The envelope please: Ocean Course is No. 1

COLUMBIA -- After 10 years, you would think this would be pretty easy. It's not.

That's right: the annual list of South Carolina's top 10 public-access golf courses, as chosen by yours truly, is in its 10th year. I thought about having commemorative T-shirts made up, but who has the time or the money?

Did that sound cranky? Sorry.

Back in 1997, when I was inspired by the now-defunct South Carolina Golf Guide (and the need for an easy column) to create this list, I was naive; I gleefully offered up my personal opinions, sat back and awaited reactions.

A decade of good ("thanks for including us") and bad ("how could you leave us out?!") responses later, I know you can't please everyone. Fortunately, I don't have to -- but pleasing me is hard enough.

In 2008, I plan to have a top 15 to alleviate the annual angst over who does and doesn't make it. So this is the 10th (and perhaps final) top 10. Next year, this will be a collector's item. Or not.

• No. 1: The Ocean Course, Kiawah Island (last year: No. 1)

Anyone needing a reminder how good and tough this Pete Dye-abolical layout is, call the Senior PGA, whose players never figured out the par-3 17th hole. The 50-plus crowd can't wait for 2012, when the PGA Tour gets its shot at the course.

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• No. 2: Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head Island (No. 2)

No surprise here. So what did you expect? Did someone bring another PGA Tour event to South Carolina (to match the Heritage) while I wasn't looking? This is Dye from his Pre-Inquisition period; it won't beat you up, but it gets your attention.

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No. 3: Dunes Golf & Beach Club, Myrtle Beach (No. 4)

The same trio of Grand Strand courses shows up on this list each year, exchanging spots depending on recent play. This Robert Trent Jones gem, oldest of the three, never goes out of style; have to love a course with a hole called "Waterloo."

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• No. 4: True Blue, Pawleys Island (No. 3)

The late Mike Strantz built two terrific courses in the same neighborhood. I haven't played Caledonia but am told it is the better of the two. If so, it's guaranteed a spot in next year's top five -- but True Blue won't be far behind.

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No. 5: Mount Vintage Plantation Golf Club, North Augusta (No. 6)

This hilly Tom Jackson design, host of the now-defunct Asahi Ryokuken International, moves up because it's stepping up by adding a third nine holes. That will make this off-the-beaten-path course even more of a find.

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No. 6: Tidewater Golf Club, North Myrtle Beach (No. 5)

To look at this beauty, you never would know it was built by an amateur (Ken Tomlinson). Upon its debut, it immediately went to the top of the competitive Grand Strand market, and all the new courses haven't dislodged it.

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No. 7: Turtle Point, Kiawah Island (No. 10)

One of the best things about the Senior PGA at Kiawah was an updated look at the island's other courses. Jack Nicklaus has a number of in-state designs, but few are better than this marsh- and water-bordered beauty/beast.

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No. 8: Country Club of South Carolina, Florence (No. 9)

The S.C. Amateur Championship returns to this traditional Ellis Maples layout, and if the tournament comes down to the final hole, the brutal par-4 18th will demand a worthy champion. The Pee Dee's best, in a walk.

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No. 9: RiverTowne Country Club, Mount Pleasant (No. 7)

The inaugural Ginn Tribute Hosted by Annika didn't draw the crowds the LPGA was hoping for, but that wasn't the fault of this Arnold Palmer design. The difficult No. 18 certainly got the women's attention.

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No. 10 (tie): Wild Dunes Links Course, Isle of Palms (No. 8) and Wyboo Golf Club, Manning (No. 10)

It's painful to see Wild Dunes' oceanfront finishing holes threatened by erosion, so play this while you can. Wyboo, also a Tom Jackson design, is a "hidden gem," one of five host courses for U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn's August charity event.

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