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Little did I realize when I arrived at the Myrtle Beach International Airport on a chilly day in March what wonders of discovery lay before me. Not only the area’s rich and colorful landscape, but also its exotic heritage hiding just beyond today’s usual commercial landscapes, waiting for the curious to discover.
Myrtle Beach has been described as the place where the “sea oats dance and the waves whisper”. It is also a place where 200-year-old live oaks dripping with Spanish moss recall the romantic South Carolina plantation life of the 1700’s. Exotic artwork, music, and recipes remind us of the Gullah traditions of the African slaves that still influence Myrtle Beach culture to this day.

But Myrtle Beach is also a modern day playground whose wide sandy beaches attract fun-loving vacationers from all over the world. Whether your taste is for the grand, the historic or the rowdy, you’ll be able to find the perfect place for you. And whether golfing, boating or just plain relaxing is your idea of a great vacation, Myrtle Beach dishes all that up as well.

Myrtle Beach (pronounced murr-tul) is a coastal resort city in Horry County, South Carolina. It derives its name from the delicate red-berried wax myrtle that grows along the edge of the sea. It is also the hub of what is known as the Grand Strand, a 60 mile-long complex of beach towns and barrier islands stretching from Little River to Georgetown, South Carolina.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the general area was inhabited by the Waccamaw and Winyah Indians. The unusual combination of rolling dunes and giant oaks standing guard over wide sandy beaches must have evoked a sense of wonder in them. The waters off the coast contain a history of their own. During the 18th century, pirates found the unpredictable waters of the Atlantic to be a virtual paradise for their wild revels. Blackbeard and Captain Kidd are both believed to have terrorized the coast of South Carolina.

The gentle climate and easy landscape of Carolina's coast offered potential that wasn't noticed until the late 1800's when a majority of the real estate was purchased by F. G. Burroughs, a wealthy railroad builder. Some refer to Burroughs as a "visionary," and hindsight certainly supports this description when it comes to his decision to claim 80,000 acres, including the entire coastline from Little River and Murrells Inlet.

To this day, most of the hotels, restaurants, and attractions occupy land owned by Burrough’s descendants- partners in the Burroughs & Chapin company.

In 1925, Myrtle Beach gained the attention and respect of the "rich and famous." A wealthy textile magnate from Greenville built the Ocean Forest Hotel, which featured an enormous ballroom, elaborately decorated rooms, the coast's first golf course, horseback riding and tennis. It was a well-known "playground" for the wealthy until it was demolished in 1974.
The area is home to many golf courses and mini golf courses which are located along the beach and further inland. Myrtle Beach has been called the "Golf Capital of the World" because of the 120 golf courses located there, and many miniature golf courses. 3.7 million rounds of golf were played there in 2007.

My first destination was to be my home for the next four days. I checked in to The Mariner Inn at Grande Dunes, a new four-star hotel which includes a boat marina, a private golf course, and a gourmet restaurant called WaterScapes. The hotel décor includes a virtual art gallery of local artists work, plus the hallways boast a gorgeous display of historic b/w photographs taken through the years.
Checking in was a breeze, of course, with well-trained hostesses seated at mahogany desks already greeting me by name. When I got to my room, I was pleasantly surprised to discover an excellent bottle of red wine awaiting me, accompanied by a selection of hand-crafted cheeses with Plum Paste, Dried Fig, Dried Date & Sliced Grapes as garnishes. Best of all, my room overlooked a private golf course, located on the other side of the intercoastall waterway that flowed lazily downstream. A hand-signed note from the manager welcoming me to the hotel was another impressive gesture.
That evening our hosts took us to dinner at The City Bar, a hot-spot for locals of all ages, we were told. But being Monday it was fairly quiet, a true blessing for a group of tired travelers just meeting each other for the first time. In spite of our busy getting-to-know-you conversation, I managed to order and devour a Caesar Salad, followed by a wickedly delicious pasta. That and a bit of wine and I was ready to head home to my amazingly comfortable bed. A few fun minutes of 24 on my room’s plasma TV, and I was a goner.

The next morning I had a stroke of amazing luck, (all you golfer’s reading this will know what I mean) when as it turned out I was the only person in our group who wanted to play golf- with the pro Jason, at the legendary Robert White designed Pine Lakes Country Club, originally the aforementioned Ocean Forest Course which was established in 1922. It’s no wonder this course is known as “Grandaddy”! Pine Lakes also offers a pool, a  magnificent clubhouse featuring the Azalea and Magnolia Ballrooms, a History hall, a Pub and the Myrtle Beach Golf Hall of Fame.
I played my usual duffer round, with tips from Jason doing at least a little good, while he played a fantastic round as is suitable for a pro. I believe he mumbled something like 80 softly under his breath. I think he didn’t want to embarrass me, even though I did (I swear) sink a 50 ft. putt on a hilly green with gale force winds blowing in my face. Though the golf was wonderful, the newly refurbished and renovated “Grandaddy” had another surprise in store for this journalist! Sports Illustrated was invented at that very spot.

