A December 2003 trip
to Myrtle Beach by Idler
Quote: You won’t find that over-promoted rodent at Myrtle Beach, but you will find 47 miniature golf courses, inexpensive but comfortable hotels, old-timey amusement parks, sixty miles of beach along the Grand Strand, and enough kitschy delights to keep even the most tireless connoisseur of lowbrow culture amused.
If all this sounds a little frantic (and, by all reports, during peak season it is), off-season Myrtle Beach is low key and astonishingly cheap. Our son was easily placated with an arcade and an indoor "lazy river" swimming pool, leaving us free to stroll the beach or laze on our oceanfront balcony. Similarly, our condo or poolside was just the place to unwind after one of our trademark goofy excursions.
Golf rules at Myrtle Beach, with over 100 courses locally. While we’ve never fathomed golf, mini-golf is something we all enjoy. Myrtle Beach bills itself as the "Miniature Golf Capital of the World," and no one in his right mind would dispute this. With 47 courses in the area to choose from, a good portion of our stay was devoted to this sublimely frivolous pastime.
Those determined to save on "must-see attractions" (loathsome term!) should pick up one of the coupon books hawking two-for-one dinner specials and other deals. Off season, most of the amusement parks are closed, yet other venues slash rates to lure in the sparse tourist trade. Visitors itching to part with their hard-earned bucks will undoubtedly find a way, but those who just like to walk on the beach or play the odd round of mini-golf are in luck here.
North Myrtle Beach caters to young families and retirees, while further south there’s a denser concentration of night spots and restaurants. Off season, there was little traffic and no crowds, but from June through September, the main drag is undoubtedly congested, so North Myrtle Beach may be a better bet.
Buses run along Ocean Drive, but we didn’t see many. The operative word on Atlantic coastal communities is SPRAWL, and this is especially true of Myrtle Beach, which stretches for mile after mile in a mind-boggling procession of cookie-cutter commerce. A car is not essential for those who plan to stay put, but no one seems to do that. The automotive equivalent of channel surfing seems to be the norm, and with a Nascar Speedpark looming just four miles outside town, driving restlessly up and down the Grand Strand takes on the aura of a quasi-religious ritual.
I was relieved to find that the three-bedroom condo I'd booked at the Ocean Reef Resort was, indeed, a full three bedrooms. I'd called to make sure, but still one never knows until the swipe-card lock blinks green and the door swings open.
The Ocean Reef Resort has a new high-rise wing in which most of the spacious condos are located. I'd definitely stay in the new wing again; it's in excellent repair and has a full range of amenities. Having a washer and dryer at the beach is quite convenient. Be forewarned, though, that the kitchen is equipped with dishes, cookware, and appliances, but not with dishwashing liquid, paper towels, coffee filters, and so on. This made no difference to me, however, as I'd read reviews of the resort beforehand and knew to bring such essential kitchen items.
Having stocked the refrigerator from the nearby Winn Dixie, I made my usual "You're on your own, boys" announcement and left them to it. As the Myrtle Beach dining scene leans heavily toward chain restaurants, I didn't feel we were missing much. Later on in the week, having saved a bundle, we felt free to splurge dining out in charming Beaufort, S.C.
What we adults enjoyed most, by far, was sitting out on the balcony and soaking up the sun. Even in late December with temperatures in the fifties, the reflected warmth from the walls and gently waving palmetto trees made us feel like we were in the tropics. When we tired of lounging, we took strolls along the beach, only steps away. The high-rise hotels in North Myrtle Beach are spaced further apart, which means less crowded beaches. Off season, of course, we practically had the place to ourselves. Seagulls outnumbered tourists ten to one.
The Ocean Reef Resort, like most of Myrtle Beach, caters to families. There's a small arcade as well as indoor pool with "lazy river" that kept our son entertained for hours. While it was too chilly to swim in the outdoor pool, which is a beauty, guests were making good use of the outdoor hot tub. (Unfortunately, their conversations echoed straight up to our seventh-floor balcony. Ah well, that's what MP3 players and headphones are for, right?)
