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Grand Strand still beckons despite changes

There was a time when I would thumb rides to the beach with a buddy, maybe $30 in my pocket and no room reservations except on the porch of another friend, and feel incredibly lucky.

We went for the sun and the surf, of course, and the girls working on their tans. We went for the neon and sounds and smells of what was in many ways an oversized circus.

We went for the fried fish joints and foot long hot dogs and bumper cars and bingo parlors and cruising up and down the boardwalk on foot at night, reveling in our good fortune, no matter how simple it was.

All of it playing out to beach music - Myrtle Beach Days, Under The Boardwalk, Miss Grace, Give Me Just A Little More Time-- music that gave birth to shag dancing.

Getting sand in our shoes is what we were doing. Once it's there, it's there, which is what I'm talking about here, in a roundabout way.

As the years went by, golf found the Grand Strand and changed it. Men with vision and daring and a little start up money gave birth to a golfing empire. Courses sprawled out everywhere. Big, fancy hotels sprang up where boarding houses had stood. Hundreds of restaurants lined the streets.

The Strand became a big, internationally famous resort attracting hundreds of thousands of people to its pleasures every year.

It's appearance has changed but its soul, its essence, hasn't. You can get a steak au poivre there but you can still get a golden seafood platter that hums a beach song to the palate. You can see glitzy entertainment in big theaters but there are still tidal pools putting on their own show, reflecting big white clouds and blue skies. There are golf courses designed by some of the best in the world but putt-putt courses, a beach standard for ages, still dare you to knock your ball through a gator's mouth.

The Grand Strand today is whatever you want it to be, and that's a good thing.

I was thinking of that recently when I remembered that I had not been down there this year. That has rarely happened in the last many decades since my beach bum days. Not many a summer has gone by when I haven't played the Dunes Golf & Beach Club, one of my two or three favorites, at least once; when we haven't spent pleasant hours fishing off a dock and throwing our catch of blow fish and eels back into the water; when we haven't sat on a deck with frosty glasses and watched a great thunderstorm out over the ocean, when we haven't gone to sleep to the lullaby of waves.

What we should do is throw the clubs in the car, punch in The Fantastic Shakers singing "Myrtle Beach Days," and head on down the road. And we might.

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