Only in NC’s Brunswick Islands Experiences

winter beach walk

North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands is a beautiful and unique vacation destination. From spacious island beaches to quaint coastal towns to a wide range of fun activities, the Brunswick Islands are unlike any other. If you are looking for a place where you can go from ziplining to beaching to standing atop a historic lighthouse to savoring a fresh seafood dish in any one given trip, then this is the place for you.

Keep reading to discover just what makes the Brunswick Islands one of a kind:

1. Lighthouses

Fun Fact! NC’s Brunswick Islands is home to both the oldest AND the newest lighthouse in North Carolina! Built in 1817, Old Baldy has marked the mouth of the Cape Fear River for generations. Learn all about Bald Head Island’s rich maritime history with a tour of the Smith Island Museum of History and then climb the relic itself for a bird’s eye view of the island. After you visit Old Baldy, hop on the ferry and head over to Caswell Beach for a tour of the youngest lighthouse in the state, the Oak Island Lighthouse. Constructed in 1958, not only does the Oak Island Lighthouse stand as the newest lighthouse in North Carolina but it is also the only one with ship ladder steps going all the way to the top. Free top tours of the Oak Island Lighthouse are available year round, however it is asked that you make a reservation at least two weeks in advance.

Old Baldy and Oak Island Lighthouse

2. The Kindred Spirit Mailbox

A landmark dedicated to bridging together one traveler to the next, the Kindred Spirit Mailbox has long stood as a testament to human togetherness. Located on the far west end of Bird Island, about a mile and a half past the last Sunset Beach public access point, lies a secluded mailbox tucked between the dunes. The Kindred Spirit Mailbox invites adventurers to leave their thoughts within it’s journals for the next person to ponder. Be sure to come and cleanse your mind on your next trip to the Brunswick Islands.

Kindred Spirit Mailbox

3. The Swamp Park

Ziplining, four wheeling, eco-touring: what do all these things have in common? You can do them all right here at The Swamp Park in Ocean Isle Beach! For the daring, soar through the sky on a 10 line, three bridge zipline course or test your abilities on the 49 element aerial adventure course. And for those that might be height-impaired, you don’t have to miss out on the fun! The Swamp Park has recently opened a guided ATV adventure tour through the swamp that is guaranteed to be fun… and to get you muddy! Or you can take an educational swamp boat tour through the park and learn all about the eco-system it inhabits. No matter which adventure you choose, fun will be had by all at The Swamp Park!

Swamp Park

4. Sunrises and Sunsets

There is nothing like the sight of the first ray of sunshine peaking over the horizon or the last glance of a bright sky dissolving into the ocean at dusk. The sunrises and sunsets of NC’s Brunswick Islands are truly unbelievable and it is especially true from the fall to the spring. Due to the rotation of the earth and the east/west orientation of the Brunswick Islands, one can watch both the sunrise and sunset over the ocean without ever moving their beach chair. It’s no wonder why this has been called one of the “10 Incredible Phenomena You Have to See in Fall” by Weather.com.

sunrise

5. Calabash Seafood

Seafood might be a staple of many coastal communities, but here in the Brunswick Islands this is especially true. Not only are we home to some of the freshest and most delicious seafood in North Carolina but we are also home to the “Seafood Capital of the World,” Calabash, NC. Known for their signature style of lightly battered and fried seafood, Calabash has been serving up the best for generations.

North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands is a one of a kind destination! With gorgeous  scenery, delicious dinning and a plethora of fun activities for the whole family, you will find yourself coming back time and time again. For more information and tips on planning your next trip, please visit www.ncbrunswick.com.