A word about the housekeeping staff at the Ocean Reef: they're excellent. Our condo sparkled, inside and out. A big 'muchos gracias' and tip for our hardworking housekeeper.
No cooking, no cleaning, an ocean view from a sunny balcony - Now THAT'S my idea of how to spend Christmas!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 9, 2004
The Ocean Reef Resort
7100 North Ocean Blvd
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Attraction | "Don’t Dangle That Baby: Alligator Adventure"
The answer, of course, is, no, you shouldn’t. You should carry him. Who knows what sort of nasty germs are on the floor of that pen! That’s why well-known "crock-hunter," Steve Irwin, keeps his son safely tucked under his arm when he feeds a thirteen-foot man-eater.
Of course, Steve’s a trained professional, just like that Vegas fellow, Roy. The folks at Alligator Adventure know it’s not a good idea for the average American to get anywhere close to an alligator, though their website promises, "At Alligator Adventure you’ll find yourself face to face with nature’s fiercest and most beautiful animals." No doubt their spoilsport legal advisors had a thing or two to say about that. With personal injury lawsuits on the rise (or perhaps in case Michael Jackson visits), warning signs are posted roughly every thirty feet throughout the park:
What will you find at Alligator Adventure? Well, in short, GATORS! About 900 of them, from hatchlings to leviathans like UTAN, the 20-foot "King of Crocs." I'd never seen such a gatorfest. There were any number of half-ton fat boys who looked like life in captivity really agreed with them:
For those of you who enjoy a good mutation (and who doesn’t?), there’s an alligator named Bob who was born without a tail. Bob wants out, real bad, though the sign outside his pen assured us that Bob wouldn’t have a chance in the wild. (Bob doesn’t know that, however, and no one’s had the heart to tell him.) Plus there are two huge albino alligators, Casper and Wendy (get it?), in their own special pavilion.
STUDY QUESTION: Have the alligators in the New York sewers developed albinism as an adaptive trait? Or are they merely cast-offs from an albino alligator breeding program?
Aside from watching tourists ignore the signs and lean waaay over the fence, the most enjoyable part of our visit was the 5,000-square-foot serpentarium. I’ve always had thing for reptiles, having never gotten over losing my pet horned toad in the sand box when I was growing up. (Those suckers move fast!) In the serpentarium, everyone was ooohing and ahhhing over the enormous pythons, anacondas, and cobras, and generally having a good time ignoring the "Do Not Tap on Glass" signs. I was happy to see my old friend the Aruban Rattlesnake, an endangered species, looking like he really wanted to endanger someone else.
Well, in conclusion, let’s just summarize what I learned at Alligator Adventure: 1) Dangling small children over alligator pens is illegal, at least in South Carolina; 2) when owning alligators is criminal, only criminals will own alligators; and 3) if confronted by a man-eating alligator, just ask yourself, "What would Steve Irwin do?"
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 9, 2004
Highway 17 (barefoot Landing)
North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina 29582
+1 843 361 0789
Attraction | "Mt. Atlanticus Minotaur Golf"
"Look!" I cried. "They’ve got two sea monsters in the lagoon!" And sure enough they did – but that was only the beginning. Dodo birds, giant Venus flytraps, ostriches, a fountain of youth, an ice cave, and, of course, a flesh-eating minotaur are just a few features of this divertingly nonsensical course played on no fewer than three levels, indoors and out.
There are actually two 18-hole courses, a standard feature of the larger mini-golf establishments. Both begin in the former department store, in a series of rooms featuring murals so surreal that Salvador Dali would be hard pressed to do better. The murals are loosely based on the Atlantis myth, with several depicting the evolution of a creature half minotaur, half golfer: the minotaur golfer. One in the style of M.C. Escher was a favorite, a little universe within a universe of minotaur golf.
