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.

Family and Junior Golf is in Full Swing in NC’s Brunswick Islands

Father and son golfing

Among the benefits of playing golf are time on the course with your family and being at one with nature on the 30 plus beautiful and scenic courses that have earned North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands the nickname of North Carolina’s Golf Coast.

During the summer months, NC’s Brunswick Islands offers even more reasons to hit the links with your family as many of our award-winning courses offer special packages, Family Tees, and free golf for Juniors encouraging families to add a bit of swing time to their beach vacation.

Check out the below courses and more on our Golf Page for Junior’s Play Free with paying adult and other summer promotions.

At Rivers Edge Golf Club in Shallotte, General Manager Jason Monahan has created two new programs to appeal to beach-goers looking for an afternoon out of the sun and on the greens.  The new Four-Hole Loop features holes 1 – 4 and can be played in about one hour.  Offered daily after 1 p.m., it is just $15 per golfer and includes free club rentals, use of driving range, a hot dog and a soda.   Says Jason, “It is great for new golfers or those just short on time who want to get out and play a couple of holes.”

Top Golf Holes

 

Rivers Edge is also one of many courses offering free golf for Juniors age 16 and under when playing with a paying adult.  Good any day or time, the new “Shark Experience Golf Carts” add an element of technology to the game with music, GPS and the ability to stream your favorite college and pro football games and other sports and golf events.  Indulge in the love/hate relationship of the signature #9 hole and peninsula green affectionately known as “Arnie’s Revenge.”  Rivers Edge is the only Arnold Palmer design on the NC coast and is revered for its memorable play along the Shallotte River.

Designed by Rick Robbins, Compass Point Golf Club in Leland is another very family-friendly course.  Gaining a reputation for play that is both challenging and fun, the unique design features a set of “Family Tees” that are great for Juniors. These tees allow every hole to be played as a Par 3 and encourage the social aspect of golf.  Juniors age 10 and under play free with paying adult and age 11 – 15 are $25 with paying adult.

In Ocean Isle Beach, Juniors 16 and under also enjoy complimentary play with a paying adult at Ocean Ridge Plantation, where Bill Long, director of purchasing, marketing and facilities, encourages play on all four of the nationally recognized “Big Cat” courses: Lion’s Paw, Panther’s Run, Tiger’s Eye and Leopard’s Chase.  “This end of the beach is less crowded, quieter and slower paced, yet features some of the best courses in the state,” says Long, who should know as the Big Cat courses, designed by Willard Byrd and Tim Cate, consistently rank among Golf Digest’s “Places to Play,” GOLF magazine’s “Top Courses You can Play”, and among Golf Digest’s “Top 100 Public Golf Courses in America.”   Want more golf?  Take advantage of the popular “Play 3 courses, get Tiger’s Eye Free” package.

Continuing along the NC Golf Coast toward Sunset Beach are Sandpiper Bay Golf & Country Club and Sea Trail Golf Club.

Junior Golf Sandpiper Bay

Sandpiper Bay Golf is another excellent option for family play. Named, “Golf Director’s Course of the Year,” this Dan Maples course welcomes Juniors 16 and under to play free in the afternoons with a paying adult on this course, which Pro Brett Thomaswick says is in its best condition ever this year.  2018 saw new greens on the Bay nine holes, new sod, new landscaping along the lake banks and 100 new carts!

Also just over the bridge on the inland side of Sunset Beach, Sea Trail Golf Club welcomes Juniors 15 and under to play free with a paying adult.  Three award-winning courses by JonesByrd and Maples offer challenging play amongst tree-lined fairways.  Live oaks, towering pines and water hazards bring the coastal environment into play for a memorable outing for all levels.

Moving toward Calabash is Brunswick Plantation, where Director of Sales and Marketing, Scott Thrailkill invites folks to bring the whole family out to play together. The Willard Byrd/Clyde Johnston 27-hole design is family-friendly as is the 17 and under Juniors play free with paying adult summer promotion.  Look for great conditions on the course as fairways and tee boxes were over-seeded and the Ultra-dwarf Bermuda greens are great year-round.

Crow Creek Junior Golf

A Rick Robbins design, Crow Creek Golf Club in Calabash is an immaculately conditioned course. “Families can practice and work on their game at the full-size driving range, chipping and putting green, then hit the links with Juniors 16 and under playing free with a paying adult in the afternoons from June through September,” says Director of Golf Mike Benson.

Just as every one of our beaches is known for its own unique character, the 30 different courses and 567 holes of golfing treasure in NC Brunswick Islands each offer a distinctive experience for memorable play.

Stay up to date on the latest offerings from all of our golf courses at www.ncbrunswickgolf.com.

Choosing the Perfect Accommodations for your Brunswick Islands Vacation

In North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, you don’t have to compromise when it comes to choosing your vacation accommodations. The islands and coastal communities are full of lodging options for every group size and itinerary. Read on to learn more about the benefits of every type of accommodations the Brunswick Islands have to offer and how to find your perfect “home away from home.” You can also visit www.ncbrunswick.com/accommodations for a full listing of the area’s accommodations.