How to Plan the Ultimate Guys Getaway to NC’s Brunswick Islands

Top Golf Holes

Weekend getaways don’t have to be just for the girls; reconnect with your guy friends over beers, beaches and birdies in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands! With more than 45 miles of pristine beaches, NC’s Brunswick Islands offers the perfect atmosphere for connecting with your guys over the great outdoors, adventurous activities and coastal libations. Whether you’re planning a fun bachelor party, in need for a memorable weekend with your buddies or just looking for a great father and son getaway, check out some of our suggestions for creating the ultimate “mancation” to the Brunswick Islands.

Reel in the Catch of the Day

NC’s Brunswick Islands is home to some “fin-tastic” fishing spots and has a wide variety of experiences to help you catch all types of fish. From surf fishing right off the beach to casting your line from a scenic fishing pier to booking a trip with a local fishing charter, there are many ways to reel in the catch in the Brunswick Islands. If you favor a less-crowded area, you will find plenty of elbow room for surf fishing on the spacious beaches of our five barrier islands. Or, you and your buddies can try casting a line from one of our five ocean piers: The Oak Island Pier, Ocean Crest Pier, Holden Beach Pier, Ocean Isle Beach Pier or the Sunset Beach Pier. Many of the fishing piers are equipped with concessions and bait and tackle shops. For those groups of guys looking to get out on the water, fishing charters are a popular choice and are offered by many local, seasoned professionals. Depending on the time of year and where you cast your line, popular fishing finds include flounder, speckled trout, red drum, bluefish, cobia, king mackerel, wahoo, grouper, mahi-mahi, and tuna. The Brunswick Islands are a can’t miss destination for any fishing fanatic!

Brunswick Islands fishing

Tee Up Your Trip

Put your guys getaway into full swing and choose from 567 holes of golfing paradise in North Carolina’s Golf Coast. From courses for highly skilled enthusiasts to beginners alike, the 30 plus championship courses feature designs with various terrains, so visitors can refine their drive. Designed by esteemed golf architects such as Arnold Palmer, Rees Jones, Fred Couples, Dan Maples, Willard Byrd, Tim Cate and Rick Robbins, the golf courses in the Brunswick Islands provide a wide range of backdrops from marshes and maritime forests to lakes, streams, beaches and the Intracoastal Waterway. Many courses and area accommodations also offer packages and specials, so you don’t have to break the budget during your guys getaway.

Father and son golfing

Soar Through the Canopies

If you are an adrenaline junkie, experience the best views from all new perspectives at The Swamp Park in Ocean Isle Beach. Soar through the trees on a 10-line, three bridge zipline tour or test your abilities on the 49 element aerial adventure park. For adventurers looking to stay closer to the ground, explore the pristine forest along the Shallotte River Swamp and learn about the ecological benefits of the swamp habitat on an ATV Tour. Other attractions offered at The Swamp Park are an informative 50-minute boat ride through the swamp where you can relax and enjoy the wildlife and a reptile sanctuary that is home to many creatures including American alligators and large turtles.

ocean isle beach

Kick Back with a Cold One 

Whether you are a craft beer aficionado or new to the local libation scene, the breweries in NC’s Brunswick Islands are creating special beers that are sure to help you relax, recharge and celebrate during your guys getaway. Grab a brew at 34° North Experiment Station in Shallotte, where you can sip on refreshing beers created through a wild, spontaneous fermentation process. You won’t want to miss their popular Grapefruit SPF 50/50 brewed with a blend of IPA and sparkling grapefruit soda. Hang ten at Makai Brewing Company in Ocean Isle Beach, a Hawaiian themed brewery, that serves an ever-changing menu of craft beer brewed in house. A local favorite is the Nightingale, a coffee porter brewed with Kona Coffee beans. Quench your thirst with tastings of local award-winning wines and rotating taps of craft beer at Silver Coast Winery Tasting and Taproom in Southport. For the extreme craft beer connoisseurs, head over to Tap Time Taproom in Ocean Isle Beach or Coastal Craft Beverage Co. in Calabash where you can sample a variety of different brews from stouts, porters, IPAs, lagers and ales made from many North Carolina breweries.

guys

Plan the guys getaway your buddies will talk about for years! For more information on what to do and where to stay in the Brunswick Islands, please visit www.ncbrunswick.com.

