There's nothing quite like a golf vacation. Those stay-and-play golf weekends with your buddies provide a lifetime of memorable moments.
Ahh, the stories! Everyone has his favorite: the buddy who indulges just a little too much and has a meltdown before your eyes, or the time you drained a big-money putt on the 18th hole, a putt that gets even longer with time.
Probably the best thing about a golf getaway with your buddies is that it makes you realize that you want to take another one -- very soon.
Whether it's hopping a direct flight to Las Vegas or making a one-tank drive to Peek'n Peak in Clymer, golf resorts and courses all over the U.S. and Canada offer stay-and-play packages that vary in cost and quality.
However, if you're looking to experience something out of the ordinary, may I suggest the Mystical Golf family -- The Witch, The Wizard and Man O' War -- in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
The experience is truly magical.
In fact, the three courses located just a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean are so much fun to play and so uniquely designed, you could call Mystical Golf owner Claude Pardue the Walt Disney of Golf.
"I wanted to create a total golf experience," said Pardue, a Southern gentleman who admittedly "loves the golf business."
"If you asked 100 golfers, I would think each golf course would get one-third of the votes as their favorite course," he said.
Each of the three courses -- all designed by architect Dan Maples -- is rated from 4 to 4 1/2 stars by Golf Digest and named "The Best Value in America" by GOLF Magazine.
The three courses with diverse layouts feature links-style golf, back-to-back island greens and picturesque, tranquil settings. Each of the Mystical golf courses has its own unique clubhouse, as well.
The Witch opened in 1989 and was carved out of 500 acres of woodlands and wetlands. The long, enchanting cart ride from the clubhouse to the first tee prepares you for an aesthetically pleasing experience.
Smart, tactical golf is a must on the par-71, 6,796-yard layout. The course has more than 4,000 feet of bridge connecting the various holes. Along the way through the swamps and the deep and dark woods you will see some of South Carolina's finest wildlife, including alligators, cranes, bald eagles, deer and black bears.
The Witch's heavily tree-lined fairways put a premium on accurate driving. However, Pardue is quick to point out that the fairways are just as wide as those on the other courses.
"They are more than fair," Pardue said. "But the tall pines frame the fairways and give golfers an optical illusion that they are tight."
Among the course's unique features are the tee markers, which are small hardwood stumps that pierce through the water in the swamps. They resemble a witch's hat.
There are plenty of "signature" holes on The Witch, including the 376-yard, par-4 ninth, which features a green that sits at a left angle to the fairway. Two accurate and solid shots are required to play this hole because there is trouble everywhere you look. The second shot has to carry a large marsh that fronts the green.
Don't be fooled here and think you can hit a long iron or even 5-wood off the tee. You need a drive of at least 230 yards for a clear look at the green.
The back side is full of scenic holes, including the 432-yard, par-4 15th, a slight dogleg left that has a large swampy area to the left that cuts in front of the green and will come into play on every shot.
"You get a lot of different looks on this golf course," Pardue said. "This is our 'target course.' You need to hit accurate shots, and if you do, you are rewarded."
The Wizard is similar to wind-swept links courses you would find in Scotland and Ireland, complete with a castle for a clubhouse.
The course is well-manicured and has plenty of elevation changes, deep bunkers and mound-framed fairways. There are even a few rock bridges that enhance the beauty of this course. The par-71, 6,721-yard layout is loaded with character. Pardue said they moved 800,000 cubic yards of dirt to create the rolling hills of the Wizard.
The finishing three holes will either bring you to your knees or bring you back for more.
The 424-yard par-4 16th has water trouble off the tee to the right and on the approach shot as well. The 180-yard par-3 17th tee has a 60-foot drop onto a raised island green. The finishing hole, with the castle clubhouse in the background, is a 421-yard par 4 that boasts an island tee, island fairway and peninsula green. Don't play army golf here (left-right) or you will get wet.
The large bentgrass greens on the Wizard all roll true. The wide fairways make the course very inviting.
Man-O-War is noted for its back-to-back island greens and water that comes into play on every hole. The par-72, 6,967-yard layout has a demanding 141 slope rating, but it's probably more intimidating than it actually plays. There are plenty of straightforward shots that make the course more than fair.
The 14th and 15th holes both feature island greens, and the entire ninth hole is encircled by a lake.
The 18th, a 494-yard reachable par 5, is a big risk-reward hole. Big hitters can make eagle here, but a wayward tee shot or approach could find the shimmering lake that borders the left side of the entire hole.
The Mystical golf courses are in the heart of the "Grand Strand" and within 15 minutes of Myrtle Beach International Airport, the beaches and outstanding restaurants and other attractions.
The variety of stay-and-play packages offered by Mystical Golf are more than reasonable, starting as low as about $200 per person. You can stay in the Mystical Resort Golf Villas, which back up to several holes on The Wizard. Golfers are even allowed to bring their own coolers. For more information, check out Pardue's informative, user-friendly website: www.mysticalgolf.com.
Getting to Myrtle Beach from the Buffalo area is not difficult. If you are driving, it's about 630 miles. Flying, it's about a 2 1/2 -hour flight, and several airlines fly there direct from the Buffalo airport including Delta, United and US Airways. Spirit Airlines, which leaves from the Niagara Falls airport, has some very affordable rates, but flights are limited so you need to be flexible with dates.
Pardue wanted to create a magical and memorable experience for golfers, one where they would want to return because of the layout of the courses, conditions and service.