The Brunswick Islands, N.C.: discovering a more laid-back version of Myrtle Beach golf
Most golfers know about Myrtle Beach’s more than 100 courses on the “Grand Strand” running from North Carolina over the border into South Carolina, yet fewer understand that 34 or so fine tracks are found in the Brunswick Islands and Cape Fear just south of Wilmington, N.C., also considered part of the “Strand.”
Whereas Mid-Myrtle is all about high rises, strip malls, nonstop activity and great deals the Brunswick island is more about low-rise condominiums, seafood restaurants on the water with not so many line-up buffets, small ocean front hotels and quiet, uncrowded harbors.
All of the courses in Brunswick County are open to the public including those in gated golf communities like Brunswick Plantation & Golf Resort in Calabash where three nines, Magnolia, Dogwood and Azalea, each offer a different golf experience with water coming into play especially on Dogwood and Azaleas while bunkering and mounding create the challenges on links-style Magnolia.
For quality golf that doesn’t beat you up you can’t beat Cape Fear National in the Brunswick Forest development near Wilmington. This Tim Cate design plays through marshes, wetlands and acres of wiregrass and pampas plus a good slug of sand. With a windswept rugged feel, it’s a perfect echo of the surroundings and you seldom glimpse houses or even other fairways.
I’ve seen much bigger alligators than on Cape Fear, but what is scarier are the fluffy deep bunkers like those on the fifth hole. And hole no. 8, a dog right, has a green tucked right behind water tempting you to go for it.
At Sandpiper Bay in Sunset Beach, there are three pretty nines, aptly named Sand, Piper and Bay. Designed by Dan Maples who seems to be the master of friendly resort golf layouts, these recently renovated courses are cut through natural pine forests providing good playable golf with excellent MiniVerde Bermuda greens. Other resort amenities include a zero entry pool, tennis, hot tub and clubhouse.
Farmstead Golf Links in Calabash is so much fun to play you’ll keep going even if it starts to rain. Playing 7,242 yards and designed in the minimalist style by Willard C. Byrd, it’s known for its 18th hole, a whopping par 6 playing 767 yards that actually crosses the North Carolina/South Carolina border – look for a small sign to the right of the cart path as you get near the green. Depending on how you play it, you can find it energizing or horrifying.
And another thing: there’s no beverage cart on the South Carolina side. It’s all about the liquor license. Sure this quirky test garners lots of press and food for talk on the 19th watering hole, but Farmstead deserves to be known as a solid track with a wild, windswept feeling. That may change when 50 lots are developed – there are only two houses on the course now. But Farmstead is richly endowed with memorable holes like the par 3, hole no. 12 with enough tee boxes to give you a different choice on any given day.
At Ocean Ridge Plantation the Tom Cates-designed “Big Cats,’ roll out four exceptional courses in Sunset Beach (Tiger’s Eye, Panther’s Run, Lion’s Paw and Leopard’s Chase). Tiger’s Eye is one of the Northern Strand’s must-play tracks cutting through towering long leaf pine groves and striking coquina rock formations. Although Cates certainly created three beauties (Byrd designed the other), might it have made sense to introduce another designer with a different style to the mix for the 5th “Cat” Jaquar’s Lair another Cates course in the works?
Where to stay: Tripp Sloane, whose family were the only residents on Ocean Isle Beach when he was a kid, can remember the population in the World Book jumping to five when his sister was born. Now this bit of land off the main coast is pretty built up with modest-sized homes and mid-sized hotels including his family’s Ocean Isle Inn. Rooms are not fancy but they work well for golfers with mini-kitchens, balconies and views of the sea.
Comfortable condo accommodations are found at places like the Brunswick Plantation. Condos have fully equipped kitchens, large central living room, dining area, bedrooms with ensuite baths and balconies, many overlooking the golf course.
Places to eat are generally causal with a big nod to local seafood. Try Sharkey’s on Ocean Isle Beach, Dockside Seafood House in Calabash and Twin Lakes Seafood in Sunset Beach.
For off-course fun there are the beaches and deep sea fishing charters with a guy like Sharkey out of Calabash Harbor. This man really knows how to find fish – the first time I dropped my line, I pulled up two sea bass while one eager fisherwoman caught 38 fish (she’s the only one who counted).
Cape Fear National GC Hole 7
Bay Course at Sandpiper Bay Hole 7
Ocean Isle Beach
Tiger’s Eye Hole 11
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I too have been to the Brunswick Islands of North Carolina. You are right - the atmosphere and pace is much calmer but the quality of golf is spectacular. I would highly recommend this area.