A Fresh Look at Calabash

Shrimp boats bring fresh seafood to the Calabash waterfront

Outstanding food, beautiful views, and a rich history lead to a memorable dining experience and few places can match Calabash in these attributes, especially for seafood lovers.

For generations, visitors to the Brunswick Islands and surrounding counties have made the trek to Calabash for its world renowned seafood. At first, local fishermen and their families served up fresh seafood straight from the boat right on the banks of the Calabash River. Then in the 1930s, these families opened restaurants near the waterfront serving uniquely delicious, lightly breaded fried seafood. This style of cooking became known as Calabash-style seafood and led to the sleepy fishing village earning the nickname “Seafood Capital of the World.” Other restaurants have tried to imitate the Calabash-style of preparing seafood, but nothing compares to enjoying authentic Calabash seafood where it all originated.

calabash seafood

Even today, shrimp boats still call the Calabash waterfront their home and their daily catch can be purchased fresh from the boats right on the docks. These days, the shrimp boats are joined by fishing charters and head boats providing half day and full day fishing excursions. Not a fisherman? Try a two hour dolphin cruise or a sunset cruise that will delight the whole family! Or simply take in the quiet beauty of a walk on the docks after a perfect meal of shrimp, clams, oysters, fish or scallops. And if you’re there in the early morning or in the evening you’ll be amazed at how the shrimp boat captains deftly maneuver the large boats along side the docks.

Delight Your Taste Buds

Whether you are a tried and true Calabash traditionalist or looking for a contemporary variation, longstanding and new restaurants abound with seafood choices. From a classic Calabash fried seafood platter to signature oyster dishes to the catch of the day served fried, broiled, blackened or sauteed, you’ll be sure to find a dish to dazzle your taste buds along with a friendly atmosphere. Whether you choose a restaurant with a waterfront view or one located “up the hill”, you can’t go wrong. The restaurants of Calabash routinely make the lists of must visit seafood establishments in publications such as Southern Living and Coastal Living. Be sure that Beck’s RestaurantThe Boundary House, Calabash Seafood HutCapt. John’s Seafood HouseCaptain Nance’s SeafoodDockside Seafood HouseElla’s of Calabash, The Oyster Rock or Waterfront Seafood Shack is on your dining list.

Enjoy Calabash seafood with waterfront views

Non-Seafood Offerings

For visitors looking for alternative dining options, Calabash has something that will please every palate! Calabash Gourmet & Sushi Bar offers fresh sushi and sizzling Mongolian fare. Grapevine Restaurant serves up pastas, salads, and seafood with a Mediterranean flair. MMM Que Rico brings the tastes of Peru and Argentina to Calabash. There’s also places serving deli favorites, pizza, southern fare, bagels, hot dogs, burgers and more. If you are in the mood for something sweet, try the delicious ice cream flavors at Calabash Creamery. Its Cow-a-Bash Crunch ice cream was included by USA Today in its list of “50 irresistible ice cream flavors.” Then once you’ve completed your culinary adventure through Calabash, grab a brew at the craft beer bottle shop, Coastal Craft Beverage Co.

Half the fun of vacation is discovering new dining spots to taste culinary creations and local flavors of the area, and if Calabash isn’t on your foodie radar yet, it should be. To explore all of the dining options in Calabash or to plan your trip to North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, please visit www.ncbrunswick.com.

Brunswick Islands’ Variety of Courses Offer Pure Golf Experiences

Tiger's Eye Golf Links

Brunswick Islands’ Variety of Courses Offer Pure Golf Experiences  – by Shane Sharp

With more than 30 golf courses, limitless accommodation options and the world’s best seafood, it’s little wonder North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands is dubbed the state’s “Golf Coast.” Neighboring Myrtle Beach, S.C. – the birthplace of the golf package – grabs most golf headlines. Historic Wilmington, to the north, gets the television and movie credits.