Another mural featured a crowd of naked people waiting to be beamed up to a mother ship. This made me wonder: Could alien beings actually transport us to another galaxy? If so, would we have cell-phone coverage?
Not many people were out on a December afternoon playing minotaur golf, so we’d soon zipped through ten holes (we don’t keep score) and were stuck behind a family of four with two small and painfully slow children. No matter. We reversed direction and played minotaur golf backwards, playing each hole several times to find that sweet shot yielding a hole in one.
We liked this place so well that we opted for the day pass and played both the Minotaur and Conch courses several times – or should I be honest and say we played the parts of the courses we liked best multiple times. There’s a tricky water shot that kept us occupied a full twenty minutes. At closing time, we were down to one ball between the three of us, my husband and son having managed to send their balls into the lagoon. My moment of glory came when I putted right through the most difficult maze, sending my ball smartly into the hole. Mom RULES!
MT Atlanticus Miniature Golf
707 North Kings Highway
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina 29577
I try hard not to be a complete fuddy-duddy (though my teenage son regularly informs me I fail dismally), but it takes a very naïve person to take all of Myrtle Beach’s claims at face value. Personally, I enjoy suspending disbelief and achieving, if only for a few seconds, that state of perfect gullibility that every advertising executive dreams about.
Take the Myrtle Beach visitor center: Did you know that it’s the world’s largest? Well, anyhow the signs claim it is, and I tried my best to believe them, but it’s just a little bit confusing, see, because by our count there are at least four Myrtle Beach visitor’s centers. Which one is THE largest? Perhaps they mean the largest in aggregate.
Speaking of large things, Myrtle Beach is ground zero for the invasion of Giant Mutant Sea Creatures. There is, of course, the Giant crab, just daring you to enter the restaurant of the same name. Oh, sure, he may look friendly, but I’ve seen enough B-movies to know better. The Giant Crab has obviously put off a number of other wary visitors, for this restaurant has gone out of business.
The Giant Crab
Just when you’re thinking, ‘Phew! I sure am glad I escaped the clutches of the Giant Crab!’ you find there’s something else to worry about. (Begin theme music…):
DUM-dum-DUM-dum-DUM-dum-DUM-dum . . .
That’s right, folks, it’s not safe to go into the beachwear shop anymore. Plus, everyone knows what happens to innocent beachgoers who take inflatable rafts out into the water. They get eaten by a forty-foot Great White Shark, that’s what. This is especially true for young blonde women, who WILL NOT LEARN that it is fatal to engage in hanky panky with their boyfriends in inflatable dingies, especially on Memorial Day.
But enough of this alarmist talk. Let’s look at some fun – and free! - ways to amuse yourself at Myrtle Beach. One of my favorite diversions is reading billboards. I’m here to tell you, in South Carolina they have billboards on top of billboards. There’s a lot of advertising for "gentleman’s clubs," such as the Café Risque and the Wa Wa Spa Oriental Massage parlor, which have a healthy rivalry going with the Bible Factory Outlet Store. You’ll see a sign for the Wet & Wild Adult Novelty and Video Store and then, just a little further down, a gigantic reminder that "Jesus is Lord", exhorting sinners to "Repent!"
It’s hard to decide whose billboard campaign is the loudest and, by extension, most successful, though surely a major contender is Sparky's. All up and down Highway 501, the major traffic artery to the Grand Strand, dozens of huge day-glow signs advertise Sparky’s, the area’s premier purveyor of FIREWORKS. (I’m obliged to use capital letters when I write FIREWORKS. It’s the law in South Carolina, according to Civil Code §20-3-422, which begins, "All citizens shall hereafter refer to any and all pyrotechnic devices as FIREWORKS [upper case]." Granted, I’m in violation of code here by not using three-foot-high day-glow letters, but since this website is based in New York, I can probably claim a technical exemption.)
