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Long-awaited new clubhouse opens at Crow Creek

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

There’s been a lot of bad news in the world of golf recently. In the last few years several courses up and down the Carolina coast have closed. Because of the down economy, total numbers of golf rounds have decreased, rentals are down and hotels are no longer filled. Restaurants are now closed for longer periods of time during the offseason.

Golf course maintenance budgets have been cut drastically. Notice the number of courses who instead of seeding wall to wall with ryegrass this winter, only seeded their tees, fairways and greens. Some local courses have only seeded greens and tees this year; others have simply painted their greens to further save money.

In the midst of all this angst, there are bright rays of sunshine.

Despite delays, the old Angels Trace course (renamed Jaguar’s Lair and now part of the “Big Cat” complex at Ocean Ridge) is projected to open in the fall of 2009. This was a 36-hole complex being changed into an 18-hole course with Tim Cate as the designer.

Another Cate design, Cape Fear National, will open this year as part of the Brunswick Forest complex just south of Wilmington. Brick Landing is reportedly on the cusp of finishing its renovation and clubhouse reconstruction.

Last summer, The Thistle opened its fabulous new 15,000 square-foot clubhouse. Last fall, Crow Creek opened its new clubhouse.

This is all good news for the Brunswick County resident or visiting golfer.

A beautiful clubhouse was one of the visions the McLamb family had when they built Crow Creek Golf Course complex in Calabash. Now, nine years after the course opened, that dream is a reality.

Their 16,500-square-foot, $2 million clubhouse contains a full size restaurant and bar, pro shop and 19th hole snack bar. Add in the cart charging area on one end of the building and you have one massive building.

“Henry Bennett and the McLamb family (the owners of Crow Creek) had a vision for their golf course community and it included a large clubhouse that would be used by outsiders and residents alike,” said Bryan Thomas, general manager of golf operations at Crow Creek.

“The original design was different, not quite as functional as what we have now built. Everyone tinkered with the plans, and we’re pleased with how it came out.”

The interior of the clubhouse is lavishly appointed with such amenities as tumbled marble tile bathrooms, granite counter tops, and a huge brass chandelier in the tower of the main entrance. A cherry-wood bar and restaurant has large double doors leading to a covered outdoor dining area that overlooks the 18th green.

This outdoor dining area is on the east side of the building, so it will be shaded in the afternoon when golfers come in from their round. Large overhead fans will keep it cool in the summer and there is a big flat-screen TV in the corner for the sports fan.

“I see this as a place where golfers and residents will gather for drinks or dinner after golf, a place where people can relax, watch a ballgame or go over the day’s round.”

“It was well worth the wait,” said Carol Andrews, food and beverage manager for Crow Creek. “We moved here from a trailer that we had outgrown several years ago.”

Right now, the restaurant is open only for breakfast and lunch, but in March it will begin serving dinner also. Breakfast choices include various egg dishes, French toast and pancakes.

The lunch menu includes wings, burgers, cheesesteaks, Rubens, club sandwiches, potato skins and Italian wedding soup. Everything has a cute name. The Fade (chicken salad platter), The Hook (tuna platter), The Sand Bagger (BLT).

The restaurant will begin serving dinner March 1. Carol and her staff have planned an extensive dinner menu with more golf-related appellations. “The Tee” is fish and chips, “Over the Water” is blackened tuna, “Dog Leg Left” is a rib eye steak, and “The Chip” is turkey with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. Really cute is “The Chicken Crow-Don Blue” or chicken Cordon Bleu.

Prices are fair from a low of $11.95 (meatloaf, fish and chips, spaghetti and meatballs) to a high of $18.95 for the rib eye.

“We planned a nice variety for the restaurant,” Bryan said. “Our goal is to give golfers what they want, a great golf course and good food.”

Bryan explained that Crow Creek annual rounds had grown from 20,000 rounds per year to 49,000 rounds in 2008.

“We had completely out grown our old temporary facilities. Golfers wanted more than a hot dog and a burger, they wanted a place to sit and relax. Bathroom space had been limited, everything was crowded. Now we can give our golfers what they want.”

Crow Creek is growing not just in numbers of rounds played, but also in homes and condos. There are now more than 120 property owners there. Most are full-time residents, a few own vacation homes or condos. Some have bought as an investment.

According to Bryan, Crow Creek will continue to operate as a public golf course. There are no plans to make it a private facility.

“Our property owners have reserved tee times for their leagues. We have a men’s league and a women’s league on Tuesdays and a couple’s league that plays almost every Sunday afternoon. There are no annual dues or annual fees, but residents get a discounted golf rate. We like to say that our residents are treated like members without the expense of joining a private club.”

Bryan had a roundabout route to becoming general manager of golf course operations at Crow Creek. He was a cabinet maker and owned his own business for 15 years.

“I got totally burned out and sold the business,” he said. “I loved golf and had dreamed about working in the golf industry. I managed to do that with the help of Patrick Crean, our former head golf professional.

“Patrick took me under his wing and told me about the steps I needed to take to achieve my goal, passing the PAT (player aptitude test) and learning the business. When he left to pursue another career, I took over from him and I’ve been here ever since.”

Bryan also came into golf by a roundabout way.

“A friend asked me to play golf with him,” he said. “It was such a dumb game, following a little ball around a bunch of grassy fields, but I agreed to try.

“Before long, I was hooked. Then I got tired of my friend beating me all the time, so I started to sneak off to the driving range. My game improved the more I played and now golf is my career.”

Today Bryan has a very respectable four handicap and has broken 70 several times in the last year or so.

“Golf is funny,” he said. “First you want to break 100, then you want to get below 90. Soon you’re looking to breaking 80. You never reach the satisfaction point with golf. You always want to better your last game.”

GOLF GAB GROANER

A spaceship from Mars hovers over a golf course and the two aliens inside watch a solitary golfer.

The golfer duffs his tee shot, then shanks his second into deep rough. It takes three for the golfer to get back into the fairway. Once there, he skulls the next shot forward about 30 yards.

The aliens continue to observe the golfer. One finally remarks, “He must be playing some kind of game.”

They continue to watch as the golfer hits his next shot into a bunker, then takes two to get out. Finally he putts and his 30-footer drops into the hole.

The alien turns to his buddy and says, “Wow, now he is really in trouble!”

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