But Brunswick Islands’ panacea of coastal marshes, barrier islands and pristine beaches is a diverse, well-established golf hotbed that checks all the boxes. A decidedly different flavor than its flashier Palmetto State cousin, the pace of life is a little slower and the pace of play is a little faster in the Brunswick Islands.

If there’s an operative word that describes golf here, it’s spacious. The area’s windswept coastal layouts bring steady sea breezes into play while its expansive inland tracks are rarely hemmed in by housing developments or highways.

North Carolina-based golf course architects like Tim Cate (based in Sunset Beach) and Rick Robbins, and brand names like Arnold Palmer and Rees Jones, were given carte blanche to work their magic over natural canvases.

The result is a golf destination that keeps avid players with deep appreciations for the game coming back year-after-year.

Crow Creek golf course Brunswick Islands
Crow Creek Golf Club

Calabash and Sunset Beach

Heading north on U.S. Highway 17, golfers first come upon the fishing hamlet of Calabash (the seafood capital of the world) and Sunset Beach, the smallest of Brunswick’s barrier islands. What it lacks in girth, south Brunswick County more than makes up for in golf with 12 of the area’s 30 courses.

Just 35 minutes from Myrtle Beach International Airport, Farmstead Golf Links tees up perfectly for an arrival or getaway day round. The Willard Byrd-Dave Johnson design is known for its 767-yard, par-6 18th hole traversing state borders.

Golfers tee off in South Carolina and putt out in North Carolina. Approximately 250 yards from the back tees in the middle of the fairway is an encouraging placard reading “525 yards to go.”

A mere five-iron away is Farmstead’s sister course, Meadowlands Golf Club, also owned by the McLamb family. Opened in 1997, it’s praised for its consistently solid conditioning, straightforward design and overall value. The Cracker Barrel-style front porch wrapping around Meadowlands clubhouse is an idyllic spot for sipping on a post-round libation.

Six minutes up Hickman Road is Crow Creek Golf Club. Designed by Jack Nicklaus protégé Rick Robbins, this sporty, 7,101-yard circuit beguiles golfers with wide driving corridors, then demands precise approach shots into true-rolling bentgrass greens. Crow Creek – and six other Brunswick Islands courses – were recently ranked among the state’s top 100 by the North Carolina Golf Panel.

The 27-hole Brunswick Plantation Resort and Golf – a Byrd-Clyde Johnston collaboration – is also a crowd pleaser with punching power. For those on a budget or looking for an affordable warm-up round, head to Carolina Shores Golf and Country Club conveniently located off U.S. Highway 17 just over the border.

If there’s a common thread to this southern gateway to the Brunswick Islands, it is “bang for the buck.” Rates at Farmstead, Meadowlands and Crow Creek range from $50 in the shoulder season (August to mid-September) to just under $100 in peak season (mid-September to mid-November). Brunswick Plantation and Carolina Shores offer rates from $30 to $75.

For golfers who appreciate local history, no swing through Sunset Beach is complete without a round at Oyster Bay Golf Links. The county’s first championship-caliber course, architect Dan Maples’ routing takes full advantage of the property’s setting along the Calabash River. Water is in play on 15 of 18 holes, including two island greens.

The Brunswick Islands caught the multi-course wave that rolled through Myrtle Beach in the ’90s and early 2000s. Its southern tier serves a handful properties for have-clubs-will-travel types who prefer 36-holes a day, a beer and a bed.

The Pearl Golf Links is home to the Pearl East and Pearl West courses, both Maples designs. The twin-bill is the centerpiece of stunning, 900-acre swath of marshland along the Calabash River. Both layouts are postcard ready. West is more open off the tee, boasts a links-style feel and flaunts four closing holes which seem to melt right into the river. It recently re-opened with new MiniVerde Bermuda grass greens, also in play on Pearl East.

