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Brunswick County golf: Fabulous, fun-filled and photogenic

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

Brunswick County is often called the “Upper End of the Grand Strand.” Many of our golf courses are listed as part of the Myrtle Beach golf experience in advertisements and on Web sites.

That’s great. We’re happy to be part of “Golf Capital of the World,” but we have so many courses that we honestly could stand alone as a golf destination.

From Magnolia Greens in the north, to The Lakes in the middle, to Farmstead and Meadowlands on the southern edge of the county, golf courses are plentiful in Brunswick County. Check out the numbers: there are 33 courses in Brunswick County, some with 18 holes, others with 27, a par-3 course (South Harbor) and one small work-in-progress golf facility of 15 holes (Green Hills).

The grand total is 436 holes. That’s a lot of golf!

Add in that golfers can pretty much play year-round and you have a virtual golf paradise in Brunswick County.

Variety is the essence of our courses. Some run along the Intracoastal Waterway, some are flat, others are hilly; pine forests and salt marches are everywhere. Most courses have lots of ponds, rivers and lakes and require precision golf or extra golf balls.

It has been rumored that Brunswick county golfers get their ball retrievers re-gripped each year.

Lots of different designers created our courses. Pete Dye, Willard Byrd, Rees Jones and Dan Maples have left their touch here. In addition, we have a Freddie Couples design (Carolina National), an Arnold Palmer Signature Course (Rivers Edge), and a Hale Irwin Signature Course (The Members Club at St. James). Several courses have been created by our very own Tim Cate (The Thistle, Panther’s Run, Tiger’s Eye, Leopard’s Chase, and The Players Club at St. James). Cate is rapidly become one of the most respected and revered golf course designers in the world.

Beauty is everywhere on our golf courses, and sometimes it’s hard to keep your head down long enough to make the shot. Deep blue lakes, salt marshes with white egrets, sparking water cascading over a dam, boats racing on the Intracoastal, fresh salt air and Carolina blue skies: it’s just too good to be true.

Signature Holes

Certain holes on each course are designated “signature holes,” known for their beauty and/or difficulty. The ninth hole at Rivers Edge is a bear of a hole to play, but a beautiful one to see.

Played at 570 yards from the tips, the sloped fairway curves over a small creek bed, then makes a left turn onto a peninsula that juts into a vast salt marsh. The tiny green at the very tip is surrounded by tall reeds and water and lots of golf balls. A bogey on this hole is a good score.

The 13th hole at Oyster Bay is fabulous. The tee boxes are set back among ancient live oaks with Spanish moss hanging down. It only plays at 330 yards from the back tees, but the green is on a hill above a large lake with a steep oyster shell cliff on the right.

Tiger’s Eye has large white coquina rocks bordering its lakes, The Maples Course at Sea Trail has big waste bunkers and many holes with water carries to the greens. The finishing holes at Brick Landing, The Pearl West and East and Lockwood have spectacular views of the salt marshes that border the Intracoastal Waterway. The Thistle has dozens of varieties of grasses and wild flowers. The finishing hole at Leopard’s Chase includes a waterfall that encircles part of the green. Carolina National is a Certified Autobahn Golf Course with abundant wildlife.

One of the most beautiful sights around is the old hunting cabin that still sits on the lake on Crow Creek’s eighth hole.

Flora and Fauna

This region contains an abundance of wildlife including alligators, great blue herons, white egrets, hawks and a huge species of red-headed woodpeckers.

Enjoy all of it, but watch out for the alligators. They are quick and fierce and you don’t want to disturb a 10-footer that seems to be asleep next to your ball. Just take out another ball, drop it at a safe distance and move on.

Also of concern are snakes and fire ants. Brunswick County has several species of poisonous snakes, including water moccasins, rattlesnakes and copperheads. Avoid any kind of snake on the golf course.

Do the same with fire ant hills. If your ball lands near a fire ant hill, it’s a free lift. These tiny critters can give a nasty bite, so beware.

What’s New?

There is plenty of news in the world of golf in Brunswick County. The two Angles Trace courses were bought by Ocean Ridge and are being combined into one spectacular layout by Cate. By the fall, the new “Jaguar’s Lair” will join the other “Big Cat” courses of Lion’s Paw, Panther’s Run, Tiger’s Eye and Leopard’s Chase.

The Brunswick Forest complex that is being built near Wilmington will include a new 27-hole course called Cape Fear National. The first 18 holes of this Cate design will open in the fall.

The Thistle completed a 15,000-square foot clubhouse in 2008 that incorporates antique fixtures, counters, walls, doors and furniture imported from around the world. It also houses owner Rusty Mackey’s personal collection of golf memorabilia.

Crow Creek just opened its new clubhouse.

The Cost of Golf

Prices vary greatly between courses. A round of golf at a high-end golf course with lots of amenities can cost more than $100 in the peak seasons.

Residents of Brunswick County (some Horry and New Hanover are sometimes included) can get a discounted local rate at most courses, but you will need to produce a photo identification.

Greens and cart fees are higher in the spring and fall, when tourists arrive in droves from the northern parts of the country. We welcome them because they keep our courses alive and well year-round. Many of them grow to love the Carolina coast and then purchase vacation or retirement homes here. That’s good for everyone.

Some golf courses will give golfers a group rate if more than one foursome is playing. Most of the golf leagues in our area negotiate rates for the year; visitors can often do the same. Be sure to check afternoon rates, they are often considerably lower.

If you have children under the age of 16 who play the game, check with the pro shop. Some courses will allow kids to play free with a paying adult. Others will charge a very minimal fee for junior golfers.

So, enjoy Brunswick county golf. Find that perfect hole, make that spectacular shot, sink that long putt. You’ll have a great time.

ELSA BONSTEIN is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at elanbon@atmc.net.