It seems that in the 50’s, a group of Time-Inc execs came down to Myrtle Beach for a retreat- to play a little golf and do some thinking. And while there, they came up with the idea of publishing an illustrated sports magazine. A year later, the magazine’s first publisher sent the club’s then-current manager the very first issue of the magazine, along with a letter asking him for his opinion. This issue, and the letter, plus so much more, is on display in the club house, and should not be missed.
We had lunch that day at the elegant and very private Grand Dunes Ocean Club, which provides cabanas, towels, and other beach essentials to its members seaside, as well as to guests of The Marina Inn. Housed in a lovely and historic building, just a stone’s throw from the ocean, I felt like I had been whisked back in time to a gentler and simpler era. I was more than ready to grab my stuff and live there permanently!
That evening we were whisked off to another Burroughs and Chapin development called Broadway at the Beach, a shopping complex set on 350 acres in the heart of Myrtle Beach featuring three theaters, 17 restaurants and more than 100 specialty shops as well as attractions, nightclubs, and three hotels, all surrounding the 23-acre Lake Broadway. It is the largest festival entertainment complex in South Carolina. Notable attractions are an IMAX theater, Ripley's Aquarium, Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood, and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville.
Speaking of Margaritaville, it really is so much more than just a restaurant! It’s more like a travel destination - food court- shopping mall - concert hall all in one noisy place overlooking the intercoastal and the attractions on the other side. Most fun of all was the décor, consisting of a pirate ship, a shark, a stage, plus a strange fuzzy hurricane spinning its way to Myrtle Beach. I must admit, I succumbed to temptation and bought a “I’m the Woman to Blame” t-shirt in the gift shop. I have yet to wear it, but at the time I just couldn’t help myself. I think it must have been the margaritas at Margaritaville.

Next, we traveled to the nearby Palace Theatre to see Le Grand Cirque, an amazing athletic performance reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil. This two-hour extravagnza thrilled the audience, as pantomimist Dizzy the Clown engaged the audience without saying a word. This spellbinding production features a huge cast of over 50 world class acrobats, jugglers, and performers from China, Russia, Monte Carlo, and Europe in an electrifying show that will really take your breath away. Plus, the show features the funniest dog act you will ever see, with six Russian poodles causing an uproar as they perform their wacky tricks). Runs through Oct. 24, 2009

If you have the strength for some late night fun, Celebrity Square is definitely one of 
the fun places to go while in Myrtle Beach. Because all of the clubs are next door to each other, it makes for one big party with no driving from place to place. Check out Broadway Louie’s, ClubBoca, Froggy Bottoms and more. P.S. Be sure you get a Myrtle Beach VIP card to save yourself some cash when you hit the clubs.

The next day we headed off to one of America’s finest treasures, a magical place called Brookgreen Gardens, a national historic landmark. Once a 9000 acre rice plantation worked by a large population of African slaves, it fell into disrepair after the Civil War. Years later, an extraordinarily talented sculptor named Anna Hyatt Huntington and her husband, Archer Milton Huntington, a wealthy gentleman-scholar, poet, and philanthropist from New York fell in love with the location, and bought it. The pair had the fortune, the vision and the talent to transform the location into the most extraordinary pairing of gardens and sculpture found anywhere. The Revolutionary War-planted live oak allee´, and the carefuly designed garden “rooms” must be seen to be believed, as well as the over 1200 works spanning the entire period of American sculpture from the early 1800s to the present.

Although the gardens themselves are more than enough, Brookgarden also features the Lowcountry History & Wildlife Preserve, the Lowcountry Trail, Creek Cruises on the Waccamaw River on a pontoon boat past abandoned rice fields, now home to alligators and waterfowl, the Lowcountry Zoo and so much more! No wonder the $12 admission ticket allows you entrance to the grounds for 7 days! Do not miss the overland Trekker Excursion over bumpy roads to the location of the old slave village, and the obscure wooded slave graveyard, occasionally bearing the name of a particularly beloved. The driver’s remarkable description of what we might have seen along the route 150 years ago was well worth the small $7 price for the

That afternoon we went from the sublime Brookgarden to the Hard Rock Theme Park located at Broadway on the Beach. Recently acquired by new owners, the theme park features the amazing, high-tech Led Zeppelin Roller Coaster, the Kiss Coffee Shop, a “phonehenge” sculpture and so much more. Featuring activities suitable for young people of all ages, the park’s goal is to promote family togetherness and family fun. As new manager John Stine told us, “Families will do things together and create memories that will last forever.”