Vacation Rental Homes

Vacationing families who want to be near or on the beach can find the perfect fit for their stay with one of the vacation rentals throughout the Brunswick Islands. Beach vacation rental homes often become a tradition for families, and they return to the same house year after year. Along with easy access to the beach, vacation rentals offer the comforts of home with full kitchens, and gathering space for the entire family to spend time together and relax. Choose from cozy condos and beach cottages to grand oceanfront homes able to accommodate a large family reunion. Vacation rental homes along the Intracoastal Waterway or island canals are also a great option for visitors with boats looking for direct boating access to the water.

If you’re new to the concept of renting a beach house, check out our video page for rental experience videos in which families share why they love renting a beach house for their family’s vacation.

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Hotels and Inns

Don’t need the space provided by a vacation home rental or looking for traditional hotel services? The Brunswick Islands offer a variety of hotels and inns to choose from. Locally-owned inns on the islands offer an intimate experience with an array of amenities, all close to the beach. National brand hotels can be found off the islands, making for an easy drive to sites and attractions beyond the beach. Many hotels and inns feature pools, hot breakfasts, bikes and fitness centers adding even more relaxation to your vacation.

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Golf Resorts

Visitors looking to vacation beyond the beach have two golf resorts to choose from in the Brunswick Islands – Sea Trail Resort and Brunswick Plantation & Golf Resort. Split your days between golf, the on-site pools and the nearby beach, maximizing your vacation fun! Golf resorts offer spacious accommodations (one to three-bedroom villas), many with kitchens, as well as on-property amenities like fitness and activity centers, pro shops and restaurants. 

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Bed and Breakfasts

For history mixed with southern hospitality, stay at one of the B&Bs in scenic Southport, many dating back to the 1800s. These accommodations offer a unique and romantic experience for couples with charming rooms, several furnished with antiques, and amenities such as delicious breakfasts, and bikes to explore the town and waterfront at your leisure! Southport is an idyllic waterside town and a favorite walking area for many, with Victorian-style homes and live oak trees making for a picturesque stroll. Historic walking and tram tours are also available for those wanting to learn more about the area’s past.

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To begin planning your vacation to North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, visit www.NCBrunswick.com. You can also view current Lodging Specials and Packages at www.ncbrunswick.com/specials.

Tee Up Your Golf Getaway At North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands’ Golf Resorts

Take advantage of the mild year-round weather and plan your golf retreat when the time is right for you. In addition to more than 30 championship courses, all a quick drive away from 45 miles of beautiful beaches, North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands features two golf resorts to satisfy both the golfer and non-golfer, making for a fun and relaxing multi-day getaway.

Sea Trail Resort

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Located in Sunset Beach just minutes from the surf, Sea Trail Resort offers 2,000 acres of pristine landscape with three world-class golf courses. Designed by Rees Jones, Dan Maples and Willard Byrd, the courses are made for golfers of all levels and feature added amenities, such as two clubhouses with full-service golf shops and dining options. To fine-tune your skills, be sure to visit the putting greens, driving range and PGA-sanctioned Golf Learning Center.

*Sea Trail hosts the Mel Sole Golf School, which runs year-round with options for one- to three-day programs and includes video analysis.

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Other members of the group can enjoy their visit off the course with indoor and outdoor pools (seasonally) and the Sea Trail Village Activity Center. Visitors can access the Activity Center for local outings to explore the unique coastal communities with eco-tours, kayaking, deep sea fishing and more, adding to the advantages of staying at a golf resort. Sea Trail also boasts 40,000 square feet of event space for meetings and conferences.

*Don’t miss yoga at the Village Activity Center, with several classes for all levels of yogis.

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Overnight guests can choose from nearly 200 fully-equipped, condo-style accommodations, from Deluxe Mini Suites to Deluxe Three-Bedroom Villas, with full kitchens or kitchenettes, and living and dining areas. Complete the resort experience with a visit to the two on-site restaurants.

*Special rates on long term rentals are available for stays longer than 30 days.

Brunswick Plantation & Golf Resort

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A 1,700-acre, plantation-style resort, Brunswick Plantation & Golf Resort is a full-service property in Calabash, N.C. that is perfect for both family vacations and golf escapes with three newly improved courses. Golfers can also access the full pro shop, as well as golf packages and daily green fee specials.

*Customizable golf packages are available where you can play your choice of more than 30 courses throughout your stay in the Brunswick Islands.

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Beyond the golf course, guests get a full resort getaway with indoor and outdoor swimming pools, fitness center, on-site restaurant, along with lodging with large decks and kitchens for a comfortable stay, all without leaving the property. For those wanting to venture off-property in the picturesque coastal region during their stay, the area is prime for active outdoor activities, shopping or just relaxing on the beach.

*Less than 10 miles from the Sunset Beach coast, a beach day is a quick drive away.

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Villa options include 1- and 2-bedroom, and efficiency condos. The spacious accommodations range up to 1,200 square feet for two bedrooms with scenic views of the greens.

*Pet friendly units are available for an additional fee so you can bring the whole family!

To begin planning your golf getaway at one of North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands’ golf resorts, visit www.ncbrunswick.com/fun_and_adventure/Golf_Trips.