MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA - I've got a good round of golf going but I've left myself short on my approach shot.
I line up my putt for a 20-footer that I need to make to save par. I really need to concentrate, but the loudspeaker is pounding out Jimmy Buffett's "Boat Drinks" and the Hawaiian waterfall is rumbling and my pale blue golf ball is stuck up against a fake rock.
Earlier in the day I had teed it up at Tidewater Golf Club in North Myrtle Beach, a tremendous layout with undulating greens that resemble the figure of Joan on "Mad Men" and beautiful views of marshes and the Intracoastal Waterway. It's been rated one of the top regulation golf courses in the U.S., and I can see why.
But right now I"m down the road a bit at Hawaiian Rumble mini-golf, where they play the miniature golf version of The Masters each year. And that is not a joke.
Mini-golf is serious business, and this year's Masters brought in dozens of players from around the world to play at Hawaiian Rumble, which has a giant volcano and Hawaiian "artefacts" and beautiful flowers but no swinging door windmills or other tricks. It's mini-golf, but don't call it putt-putt, says the guy behind the counter, Ron Blum.
Hawaiian Rumble is considered so good that not only does it host the Masters of mini-golf each year, it also played host to the U.S. Open of mini-golf this year. Take that, Augusta National.
The winner of this year's Masters was Olivia Prokopova of the Czech Republic, who also won it last year. She's only 18 and she's the first back-to-back Masters champion.
"The secret is practice," Blum told me. "She got here six weeks before the tournament started."
I managed a 43 on the 18 hole, par 36 layout. Not bad for having a camera around my neck. But I'm no Prokopova. The kid averaged 31 - five under par - for her rounds during the Masters this year. And that's tough, even when you're playing on artificial carpet with exploding volcanoes and Jimmy Buffett or Don Ho blasting in your ear.
On a more serious golfing note, I thoroughly enjoyed Tidewater, which back in 1991 had the distinction of being named top new course in the U.S. by both Golf and Golf Digest magazines; a feat never before managed. The first couple holes are nice parkland style layouts. But on the third hole you're suddenly out on a beautiful marsh, with white birds soaring over dark water and golden-green grass. The third hole is a tough par 3 with a wild, two-tiered green. The fourth is a magnificent par four that runs alongside the marsh with a ton of ball-swallowing bunkers.
The course goes back inland a bit after that but reaches out to the Intracoastal Waterway on numbers eight and nine. The back nine has a similar mix of parkland and marsh and intracoastal holes, which makes for a delightful day. The 12th hole is probably the signature hole, a par-three where you can look out past the marshes and see boats bobbing on the Atlantic Ocean.
They have five sets of tees, from black down to red. The black tees measure 7,044 yards and carry a slope rating of 144; not for the timid. I played the whites, which are 6,323 yards with a slope of 130; still sizable but not bad.
GM Archie Lemon said residents have drafted a sixth of tees that are a combination of whites and forward green tees. Called white/green, players from that tee box will play a course of 6,031 yards with a slope of 127.
I bunked down for three nights at the Anderson Ocean Club, an Oceana Resort at 26th and Ocean; about 15 blocks north of the SkyWheel and the downtown arcades. That means it's quiet, but easy to get to the action. And with plenty of nice spots nearby, including Lulu's Cafe, with its 50's diner feet and good breakfasts and strong coffee.
The Anderson, part of which operates as a Hilton Grand Vacations propety, is on a great stretch of beach and they have four or five small pools, including a couple hot tubs. They have a nice gym and a very nice spa, where I got one of my better massages on my final day. Very nice folks, which kinda goes without saying in Myrtle Beach.
I had a great meal at Aspen Grille, where a piano player was tinkling the ivories to the tunes of Gershwin and Sinatra and others. I opted for shrimp risotto with black-eyed peas and corn and it was out of this world. I also had the surf and turf, where they quarter a lobster tail (a huge one) and smother it in a sherry cream sauce I didn't adore but didn't mind. The steak was perfect and tender and moist and they had a great wine list.
It's a lovely ambience, with deep red walls and nice art on the walls and friendly staff. Highly recommended.
My last day I managed a quick visit to the Myrtle Beach Art Museum. It was lovely; a three-storey house tucked between Highway 17 and the ocean a mile or so south of downtown and near the airport. They had an incredible display of tapestries using mother of pearl and thousands of beads; really cool. They also had some great paintings by South Carolina artist Jonathan Green; very evocative low-country works showing African-American women in colourful red, orange and yellow blouses with huge straw hats. Lots of other work, too. And they have an art space upstairs for kids to play in, and a large enclosed porch area with tea and cookies if someone wants to bail out or rest for a bit. And it's very close to a nice-looking mini-golf place and a par-three golf course and a block from the beach and Springmaid Pier. So if you're the only one interested in art you've got plenty of places nearby to stash your family or friends while you soak up some culture.
It's also free, although they wouldn't mind a donation. And there's a pretty gift shop, too.
I'd never visited the museum before but I'd have to say it's a real gem in this part of the world.
CONDE NAST AWARDS - CANADIAN CONTENT
Congrats to Porter Airlines for being named world's best small airline in a recent Readers' Choice poll by Conde Nast magazine. It's quite a coup. Also worth noting in the poll is that the lovely Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino B.C. came out as the 52rd best hotel on the planet, while Langdon Hall Country House in Cambridge, Ont. was given the 63rd spot. Conde Nast readers named the top five cities in Canada as Quebec, Vancouver, Victoria, Montreal and then Toronto. Their favourite five Canadian islands were Vancouver Island, Prince Edward Island, Gulf Islands in B.C., Newfoundland and Cape Breton.