A visually intimidating course designed by architect Tom Jackson, River Hills is easier to play than it looks. Course architect Tom Jackson describes his Myrtle Beach golf course creation: “Modern in concept, yet traditional in nature, River Hills is a pleasing blend of old and new design ideas unlike any other course at the beach.”
What makes the River Hills course like no other is that it is peppered with non-parallel fairways, rolling hills, and frequent 40-foot elevation changes. It is also unique in the sense that it has only one set of parallel holes: # 1 and # 10. You play out nine and play back in, ending at the clubhouse at the end of each nine. The 17th hole is considered the signature hole, with its double dog-leg par 5 and two water carries.
Extensive renovation in 2003 has made the course friendlier, although it retains its intimidating look and feel. Now you will encounter a balanced give and take between tougher and easier holes. This makes for a satisfying risk/reward experience – challenging, but it won’t break you.
Crushed limestone, instead of the usual pine straw, helps outline the greens, adding a pleasing visual aspect. Tall pine trees surround the course, and lush, dense live oaks around the greens add to the southern feel.
River Hills boasts an astonishing wildlife ecosystem, with a surprisingly wide array of birds and animals, considering its proximity to the surrounding housing development. Animals include gray and fox squirrels, raccoons, possums, alligators – and even bobcats! Birds include turkeys, herons, red-tailed hawks, a bald eagle, and an osprey that might dive right next to you on hole #18, as it has done to GM/Head Professional David Spoone.
Greens are Champion Ultradwarf Bermuda, and the fairways are sprouting standard Bermuda. When we overseed, we use slit-seeding (planting into the ground), which allows carts to drive onto the fairway. The course drains astonishingly fast, so it is playable very soon after inclement weather.
With water holes on 13 of the 18 holes and out-of-bounds defined by houses all the way around the course, golfers realize that they need to pick their tees wisely. Currently there are four sets of tees, but GM/Head Professional David Spoone envisions a more innovative tee lineup, including combinations of tees to create more nuanced (and more enjoyable) playing options, in the near future.
While it is fundamentally a strategic shotmaker’s course, if you drive the ball straight you can aim to match or beat PGA Tour’s Chip Deason’s course record of 62. Otherwise, you’ll want to use your yardage card and play conservatively, playing your hybrids, long irons, and 3-woods. When in doubt, aim at the 150-yard post.
The first hole is the easiest. As for the back nine – there’s a T-shirt that says “I survived the back nine at River Hills.”
According to the 1999 Sun News publication The 100 Greatest Holes along the Grand Strand, River Hills boasts one of the most unique challenges at hole #14. Water runs along the left side of the fairway of this par 4 hole, preventing shortcuts. The more you try to cut off, the tighter the fairway gets. The green is situated behind a lake and slopes toward the water.
River Hills is a Myrtle Beach golf course that you do not want to miss.