell myself, just as the red light changes to green and I’m yanked onto the course.

For a few glorious milliseconds I glide over the water like a great blue heron. Then, suddenly, my centre of gravity goes awry and I face plant into the drink. Using the wakeboard as a flutterboard, I swim back to shore, raring to go again. It takes a few attempts (well, in the spirit of honesty, seven or eight) before I get a handle of the balancing act and start making some turns around the circuit.

The turning point comes when I finally commit to muscle memory the pivotal move of bringing the rope back into my hip when it periodically would go a little slack. The consequence of forgetting to make the move had been a sudden jerk forward followed by a belly flop. While I choose to stick to the perimeter of the park eschewing all the ramps and rails, next time out I’ll go “bigger” and at least try a jump.

Before leaving the wake park, there’s no way I’m not going to take a crack at landing a golf ball on the floating green. This is a small island in the middle of the wake park, about a 60-yard shot from the Shark Shack bar and viewing deck. Patrons can aim for it during breaks in the wakeboarding action.

Mike Dojc / Billy

A momentous occasion

Employees warn me this is pretty much impossible: Only one person had stuck it and had it stay dry since the park opened a few months earlier. Apparently park founder Greg Norman Jr., the son of the Australian golf legend, took 50 whacks at it and every single one either splashed or rolled off.

I can see why landing on the green is so challenging: The turf island bobs on the waves, making the green a little topsy-turvy. Realizing that an aerial flag assault would be a foolish errand, on a lark I go low and skip my ball toward the green. It takes a couple bounces and then plops down right beside the pin and stays on. For my herculean performance I am bestowed with a $50 bar tab, and also get my picture taken for the Shark Shack wall of fame.

Where to eat

If gorging yourself into a coma ingesting heaping plates seafood at restaurants with marquees boasting 200-plus items on the buffet line sounds like a plan, then you’ve come to the right place. Myrtle Beach certainly caters to seekers of endless crab legs, oysters, and shrimp. Yet the beach city also caters to palates looking for something different.

Just a couple blocks from the boardwalk, for example, is The Chemist, a molecular gastronomy laboratory packing plenty of elemental surprises from diver scallops with yuzu foam to the sriracha caviar, which amps up a delectable dish of quail egg on toast. Many patrons choose to cosy up to the bar to watch the cocktail theatre as molecular mules, radioactive colas, gin fusions and many a misting potion are created.

The Chemist

Another place to get your drink on is La Belle Amie Vinyard which has been in the Bellamy family since the 19th century. Wine tasting flights are just $5, and include six selections plus a sample of mulled wine and a wine slushy (!).

OK, A BIT OF GOLF (SOME OF IT MINI)

Of course you can’t leave Myrtle Beach without playing at least one round of golf – and if it’s only going to be the one round, you could do worse than Tidewater Golf Club, one of the area’s top tracks and a perennial entry on lists of the best places you can play in the United States.

The Ken Tomlinson design was reconditioned in 2014, bumping it up a few pegs on the leaderboard of Myrtle Beach area courses. A quartet of holes play out along Cherry Grove Inlet with spectacular marsh views, while No. 8 and 16, both stunners in their own right, hug the Intracoastal Waterway.

Tidewater Golf Club

Also managed to fit in a few rounds of miniature golf. Spy Glass will mesmerize any little ones you have in tow with simulated cannon fire, a pirate ship you get to thoroughly explore, plus an abandoned silver mine and holes played in a cave underneath a giant waterfall.

Meanwhile Hawaiian Rumble is designed for more competitive putt-putt types. While you get lei'd when you walk in and there is a 40-foot (12-metre) volcano that erupts every 15 minutes at there is nary a mystery box, clown’s mouth or any other childish quirk that favors luck over skill. This is after all the site of The Master's of miniature golf, where every October golfers vie for a purse of approximately US$20,000.

Hawaiian Rumble

Published Thursday, February 2nd 2017

Header image credit: Mike Dojc / Billy

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