TRAVELLING WITH JOE to North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands

By Joe McLean

Day 1 – May 7

3rd Hole, Cape Fear National Golf Course

Not complaining, but Ottawa International Airport at 4:30 am on a Monday to catch a U.S. Air flight through Charlotte to Wilmington, North Carolina is not where I really wanted to be, but golf in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands was the eventual reward.

Cape Fear National at Brunswick Forest was our game today and what a treat. The three Pro V’s provided to clients didn’t last me very long as they were promptly donated to the abundance of water and natural grasses. Too bad, because there was no excuse to lose those balls with the  lush fairways available and awaiting my tee shots.

I certainly can’t blame my inadequacies on the Cape Fear National course as it was in immaculate condition with greens running at 11 on the stimp-meter. Golf course designer Tim Cate has carved a nationally ranked golf course making use of the wetlands in North Carolina.

Five sets of tees are available on the Cape Fear National course measuring between 4802 and 7217 yards. Unique to the course are the par three holes at the end of both nines. The ninth hole measures between 110 and 205 yards open to swirling winds with no relief down the left side of the hole with a sloping green. In fact if you hit the ball left you have lost your ball. Count me for two balls lost on the hole.

A must play as far as this writer is concerned. If you have the opportunity, get a round in at Cape Fear National.

After your game, another “get it on your list” stop is Sharkey’s Restaurant where a delectable tasting of assorted sea-foods await your palette. The clam chowder is a must.

Have to go now as I have a 7:30 am tee time at Sandpiper Bay followed by another 18 at Brunswick Plantation.

Day 2 – Tuesday, May 8

With the Ocean surf pounding on the sands outside my room at the Ocean Isle Inn, it was time to pack up and head for the 27-hole Sandpiper Bay and Country Club in Sunset Beach, North Carolina.

The Myrtle Beach Golf Club Owners Association in 2010 ranked Sandpiper Bay as their Golf Course of the Year and based on our observations during our play will be in the running for years to come.

Course designer Dan Maples has always has as one of his goals when designing golf courses that golfers would remember his courses and return to play them. This one certainly fits the bill. We were greeted warmly by a welcoming and professional group of staff members who were attentive to our every need.

Sandpiper Bay recently converted to MiniVerde Bermuda grasses that stand up better to the heat and humidity found in the Carolina’s. Generous landing areas and large undulating greens welcomed our tee and fairway shots throughout our round and our game was enhanced by the abundance of wildlife found on the course. It was quite a treat to see an alligator stalking and attacking a fish no more than 20 feet from the forward tee. We learned quickly on our visit to stay away from the water’s edge while looking for errant golf balls.

After a quick and delightful cold cut sandwich, we were off to the 27-hole Brunswick Plantation in Calabash, North Carolina where we would also be housed for the last two evenings of our tour.

Arriving at the 1,750 acre Brunswick Plantation & Golf Resort gated community, we were a little apprehensive when we learned that we would be playing on the same course that the National Golf Association Pro Golf Tour had played earlier in the day. Needless to say, we were treated during our round to an assortment of interesting but fair pin placements and fast greens and we survived.

Willard Byrd and Clyde Johnston designed the Brunswick Plantation courses for playability for all levels of golfers and the recently renovated course features champions Bermuda grass, new carts and cart paths as well as new tee boxes and dramatic revisions to landscaping.

Our tour through the Azelia and Magnolia nines left us wanted to return to take in the Dogwood nine.

After an adult beverage in the magnificent clubhouse, we walked over to our condo units overlooking the golf course. What a treat to be housed so close to the course and with plenty of room for each of us.

Later that evening, I shared a platter of Alaska King Crabs for my dinner at Captain John’s Seafood House in Calabash. Are you sensing a theme here? It should be apparent that this area is known as the Seafood Capital of the World.

After 36 holes of golf and a great meal, I don’t remember my head hitting the pillow.

Day 3 – Wednesday, May 9

We had an early morning wakeup as we were headed to a morning of fishing on the Atlantic Ocean. Our crew promised us the chance to haul in an assortment of sea bass, flounder and the occasional shark and they were correct in their promises. What they couldn’t tell me or even know was that I would experience sea sickness. What a treat that was. The ride out to the fishing area and the ride back were fine but when the Captain stopped his boat over the prime fishing areas, the rolling waves captured another victim. I was able to hook and release 3 sea bass before I succumbed. Gratefully, none of my fellow journalists thought to take a picture of their new Canadian friend.

Back at the dock, we quickly loaded up and were off to Farmstead Golf Links in the southern end of Brunswick County. Before a violent thunderstorm arrived, we were able to get in 18 holes on a course that is located in both North and South Carolina. The signature hole on the course is the par 6 -18th. Measuring 767 yards from the tips, you begin with a drive into a wide sweeping fairway in South Carolina and finish on a large undulating green in North Carolina. Numerous lakes and native grasses provided both hazards and beautiful views during our round on the former farm property.

Back to the condo units, we were treated to a lightning storm and an abundance of rain dearly needed by the parched lands in the area.

Twin Lakes Seafood in Sunset Beach was the location for our farewell dinner on this North Carolina Brunswick Islands golf tour. After an assortment of seafood appetizers provided by the chef, I ended the week with a bowl of clam chowder followed by a steak and a Caesar salad.

Perfect.

Day 4 – Thursday, May 10

It was time to pack up our luggage before we headed off to the Ocean Ridge Plantation, where we would play our final round of golf on this tour before we flew home from the Myrtle Beach airport. The Big Cat Courses at the Ocean Ridge Plantation are Tiger’s Eye, Lion’s Paw, Panther’s Run and Leopard’s Chase which is the newest layout.

What a treat it was to play the Tiger’s Eye Golf Links. Keeping the theme going, the six sets of teeing areas are named Saber Tooth, Amur, Bengal, Caspian and Tigress.

Much in demand by visitors to the area, the Tim Cate designed Tiger’s Eye opened in 2000 and features elevation changes, rolling fairways, lakes and a stunning par-3 island hole and is constantly rated among the top courses locally and state-wide. Also nice to the eye were the stunning combination of natural waste areas, native grasses, wild flowers, Carolina pines, mature oak trees and the more than 35,000 tons of native Coquina boulders used to erect scenic bulkheads.

All too soon, we arrived at the final hole on our trip but what a hole to finish on. The par 5, 18th hole measures between 434 and 592 yards and requires a drive over a watery marsh. After safely avoiding numerous fairway bunkers, our second shots required a shot avoiding both fairway and waste bunkers. We then hit to a back pin placement on an enormous green featuring severe undulations.

After a delicious lunch, we were off to the Myrtle Beach airport to wait for our flights home.

It’s always great to get away, meet fellow journalists and play some golf, but as Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz – “There’s no place like home.”

However, when I arrived at the Ottawa International airport at 11 in the evening, I stepped out of the airport into a brisk wind and a temperature drop of some 50 degrees Fahrenheit from earlier in the day in the Carolinas.

It was a great experience and I encourage golfers to look into playing golf in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands featuring over 30 golf courses, designed by some of the best golf course designers in the business.