Sparky’s sells a lot more than FIREWORKS. Where else, under one roof, can you find pecan logs, "Hotter Than Hell" hot sauce, Confederate flag key chains, bottled baby sharks, palmetto T-shirts, boiled peanuts, porcelain collectibles, exotic candy, Indian moccasins, PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN bumper stickers, shark’s tooth necklaces, and genu-wine alligator heads?
South of the Border, that’s where. Yup, this venerable pit-stop off of I-95 has metastasized into the granddaddy of all roadside attractions.
Let’s face it; driving through North Carolina on I-95 is unbelievably dull. Even the prospect of the Big Bass Corn Maze doesn’t do much to liven things up. So, when the billboards for South of the Border begin to appear at relentless intervals, your average I-95 driver is practically mesmerized into stopping in Dillon, S.C. to see what all the fuss is about. We, of course, were no exception. Besides, we needed to use the rest room..
Pedro, guardian saint of South of the Border
Now I can’t even begin to do justice to South of the Border, or SOB as it’s affectionately called. Let’s just start with Pedro. He’s the mascot at SOB and he’s everywhere, most noticeably as the 97-foot-tall figure looming over the entrance. SOB sprawls over 135 acres, an endless procession of eateries, souvenir shops, thrill rides, and novelty attractions. How about a ride up to the top of the Sombrero Tower in a glass elevator? No? Or perhaps you’d like to stay at Pedro’s Pleasure Dome, equipped with its own wedding chapel. Just $99 will get you hitched.
It’s a darn shame, though, that Pedro’s Concrete Bazaar was closed for the season, as I really, really wanted to buy a concrete burro for my front yard. You know, the ones carrying the little concrete baskets? Maybe a little Pedro to lead the burro? That would be cute, wouldn’t it? .
Outside Pedro's Concrete Bazaar
I was in absolute awe - no, wait, in humongous statue bliss - at SOB. Hippos, gorillas, zebras, dolphins, rearing black stallions, saguaro cacti, lions, giraffes, and above all dozens of gigantic PEDROS populate acre after acre of this over-the-top Mexican-themed tourist trap. What’s Mexico got to do with South Carolina? Well, who cares!
But, getting back to things a little more specific to Myrtle Beach, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention golf billboards. Golf is definitely what you’d call a "growth industry," and it’s assuming epidemic proportions as baby boomers age. A baby boomer goes to bed seeming perfectly normal, then wakes up the next morning and thinks, "Hey! This would be a great day to play a few rounds of golf!" It’s all downhill from there. There’s no known cure for golf.
In Myrtle Beach, the afflicted can buy golfing gloves made of Cabretta Titanium Leather at the Golf Dimensions Superstore ("World’s Largest Golf Only Superstore"). I have no idea what the hell Cabretta Titanium Leather is, but it conjures up images of Ricardo Montalban purring, "Cabretta Titanium Leather . . . the richest kind.") Then, after paying a visit to the Golf Ball Outlet ("Used golf balls shipped everywhere"), the newly color blind (another well-known symptom of golf) can join the crush seeking the most egregious pair of golf pants at Martin’s Golf & Tennis Superstore.
Patriotic billboards are also very big in Myrtle Beach. There are several billboards for the Dixie Stampede, which, from what I can tell is a show featuring horses maddened by Dolly Parton waving flags in their faces.
Now, not to nag or anything, but I’d just like take a few moments here to comment on the fact that there’s an appalling lack of nationalistic sentiment in this country. What’s gotten into people? Americans seem just plain reluctant to display the Stars and Stripes these days.
That’s why it’s so heartening to be in Myrtle Beach, where it’s nearly impossible to be out of sight of something red, white, and blue for more than two minutes at a stretch. You can take your pick of American theme shows featuring everything from Elvis imitators in red, white and blue to a sequin-overloaded extravaganza called "BROADWAY! The Star-Spangled Celebration!" Even the gas station owners have gotten into the act, with marquees proclaiming WE SUPPORT OUR TROOPS.