A bit farther north, Sea Trail Golf Club levels up with 54 holes, featuring [Rees] Jones, Byrd and Maples courses. New ownership is investing heavily in the triumvirate, including new cart paths, bunkers and Champion Bermuda greens on the Byrd and Jones layouts.

The three design styles are distinctively different. Jones presents wide fairways bordered by the “Open Doctor’s” trademark mounding; Byrd’s constricting tree lines and doglegs favor shot makers; and Maples exudes Lowcountry, replete with ancient live oaks, elaborate landscaping and five holes along the Calabash River. Maples is the lone holdout with A1/A4 blended bentgrass greens.

Keeping with the multi-course theme, The Thistle’s three nines – Stewart, MacKay and Cameron – raised the bar around the Brunswick Islands upon opening in 1999. Cate crafted all 27 holes, and many consider The Thistle to be his seminal work. The overall design is bold – and at times modern – yet still manages to pay homage to the original Thistle Golf Club in Leith, Scotland.

Each nine is has its own character; however, open green fronts, mounded fairways and ever-present wind off the Atlantic create a links aesthetic throughout all 27 holes. Thistle’s 16,000-square-foot clubhouse is a must-see with 200-year-old memorabilia from the original club and a tempting list of single-malt scotch to sample.

Twenty-seven holes are also the modus operandi at Sandpiper Bay Golf and Country Club in Sunset Beach. Course enhancements in 2015 and 2018 returned the three Maples-designed nines to form. Forty acres of lakes keep golfers honest and engaged as they navigate the Sand, Piper and Bay nines.

Rivers Edge golf course Brunswick Islands
Rivers Edge Golf Club

Ocean Isle Beach, Shallotte and Holden Beach

Ocean Isle Beach is a favorite with families, beachgoers and surfers. In golf circles, it has long been synonymous with The Big Cats of Ocean Ridge Plantation. This formidable foursome features Leopard’s Chase, Tiger’s Eye, Panther’s Run and Lion’s Paw. The sheer quality and quantity of golf at Ocean Ridge has attracted golfers and large golf groups for 28 years.

Leopard’s Chase opened in 2007 to critical acclaim and is the newest to the litter. This Cate design is characterized by dense, L-93 bentgrass greens, man-made lakes, native areas and grasses all bound together by a network of winding, wooden bridges. It’s par-4 18th hole is one of Brunswick County’s best finishers with an elevated green guarded by a waterfall cascading down a wall of coquina boulders.

It was Tiger’s Eye, though, that cemented Ocean Ridge Plantation’s place on the Brunswick Islands golf map when it opened in 2000. Cate’s early piece-de-resistance is a visual cornucopia of locally harvested coquina boulders, waste areas and native grasses. Golfers tend to remember par 3s, and Tiger’s Eye’s collection of one-shot holes rival any course in the region if not the state.

Panther’s Run (Cate’s first solo design) and Lion’s Paw round out the lineup.  The former installed new TifEagle Bermuda greens in 2018 for the same superior, heat-tolerant putting surfaces as Tiger’s Eye. Golfers would be wise not to discount the older cats at Ocean Ridge. Both layouts hold their own as brawny Lion’s Paw stretches to just over 7,000 yards with a daunting 132 slope.

Shallotte is Brunswick County’s center point, making it ideal to access courses to the north and south. It is also home to one of the region’s premier 18-hole facilities, Rivers Edge. The Arnold Palmer-designed layout opened in 2000 amid the county’s (and country’s) golf boom. The King was handed a stunner of a setting along the Shallotte River with seven holes playing along its banks.

In 2015, Rivers Edge transitioned to Sunday Ultra-Dwarf Bermuda grass greens, removed trees that were blocking sunlight, renovated bunkers and improved drainage. Enhancements withstanding, the course’s calling cards have always been a pair of par 5s, the 570-yard 9th and 490-yard 17th.