On our finale evening at the Marina Inn, our hosts invited us to a special dinner at their in-house restaurant, the elegant WaterScapes, with  the kitchen presided over by executive chef James Clark. Before our highly anticipated meal Chef Clark stopped by to let us know that we were about to be served the hotel’s brand new Spring menu. He also let us know that any fish served during the meal was chosen personally by him during his frequent trips to the fish yard at nearby Mullen’s Inlet. Our meal began with a chef’s specialty, Crispy Oysters with Caw Caw Creek Country Ham Leek Reduction & Sun Choke Relish, continued with an amazing local Carolina Fish Trio of Sauteed Queen Trigger Fish, Roasted Hog Snapper, and Wood Grilled Broomtail Grouper, each with its own unique sauce. A Saddle of Tanglewood Farms Rabbit wrapped in Pancette, Fois Gras Anson Mills Grits & Thumbelina Carrots, was followed by the amazing almond cornmeal Cake with glazed figs, Buttermilk Ice Cream & Rosemary Syrup. Delicious! It was worth visiting Myrtle Beach for this meal alone!

Though our organized tour was now over, I wasn’t finished with Myrtle Beach, so I decided to stay another day. The reason- small hints and references to a long and storied Myrtle beach past that I had not yet seen or experienced. I asked the charming Alfont Edge, a porter at the Marina Inn, to take me on a tour that included Ocean Boluevard, a lively and retro throwback to Myrtle Beach’s past.  

Somewhere or other, I had picked up a colorful flyer that read “An Artful Adventure is Waiting for You…Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum of Myrtle Beach”. This seemed intriguing, so off we went to the Grand Strand’s home for the visual arts, which is housed in a restored 1920’s beach cottage with signature-striped awnings and a picturesque tea porch overlooking the beach. I was delighted by their current offerings, Tools in Motion: Works from the Hechinger Collection featuring art with playful references to tools, that included such masters as Jim Dine and Claes Oldenberg. The Mapmakers’ Art: The Bishop Collection of Antique Maps 1608-1863 and the amazing story of the creation of Jonathan Green’s Seeking, a tribute to Gullah culture, rounded out the offerings.

Little did I know that Myrtle Beach is famous for its elaborate miniature golf courses, an amazing flashback to the 40’s and 50’s.  Pirates Watch Adventure Golf, Jurassic Mini Golf and Capt Hook's Adventure Golf, to name a few. There is even a (very serious) Miniature Golf Master’s Tournament played there each year!  

Something else to know is that Myrtle Beach has been the long-term (60 years) host to large groups of motorcycle aficionados who swarm the place twice a year by the 100,000’s (300,000 in fact). They come for the Harley Spring Rally for ten days over the Mother’s Day Weekend vacation. In addition, there is a black motorcycle rally called the Atlantic Beach Bike Fest (Al calls them “Crotch Rockets”) who loudly announce their presence over the Memorial Day Weekend. So if you’re a biker or a biker fan, go for it! But if you don’t enjoy your beaches loud, you might want to visit at another time.

Finally, there’s the Society of Stranders, whose not-so-secret pleasure is shag dancing, which happens at local clubs such as Fat Harold's, Ducks, Duck's II, the OD Arcade, & the clubs at the OD Beach & Golf Resort. If you've never been Shag Dancing, you've missed out on an American original... this dance craze started in Myrtle Beach over 50 years ago, and it's still going strong. What is "Shag" you ask? It's dance craze that started there in the 40 and 50's, when local teens invented the dance step that is most suited to    R &B  music. Shaggers slip into their special Shaggin' shoes all year long, but the highlight of every calendar year is the S.O.S. Fall Migration - a "pilgrimage" to the birthplace of Shag, September 11-20, 2009.
One last thing, you all! South Carolina native Darius Rucker & Hootie and the Blowfish have established a foundation to create grants to benefit the education of
South Carolina’s children, and to support music programs nationwide.
"The Foundation enables us to be proactive for the charities we are passionate
about. The foundation becomes a viable resource that enables us to help people
at anytime," says Mark Bryan, Hootie’s guitarist. Their big fundraiser happens each year on the first Monday after the Master’s Golf Tournament (this year April 13) at the Dye Club at the Barefoot Resort in East Myrtle Beach. Tickets $15

For a 2010 visitors guide to the fabulous Myrtle Beach, go to / Issue 104 - September 2018
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