I was especially interested to see True Blue because it would be the third Mike Strantz course that I’d see and there’s quite a spectrum running from subdued to severe between the other two, Caledonia and Tobacco Road. I was curious about where True Blue would fall on that spectrum. Based on pictures that I’d seen, I thought that it’d fall much closer to Tobacco Road. Like Tobacco Road, it looked like a sprawling layout, which would be a sharp contrast to the intimate Caledonia. I didn’t have as good a sense of whether the earthworks and shaping would be closer to the severity of Tobacco Road or the more restrained nature of Caledonia.
My verdict on the style of the course: a bit closer to Tobacco Road than Caledonia, but not to the extent that I expected. The scale is much closer to Tobacco Road: this is a big course with wide fairways and lots of sandy waste areas. But the features (with a few exceptions) aren’t as severe as those on Tobacco Road. I suspect that that’s probably because Tobacco Road was a site with severe ‘natural’ features, namely spoils leftover from mining. But in any case, while the scale of True Blue is obviously much larger than Caledonia, the shaping here reminded me more of it than Tobacco Road.
Overall, I really liked the course. I don’t have nearly the number of reservations about this course that I do about Tobacco Road…although I also wouldn’t say that the highs here were as high as those at Tobacco Road. This course has some very good holes, but it doesn’t have world class holes like some of Tobacco Road’s par 5s. It also has some of the same routing clunkiness of Tobacco Road, with several long green-to-tee drives and a shoehorned par 3, no. fourteen. Finally, the closing three holes are over-the-top difficult. If you have a decent round going coming off the fifteenth green, don’t expect that you’ll finish with one.
But there are several beautiful holes and I felt that the shaping throughout was very well done. While there’s a lot of trouble, the fairways and greens are large enough and their edges soft enough that you shouldn’t be regularly running into it unless you’re hitting a lot of bad shots. It’s also important that you have a good course guide here (I’d recommend buying the yardage book) because a lot of shots are visually complicated and you’ll want to view a schematic of the holes to parse everything that’s going on. Still, with the exception of a few holes, I think that it plays a bit easier than it looks.
Like Tobacco Road, True Blue starts with a fairly long par 5, although this one is substantially more generous and less confusing. It doglegs left so you want to keep it up the left side and the only real trouble should come from getting too greedy with this. But if you bail out right, it’s a very long hole. While the bunkers are dramatic in typical Strantz fashion, I loved the simple shaping of the green complex, which was the first hint that I might not be playing Tobacco Road 2.
The straight line to the green is over the bunker on the left and while there’s plenty of room to the right, you’ll want to carry as much of the bunker as you can to shorten the approach and leave a better angle. I thought that the green was the course’s best; large and open from the left side, but with a high shoulder at the front left that allows you to feed low shots to back hole locations and can help contain approaches from the right side of the fairway. The simple strategy and meaningful yet subdued shaping reminded me of Caledonia and many other courses that I like.
But nine is a very good hole for a good player because it’s reachable, yet the green is very difficult to hit unless you’ve hit a long drive in the right position. I hit a long drive, but a bit to the left of where I wanted. I had a reachable distance (~240) to the green but because it’s well protected on the left, I didn’t think I could carry and hold it. But that still leaves something to do; play a little short right of the green and you have an easy pitch on.
This is one hole that you need to have played at least once to have a sense of what to do. It’s very important to leave yourself a yardage that you’re very comfortable with for your third because the green is shallow and it’s almost impossible to leave yourself an angle that significantly deepens the green (left side is better, but only if the pin is back right). There’s a pretty steep false front and it’s very difficult to hit and hold the green unless you put pretty good spin on the ball.
And as I said in my Caledonia review, I think that those space constraints may have helpfully restrained Strantz because here as at Tobacco Road, when given the space, he seemed to have a penchant to overdo things. Several holes here are a bit too difficult, with greens that are too narrow or too much water in play. The course would be fine with half the amount of sand.
But in some important aspects, True Blue is less overdone than Tobacco Road. I much prefer the shaping, or at least how the land is used, here. I’m not sure exactly what at Tobacco Road is shaping and what was the site that Strantz got, but in any case several holes there are very overdone. I thought that Strantz’s greens shaping here fit in very nicely with the surroundings for the most part and I’ve highlighted several examples of that. There’s also far less blindness at True Blue.
And while I’ve complained about a few of True Blue’s greens being too narrow (especially on the par 3s), this is far less of a problem than at Tobacco Road, where you have numerous greens that are very skinny and very wide with poor visibility to several parts, making it very difficult to know how to even try to play your shot. That’s not an issue here; here you’re at least given a good sense of how you should try to approach the greens.
These issues plus the routing being less cohesive than I suspect it could have been result in a course that’s a bit short of great. But it’s certainly very good. I suspect that it’d be a solid choice for the 80-100 range of a US top 100 public courses list. It was a solid 3rd for me in Myrtle Beach; more interesting than the Dunes, but held back by some flaws and excesses. Still, if you’re in Myrtle Beach, True Blue is definitely worth playing.