Travel USA: Mystical Golf a memorable Myrtle Beach trip

By David Droschak

Mystical Golf president and CEO Claude Pardue insists there was no magical formula, no inside trade secrets, that allowed him to survive, heck, even prosper, during the recent golf course contraction in Myrtle Beach.

As some noted courses disappeared into economic despair, Pardue’s three layouts, with their catchy names, memorable logos, unique designs and spectacular scenery, kept swimming right along, and defying the current state of the game.

Pardue, an N.C. State grad who was born in Burlington and cut his teeth in the golf business at Hyland Hills in Southern Pines, often pokes fun at himself as not being very smart. However, the Southern gent seemingly has the golf industry figured out to a tee.

“People make the same conscious decisions to buy anything – whether it’s a car or a pair of shoes – they buy what they perceive to be of value,” he said. “I don’t care if you’re at the low end of the market or the upper end of the market, when they drive away from the parking lot, if they think they got something worth more than the amount of money they paid then you’ve got a happy customer. Selling value has always worked whether there are bad times economically or good times economically.

“You buy a Mercedes based on if you think it’s worth the $70,000 you just spent for it,” Pardue added. “If you think it is worth $90,000 then you are ecstatic to buy it for $70,000. You also have to properly analyze yourself in a market place. You can’t let your ego get in the way. So many people in the golf industry let their ego get in the way, they think they have the best golf course in the world because it is theirs and they built it. They think they should be right there with Pebble Beach. You either sell the same product as your competition for less than they sell it for or you sell a better product than your competition for the same price they sell it for.”

Pardue does a little bit of both with The Witch, The Wizard and Man O’ War – three uniquely different products that are reasonably priced and provide golfers with a sense of adventure as they maneuver way their through a swamp, a windswept links experience and around a 102-acre lake and its tributaries.

None of the three courses measure more than 7,000 yards, but don’t be fooled by the yardage as each Dan Maples designed layout requires shot-making ability and a thinking man’s round.

The Witch (1989) was the first of the three courses Pardue teamed up with Maples, who he met while in Pinehurst and grew fond of because of his design at The Pit.

“I like to create illusions and I talked to Dan about creating illusions and you’ll see a whole lot of them at The Witch,” Pardue said.

The Witch, with 3,000 feet of wooden bridges used as “connectors” through a 500-acre tract of land in the Waccamaw Swamp, is about a 10-minute drive from The Wizard and Man O’ War. Its grand opening was delayed a few weeks as Hurricane Hugo made its way through the Myrtle Beach area, but The Witch recovered quickly and has been one of the area’s top golfing draws for more than two decades.

“How often do you get to go into a swamp?” Maples said. “The Witch is a very unique golf course. I don’t know of another one like it. It’s like a set of dominos when you’re trying to figure out all the golf shots. It just all adds up. So many people love that golf course and they really can’t tell you why.”

Maybe it’s the quiet, serene setting; or not knowing whether a deer will race out of the woods at any moment in your backswing.

“If you name a golf course ‘The Witch’ then you have to be great or the name becomes gimmicky,” Pardue said. “I wanted to make it something that everybody would remember, something that popped out at you. If The Witch was not gorgeous and people came and played it they would say it was just a joke. That was a big deal to me.

“It was also a big deal to me that it remained pristine. You get back on that front side (310 acres) and it’s you, nature and the swamp,” he added. “It is absolutely special. You can go back there and it will seem so quiet. We’ll have days when we have 270 golfers on The Witch and they’ll be whispering and they don’t even know they’re doing it. It is because you get a feeling and you don’t know why you get that feeling. That’s the magic of The Witch.”

In the mid 1990s, Pardue was able to purchase a large piece of land from International Paper that was slated for 36 holes. There was one problem, though. The vast piece of forest had just 3 feet of elevation change.

Pardue’s mind began to spin … and he walked 48,000 acres testing soil and dreaming of a vision of the first “lake golf course” in Myrtle Beach.

He approached Maples about an idea to dig a huge lake, more than 100 acres, taking that dirt and moving it to one course, while the other layout would remain relatively flat with water hazards. More than 1.2 million cubic feet of dirt was transported and The Wizard and Man O’ War were born, opening side-by-side within six months of each other, giving Mystical Golf 54 holes of resort play.

“You go to a lot of multi-course resorts and you can’t tell one from the other,” Maples said. “Well, we said we’re going to make it different, we’ll put all the water on one side and all the dirt on the other and they’ll be totally different courses. We always called them the low course and the high course. When you play the one course you can’t help but see the other course and wonder: ‘What’s going on over there?”’

Each course is distinct, from the layout to the clubhouse, which sits across from each other on Pardue’s lake. There are back-to-back island greens (14th and 15th holes) on Man O’ War (reportedly the only such greens in the world) and arguably the best three finishing holes along the Grand Stand on The Wizard.

“We built the two courses like an artist would build a sculpture. He uses clay and takes away from it,” Pardue said. “That’s how we build the golf courses, we took away what we didn’t want from one and we built up the other.”

Pardue’s overall golf design plan, along with some newly added lodging on site, has allowed him to capture golfers who want to stay on his property – and not venture off to try other Myrtle Beach offerings.

“Go ask 10 PGA Tour players what their favorite golf course is or what style of golf course they like or what they think a great course is and they’ll all give you a different answer,” he said. “They all say Pebble Beach is because they’ve been told all their life that it is, but it’s an opinion. But everybody knows a view. Everybody knows when they are driving through the swamps at The Witch that this is a special thing that they’ve never seen before.”

Pardue is a hands-on owner, who drives around his courses on a daily basis greeting customers and gauging feedback. A five-minute conversation about golf with Pardue will make your day as much as the variety of holes he and Maples dreamed up.

“Some people make it sound like the golf business is different than any other business on the planet and it’s not,” Pardue said. “It’s a business where people are buying your service. My customer isn’t a golfer. That’s what they don’t realize. My product is not golf. My product is my customer getting away from his house, his wife, his boss for one week, with his buddies who want to drink a couple of beers, go out to a nice dinner and sit in a sports bar, play poker, hit golf balls in the day and just wants to get away on his vacation. We sell fun.”

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