(This makes me wonder: Just how are they supporting them? Are they sending gasoline to Iraq, by any chance? That would be a good idea, as they could sure use some over there.)
Hands down, though, the winner of my extensively researched South Carolina billboard competition conducted December 25-28, 2003 was the sign spotted on Ocean Drive in Myrtle Beach:
"Peace on Earth – We’ll Fight for It."
First, before we begin, let’s get one thing straight: I’m not talking about miniature golfers. Hope that clears that up. Now we can proceed with our exciting discussion of mini-golf.
Oh, and another thing: I'd hate to think that any of you out there would ever use the term "putt-putt," a term frowned upon in serious mini-golf circles. You never hear anyone in the PGMA (that’s the Professional Miniature Golf Association) refer to the sport as "putt-putt." That’d be like calling table tennis "ping-pong," now wouldn’t it? It’s hardly a fitting term for a sport under serious consideration as an alternative Olympic event.
Trybal Island Mini-Golf
Myrtle Beach is home of the United States ProMiniGolf Assocation, which in turn is affiliated with the World MiniGolf Sport Federation. People make a good living out of playing mini-golf, and competition is fierce at the two major U.S. tournaments – the Masters and the U.S. Open. The Masters was held in Myrtle Beach just last October, on one of the very courses I played… but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s move on, shall we?
MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR MINI-GOLF VACATION
In order to get the most out of your mini-golf vacation, it’s important to know a little about the basic types of mini-golf courses, mini-golf etiquette, and the aesthetics of mini-golf.
There are eight basic types of mini-golf courses in Myrtle Beach, six of which will be described here: Hawaiian Golf, Jungle Golf, Dinosaur Golf, Translocated Golf, Disaster Golf, and Pirate Golf. Which golf is right for you?
Well, it really doesn’t matter what you want; that is, if you have children. If children are involved, then the basic Placation Rule applies: Whatever strikes the little cherubs’ fancy - which is usually the first course they lay eyes on - becomes the course that’s right for you. If you are lucky, that will be one of the state-of-the-art mini-golf establishments, such as Mutiny Bay. If you’re unlucky, it will be the washed-out 1960’s-style course with one pathetic windmill sitting semi-derelict on the outskirts of town.
But let’s just consider the optimal scenario, in which there are no children involved. In that case, you have a difficult decision to make. Should you go for thrills and chills at Captain Hook’s Adventure Golf, with its glowing skull cavern and animatronic mermaids, or should you opt for a more traditional tropical setting, such as at Jungle Lagoon Golf ? Frankly, it’s a tough call, and I’m not going to make it for you.
MINI-GOLF DO’S AND DON’TS
Okay, I’m going to tackle the big question head on: What do you do if someone in your party chooses the golf ball color that matches your outfit?
When this happens, you should refrain from hitting the offending party over the head with your putting iron. With a gracious smile, you select whatever unattractively colored ball remains, gray or whatever, and act as if you are completely indifferent to such trivial concerns as color-coordinated golf balls.
Then, first chance you get, you accidentally knock her ball into the lagoon. Whoops!
Rainbow Falls Mini-Golf
Another delicate matter is how deal with the player who is taking forever to line up his shots. In mini-golf, it’s considered a social gaffe to say things like, "HIT THE BALL, DAMMIT!" No. What you should say is, "Oh no! I think I left one of your car windows down!" I find that generally speeds things up.
Unlike regular golfers, who, as we know are legally colorblind and thus have no idea that they’re wearing a flamingo-pink polo shirt matched with chartreuse golfing pants, mini-golfers are sensitive beings, attune to every nuance of their environment. This is why they prefer the uniformly green surface of artificial turf, and why meticulously landscaped courses are so prevalent on the ProMiniGolf circuit. Granted, it does nothing to explain the Peptol-Bismol pink Taj Mahal behind the mauve giant octopus at Rainbow Falls Mini-Golf, but even mini-golf designers suffer from occasional lapses in taste.
