To most, it’s the northernmost tip of Myrtle Beach’s Grand Strand, the famous stretch of shoreline that runs down part of the South Carolina coast. But to the locals, Brunswick County is North Carolina’s Golf Coast.
More than 35 courses are located in that county, which includes the barrier Brunswick Islands, sandwiched between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean.
A handful of the courses are nationally acclaimed, some are real bargains and some of the rest are just plain fun. And when the sun goes down, Brunswick County appeals to those who want a change from the bustle of Myrtle Beach to the south.
Instead, the biggest attraction is the abundance of acclaimed seafood restaurants in Calabash.
When you discuss Brunswick County golf, you begin and end with course architect Tim Cate. Credited with 11 designs in the county — he resides in Sunset Beach — Cate has put this part of the country on golf’s map.
The best-known of Cate’s courses are part of the 72-hole complex at Ocean Ridge Plantation — Tiger’s Eye and Leopard’s Chase — all in Sunset Beach, just west of the beaches and about 10 miles north of the South Carolina state line. Tiger’s Eye has received the most attention, having appeared on a few “best of” lists.
Tiger’s Eye features 60 feet of elevation change, which is dramatic for a coastal course, and looks as if it belongs in North Carolina’s Sandhills. It’s a brute from the back tees, but four other sets of tees can accommodate players of every ability, while still posing quite a challenge.
Leopard’s Chase opened in 2007 and also has an abundance of elevation change.
This Cate design is woven through wetlands and the 18th hole features a massive waterfall. It also has five sets of tees.
Panther’s Run is another Cate design at Ocean Ridge, having opened in 1994. It was built on a heavily wooded site, which also features brooks and ponds instead of shoreline wetlands.
Lion’s Paw at Ocean Ridge was designed by Willard Byrd and one of his associates on this course, which opened in 1990, was none other than Cate, who worked for Byrd for seven years before venturing out on his own. Lion’s Paw plays along natural wetlands, through tall hardwoods and has water in play on 15 of its holes.
Jaguar’s Lair, the final course at Ocean Ridge, is under a major renovation.
For more information on any of the courses at Ocean Ridge Plantation or to make a starting time, go to www.bigcatsgolf.com.
The newest course in Brunswick County opened to rave reviews. Cape Fear National Golf Course at Brunswick Forest, in nearby Leland, is also a Cate design and was named by Golfweek magazine as one of the best 11 courses open to the public in North Carolina. Visit www.brunswickforest.com/championship-golf/ for more.
Thistle Golf Club, which opened in 1999 in Sunset Beach, boasts 27 holes of Cate’s work. Regular visitors and locals like Thistle because of its pace of play and the usual excellent course condition. Go to www.thistlegolf.com for starting times and more information.
There are also old favorites in Brunswick County. The Rees Jones design at Sea Trail Golf Resort, the Dan Maples layout at Oyster Bay Golf Links and the 36-hole complex at The Pearl Golf Links in Calabash all have their regular visitors.
Oyster Bay — www.legendsgolf.com — opened in 1983 and the Rees Jones Golf Course at Sea Trail — www.seatrail.com — in 1990. The East and West Courses at The Pearl — www.thepearlgolf.com — opened in 1987, and the East was completely renovated in 1999.