The river marsh runs along the entire left side of No. 9 and juts in again at the end of the fairway to keep longer hitters honest. The razor-thin green guards against going for it in two and forces a layup to a narrow landing area. The short approach shot is still a knee-knocker; the putting surface is a mere 15-yards across.

The 17th features a split fairway that makes it reachable in two from the right side, but from the left fairway, it is a true, three-shot par 5. The river is omnipresent on the right and a strip of marsh guards one of the most beautiful green complexes in the county flanked by two live oaks. Rivers Edge’s waterfront clubhouse is an awesome spot to unwind and watch other players navigate the 9th and 18th holes.

A couple of hidden gems round out the mid-county rotation. Brick Landing Plantation Golf Club is a Maples renovation perched on the Intracoastal Waterway in Ocean Isle Beach. Lockwood Folly in Holden Beach is home to one of Brunswick’s most photographed holes, the par-5, 500-yard 18th with views extending out to the ocean. The Byrd design also sports a new clubhouse and Sunday Bermuda grass greens.

Carolina National Golf Course in Brunswick Islands
Carolina National Golf Club

Inland Gems

As Brunswick County turns north toward Wilmington, U.S. Highway 17 meanders through the inland towns of Supply, Bolivia and Winnabow. Enter Carolina National, a 27-hole Fred Couples-Gene Bates design only four miles off 17 in Bolivia.

The three nines – Egret, Heron and Ibis – flow seamlessly together, much like “Boom Boom’s” silky swing. The Lockwood Folly River forms the backdrop and six holes play along it. The longstanding Carolina National special is the “Freddie” that packages 18 or 27 holes, lunch and two beers.

Golfers looking to pick up a few more rounds in the inland region have a couple options. The Lakes Country Club in Boiling Spring Lake advertises the “simplest daily guest rates” in North Carolina. With year-round fees from $21 to $33, who are we to argue? At 6,200-yards with slope of 108, Olde Fort Golf Club helps jet- or car-lagged travelers ease into their Brunswick County golf experiences.

Bald Head Island, Oak Island and Caswell Beach

There is no such thing as a trip out to Bald Head Island Club to play golf; it is an experience. First, there is getting there, accomplished via a 20-minute ferry ride from Southport. Second, there is access that’s limited to members and guests in the peak season (Memorial Day to Labor Day). Third, there is leaving which is nearly impossible to talk oneself into.

The classic George Cobb design was completely overhauled by Cate in 2012, and for all intents and purposes, is a new golf course. Cate worked off Cobb’s original drawings, but added his own touches, including multi-tiered tees, expanded and raised green complexes, and landscaped dunes. The par-3 16th showcases Cate’s full range with new tees, green location, and a coastal dune and bridge over an enlarged three-acre lagoon.

In the shoulder and off-seasons, Bald Head Island Club makes a limited number of tee times available via local golf-package providers. In season, guests rent homes which carry a “full” or “lifestyle” membership to snare a tee time. Ask anyone who has played “BHIC” and he or she will say it is more than worth the extra effort.

Getting “golf ready” for BHIC is made easy at two venues on neighboring Oak Island and Caswell Beach. The storied Oak Island Golf Club is a circa 1962 Cobb design that puts the “hidden” in hidden gem with an oceanfront location on the far eastern side of the island. Oak Island Par 3 at South Harbour is a lovely little venue where junior golfers play free with two paying adults.

Cape Fear National Golf Course
Cape Fear National Golf Course

Leland

Leland has emerged as a sought-after relocation hotspot for families and retirees looking for small-town, North Carolina living. Its enviable location at the confluence of the Brunswick and Cape Fear rivers makes it perfect for water sports and related activities. Just minutes from downtown Wilmington and the airport, Leland is uber-convenient for golfers entering the Brunswick Islands from the north.