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
In the high-stakes arena of mini-golf course financing, it’s recognized that the enterprise with the biggest artificial waterfall or most realistic pirate ship will survive. This has led to fierce competition among designers of Myrtle Beach’s 47 mini-golf parks. However, here are the recent trends I’ve noted in modern mini-golf course design.
I’m not sure what the connection is between Hawaii and golf, but Hawaiian mini-golf is here to stay. In Myrtle Beach, there’s a trio of associated Hawaiian golf courses, the most popular of which is Hawaiian Rumble, featuring a rumbling, smoking volcano that explodes in a fiery blast approximately every twenty minutes.
My son and I played this course at night, which is a terrific time to observe the pyrotechnics. We especially liked the Jimmy Buffet background music and little touches like the talking parrots in the clubhouse. Hawaiian Rumble bills itself as the "#1 Miniature Golf Course in the World," but, frankly, I found the course itself a little cramped. Great volcano, though, no question about it.
Myrtle Beach has continued the proud and ancient tradition of Jungle Golf with a brace of courses such as Jungle Lagoon, Jungle Lake, and Safari Golf. A few of the older courses border on being obsolete, but personally I find some of the older concrete gorillas and zebras have a lot more style than their newer counterparts. Jungle Lagoon combines the best of old-fashioned charm and modern facilities.
Jungle Lagoon Mini-Golf
Let me just state, for the record, that I was really, really disappointed not be able to play the course at Jurassic Golf, which was inexplicably closed the evening we visited. Hey, it might have been Christmas and all, but you’d THINK they’d be a little more accommodating, wouldn’t you?
When I saw the course at Jurassic Golf, I began to appreciate the potential for movie spin-off mini-golf. King Kong Golf. Alien Adventure Golf. Hobbit Golf. Not to mention (and this is almost a sure bet in the immediate future) Pirates of the Caribbean Golf.
"Translocated" is a term I’ve come up with to describe any golf course displaying an unusually high degree of geographic or temporal confusion. Technically, all mini-golf courses fall under into this category, as we know that there are no volcanoes or dinosaurs at Myrtle Beach. However, translocated golf takes the fantasy concept to extremes in displays of pointless verisimilitude, such as at Cancun Lagoon.
Translocated golf courses such as Mt. Atlanticus Minotaur Golf also encompass ambitious mythologies, which I discuss at length elsewhere.
A number of mini-golf courses have disaster elements, the most common being a shipwreck, but there is one course deserving its own category, MAYDAY! Golf, "Home of the Big Yellow Airplane."
The yellow airplane in question, a Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon, is doing a nosedive into the course.
There’s also a Bell UH-1 "Huey" Helicopter making an emergency landing in another section of the course. Sadly, this complex was not open during the holidays, which just means we'll have to go back to Myrtle Beach another time to fulfill our disaster-on-the-putting-green fantasy.
Pirate Golf be by far t' most popular type o' golf in Mertle Beach. There are, by me count, at least a dozen pirate courses in t' area, and when you consider that thar be also pirate themed amusement parks, restaurants, theater shows, and sailin' trips, it’s clear that pirates be very BIG in Mertle Beach.
True, pirates be arguably part o' t' local history, but let’s not Captain Kidd ourselves, shall we? Pirate golf has nothin' t' do with historical accuracy and everythin' t' do with how cool a schooner looks in t' lagoon o' a mini-golf course. One o' t' more innovative courses features play on deck o' a pirate ship. Shiver me timbers!
*This section was compiled using the English-to-Pirate Translator
Well, sad to say, we ran short of time in Myrtle Beach and weren’t able to explore the exciting possibilities of Dragon’s Lair Golf, Ocean Adventure Golf, or Nascar Golf. Do you suppose that could possibly feature…be still my beating heart…go-cart mini-golf carts?
One can always hope. And where there’s hope, there’s mini-golf.