By Bob Albright
If you are looking for a relaxing getaway this offseason that features great golf along with tranquil, unspoiled beaches and some of the freshest seafood around, then you would be well served to head for North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands. Spread out among a collection of barrier islands, 30 scenic, unique, and challenging championship courses await golfers of all abilities with the only common thread being the laid back and welcoming atmosphere that oozes from this slice of golfing heaven. North Shore Golf made the trip last spring and we offer up this somewhat ambitious, but very satisfying four-day itinerary
After an uneventful flight into Wilmington, N.C., we headed to one of the newer and most celebrated additions to the Brunswick Islands, Cape Fear National at Brunswick Forest in nearby Leland, N.C. Opened in 2010, this par 72, 7,217-yard gem meanders through the Brunswick Forest and is just 10 minutes from downtown Wilmington. An un-mistakable trademark of Cape Fear are the long and winding waste bunkers that elegantly frame so many of the holes. The original footprint had no natural water hazards, but you never would have guessed that as renowned local architect Tim Cate squeezed watery graves seemingly into every nook and cranny, often outlined by the course’s wispy signature fescue. With a slope of 138 there is certainly enough to make Cape Fear as intimidating as Robert De Niro’s character in the movie of the same name, but it should not be missed and as I found out rather quickly, you do get a great roll in those waste bunkers.
The first of three great dinners found us at The Boundary House in nearby Calabash, N.C., where the scallops and crab cakes easily lived up to the area’s billing for sumptuous seafood and the Dogfish Head IPA on draft quickly smoothed out any rough spots on the day’s scorecard. After a day that had started in the wee hours at Logan, this golfer was more than happy to unwind in the spacious accommodations at Brunswick Plantation Villas in Calabash.
With three distinctly different nines, Brunswick Plantation Golf Resort has long been a must-play for golfers visiting the Ocean Isle Beach area. Want a slice of Scotland? Try the Magnolia Course with its extensive mounding and deep bunkers. Want to play something more typical of the region? Try the Dogwood Course, which serenely strays along the Caw Caw River with many prodigious hardwoods lining the fairways. My favorite of the three courses, which were built in 1991 and extensively renovated in 2006, however, was the Azalea Course. Carved through dense Carolina woodlands, the course features a signature hole, the par-3 15th, where golfers fire at an island green surrounded by oyster shells.
After managing to stay dry on that challenging green, we decided to head for the water after the round and found everything we were looking for at the Ocean Isle Fishing Center at Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. Whether you are looking to book a fishing charter, rent a jet ski or take a leisurely sunset cruise like we did, this all-in-one stop has you covered. The best option, however, may be just unwinding at the adjoining. restaurant and tiki bar with your favorite libation and watch the tide – and the charter fishing boats – roll in. Inspired by the two large mahi–mahi I saw unloaded on the dock below, I opted for the mahi-mahi fish tacos and was not disappointed.
The variety that we found at Brunswick Plantation was only amplified at our third stop, the Sea Trail Golf Resort, located in Sunset Beach, N.C. Just like Brunswick, Sea Trail offers immaculate quarters with a diverse array of suites and vacation rentals situated on the pristine fairways of three championship golf courses.
Tackling the scenic 6,740-yard Willard Byrd Course was our first order of business in the morning. Named for and designed by the aforementioned prolific southern golf architect, this shot maker’s course will not disappoint as you weave through a multitude of lakes and tight tree-lined fairways in pursuit of the course’s impeccable championship Bermuda greens. Don’t forget to bring a pair of binoculars either, as within the first three holes I had already added a pair of sunbathing gators, a great blue heron and a bald eagle to the photo library on my iPhone.
If you have time to play only one of Sea Trail’s triumvirate of alluring options, I recommend the par-72, 6,761-yard Rees Jones Course, the consensus favorite among residents and visitors alike. With water coming into play on 11 holes, the course offered a bevy of holes that will keep you coming back, and with the recent conversion from bentgrass greens to championship Bermuda, this gem has only gotten better.
After two exquisite rounds, the perfect capper was to head out to Sunset Beach and try Twin Lakes Seafood where the fisherman’s platter, complete with deviled crab for that southern feel, rivals anything you will find on Cape Ann.
Just like you hope to save your best drive for the 18th tee, it’s always great when you can wrap up a golf getaway on an unrivaled track and we certainly did just that at River’s Edge Golf Club in Shallotte, N.C. Among the vast litany of golf gifts that the late great Arnold Palmer left behind, this breathtaking 6,909-yard, par-72 signature design should not be overlooked. Nestled amid the bluffs and tidal marshes along the Shallotte River, this course really has it all and is consistently ranked as one of the top public courses in the state. Of all the great holes, the one you are most likely to rehash over an ice cold Arnold Palmer (what else?) in the spacious clubhouse afterward is the No.1 stroke hole, the 570-yard, par-5 ninth. Named “Arnie’s Revenge,” this hole has the King’s fingerprints all over it and features a Classic risk vs. reward option on your second shot over a sweeping marsh.
Alas, the risk quotient of that test swallowed the last three balls in my bag, but the reward was simply getting the chance to walk this masterpiece as well as the chance to spend a few days discovering this welcoming and unhurried golf oasis that is the Brunswick Islands.