Anchoring Leland’s golf offerings are Compass Pointe and Cape Fear National, designed by Robbins and Cate, respectively. Cape Fear National is ranked among the state’s best courses by the North Carolina Golf Panel, Golfweek and GOLF Magazine. The 7,217-yard layout at Brunswick Forest is Cate at the top of his game: challenging but fair, visually stunning and memorable from first tee to 18th green.

Compass Pointe is one of the state’s newest courses, having opened in 2016, and is the centerpiece of a vibrant masterplanned community just 10 minutes from Wilmington. A former Nicklaus Design protégé, Robbins crafted Compass Pointe to play at a championship level from the tips while appealing to the development’s swath of retirees.

Magnolia Greens is Compass Pointe’s sister course featuring 27 holes designed by Tom Jackson. The three nines conjure images of the south’s most beautiful flowering trees and bushes: Azalea, Camilla and Magnolia. The Camilla-Azalea combo is the “championship” layout. Since its 1998 unveil, Magnolia Greens has been recognized as one of the region’s top values with rates under $50.

Stay and Play

Part of the fun in planning a golf trip to North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands is researching and figuring out where to stay. The region is home to vacation rental homes, villas and condos, bed and breakfasts, and traditional hotels and motels. Multi-course venues like Sea Trail Golf Club and Brunswick Plantation offer on-site villas for stay-and-play packages. From foursomes to 40-player tournaments, there are options for any size group.

Getting There

Once immersed in Brunswick County’s peaceful fairways, beaches, charming fishing villages and bucolic inland burgs, it’s easy to forget how accessible it is. The North Carolina population hubs of Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill (The Triangle) and Greensboro-High Point-Winston Salem (The Triad) are all under 3-1/2 hours away. The Washington, D.C. metro area is six hours, and Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are a day’s drive.

Golfers who prefer to fly can choose from Myrtle Beach or Wilmington International airports, depending on whether they plan to stay in the southern or northern portion of the county. Myrtle Beach has non-stop flights from a remarkable 50 cities via service from major carriers plus discount airlines like Porter, Allegiant, Frontier, Spirit and Sun Country. Wilmington connects to the traditional major East Coast and Midwestern hubs with legacy carriers like Delta, United and American.

Shane Sharp is a golf writer based in Greenville, S.C. A contributing editor with GOLF Magazine and former managing editor at TravelGolf.com, he spent a decade covering golf along the Grand Strand.

Golfweek Names Three Brunswick Islands Courses as Best of the Best

Leopard's Chase Golf Course

Golfweek Names Three Brunswick Islands Courses as Best of the Best

by Lisa Allen

Just over the South-North Carolina line, right at the coast, is a string of islands resplendent with woods, wildlife and beaches.

They’re all part of NC’s Brunswick Islands, which stretches from Calabash to Wilmington, North Carolina.

The region features more than 30 golf courses, beaches, waterside restaurants and excellent shopping. For accommodations, the choices – and price points – are endless. Professional trip planners can tailor a combination of accommodations, golf and dining that caters to any golfer’s wishes.

The golf in Brunswick County features an array of courses, each of them manicured and unique and staffed by friendly crews that make you feel right at home.

Just recently, Golfweek cited three area courses as being the best courses you can play in North Carolina.  Each of the acclaimed courses was masterfully crafted or recrafted by golf designer Tim Cate: Leopard’s Chase (ranked 11th of 15), Cape Fear National (15th) and Bald Head Island Club (9th).

Cate designed the first two from scratch and transformed the 1974 George Cobb-designed Bald Head Island into a modern course. Today, each course offers brilliantly drawn courses that engage each level of player differently. Stand at the tips and you’ll see a hole that demands a perfectly executed drive, often threaded between trees that come into play only from those tees, over expanses of marsh areas or flirting with sand on one side and water on the other. For more casual golfers, you’ll find challenges that meet that level of play. Regardless, you have to think your way around a Cate course.

Leopard’s Chase

Leopard's Chase Golf Course
Leopard’s Chase

The stunning course gives you 18 excellent golf holes. The opening hole keeps water along the left side, but it’s fairly remote. The trick is the approach shot, which has to clear a bunker. The second hole is a nice little warm-up par 3 in which you can enjoy the view. You won’t forget the par-5 third hole, a dogleg right that bends around a hole-length waste bunker backed up by water. The approach to the offset green messes with your eye with a large bunker complex left of the green. You just have to ignore it.

The fourth is another beauty, a par 3. The fifth hole demands all of your concentration, with water left and sand left. Oh, don’t forget your distance because the fairway ends 90 yards from the green. The sixth, a par 4, gets your hopes up at the tee that this one will be a cake walk. Nope, the green is tucked behind a formidable bunker complex.

The 11th hole is the one you’ll talk about over beers afterward. It’s a par five with distinct landing areas for your drive, your second shot, then your approach. Marshland lies in wait in between. An exceptional hole.

The 12th mixes it up with grass bunkers by the green, giving your sand wedge a rest. The 14th par 5 is another great hole that requires a plan before you pull your first club.

One could gush about every single hole. It’s easy to see why this met Golfweek’s criteria of courses you’ll want to play.

Cape Fear National

Cape Fear National Golf Course
Cape Fear National

There are so many stunning holes at Cape Fear National, no one signature hole has emerged. Cate’s favorite is 13, a par 4 with waste bunkers cutting off the green from the fairway, but he puts another five holes in contention as the best. Others have weighed in with others.

The greens and bunkers have just been renovated, ensuring the best play possible.

This course is remarkable because of the natural beauty all around, as well as Cate’s ability to harness natural features and contours to build an enduring work of art. In short, this course is on land that provided the foundation for a gorgeous course that perfectly aligned with Cate’s style.

Features of note are the boulders strewn throughout the course, an added touch that gives the course added character. There is a waterfall left of the 18th green, for one last style point to send you home.

“Those all came from a quarry in Wilmington,” Cate said. “They’re fossilized pluff mud that are 60 feet underground.”

Cate also adores his waste bunkers, which keeps players striving for well-executed shots. It’s more fun to see your ball plopped into sand and figure out how to proceed than to hack through woods, searching in vain. On doglegs, he also tempts you with risk and reward. Can I hit it that far or should I aim for a safer shot?

“I’ve always tried to make the course fun and interesting for all levels of golfers,” Cate said. “I provide different views from the different tees.”

Early in his solo career, before he was well-known, Cate would sit in the clubhouse and eavesdrop on golfers coming in from their rounds. “I was so proud when they said they loved the course and couldn’t wait to play it again,” Cate said. “Nothing about my career was about the money or about me. It was all about the golfer and giving them a course they would enjoy, no matter what their ability.”

Bald Head Island Club

Bald Head Island Club golf course
Bald Head Island Club

George Cobb built a classic design in 1974 and Cate enhanced it and put his stamp on it. Cate turned 35 acres of rough into waste bunkers featuring native grasses. It’s unmistakably a Cate course now.

“The most important part of designing a course is the site analysis,” Cate said. He walks every foot of the property, noting terrain, contours, trees, and vegetation. He notes what characteristics he wants to highlight in his design. Once he understands what is where, he plots the route.

“The routing plan is the most important step. Drawing the center line of every hole is what makes the course.”

“Bald Head Island is one in a million,” he said. “The history that’s baked into that island is amazing. You can see it all around the course. There aren’t any cars and wildlife is all over the place. Bald Head is special.”

Drink in these great courses. It’s easy to do. Just call a trip planner and he and she will craft a perfect golf holiday for you. You’ll be surprised at the level of golf and hospitality that awaits.

Lisa Allen, a former newspaper editor, lives in Beaufort, S.C., and writes for several travel and lifestyle publications.  She plays golf whenever she can.