By John Torsiello
Myrtle Beach has it all. The Grand Strand stretches for miles and miles, and beyond golf, golf and more golf there is a plethora of things to do before or after (e.g., miniature golf, Broadway at the Beach, amusement rides, restaurants and nightlife).
But if you are looking for a more laid back yet very enjoyable experience in its own right, then consider the Brunswick Islands area of North Carolina, located along the Grand Strand’s northern beaches. Ocean Isle is a nice little beach community that has been around for 50 or so years and is located a hop over the Intracoastal Waterway, which you can enjoy in a charter boat that will also take you through the surf and out into the Atlantic. Fishing perhaps? The golf in the area is as sweet as the seafood that the local restaurants pride themselves on. You just have to check out Ella’s of Calabash, a funky place and town made famous by Jimmy Durante’s closing show signoff, “Goodnight Mrs. Calabash.” For you not old enough to recall “The Schnoz,” as he was called, Google his name. He was a very funny man and he apparently knew good seafood when he tasted it.
The golf along the northern Grand Strand is top notch and I’ve tested out some of the best layouts, such as The Pearl Golf Links West Course (there’s also an East Course), Sandpiper Bay Golf and Country Club, and Farmstead Golf Links, which has holes in both North Carolina and South Carolina as well as a par-6 closer. How cool is that?
The Pearl West Golf Course (pictured, right) in Calabash, N.C. is a links-style layout with lots of open stretches lined by thick pampas grass. The last four holes feature a dramatic finish along the bluffs overlooking the coastal marshland and scenic Calabash River. Dan Maples designed the course and we enjoyed a great round on a very solid track.
Sandpiper Bay in Sunset Beach, N.C. opened in 1987 with the Bay Course nine debuting in 2000. Dan Maples crafted the holes here. Sandpiper Bay features 27 holes set along the coastal landscape of North Carolina. Built to be playable for any level of player, the holes were cut into a natural pine tree forest and feature gentle doglegs with elevated tees and greens.
Farmstead Golf Links in Calabash is routed on a spectacular piece of land and boasts one of the most memorable holes in the region: the 767-yard, par-6 18th. Dig this: the finisher actually begins with a wide sweeping fairway that rests in South Carolina and concludes on a large undulating green in North Carolina.
A few other treats for you to consider:
Lion’s Paw Golf Course (pictured, left) in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., part of the Big Cats Golf Courses of Ocean Ridge Plantation, is considered Willard Byrd’s finest work. Wild and untamed, rustic and quiet, this magnificent course presents its fair share of adventure and challenge mixed with some gorgeous natural scenery. The finishing hole plays open off the tee and then flows through a chute of trees to the green.
Crow Creek Golf Course in Calabash is an eminently playable track, always providing a place to miss along with spots where you certainly do not want to miss. This is true on holes like the par-three 13th, the green of which forms a peninsula into a pond. There is a chipping area left of the green for players to bail out, rewarding prudent play.
Rivers Edge Golf Club in Shallotte, N.C. was designed by Arnold Palmer, and was built on a pristine piece of property on the banks of the Shallotte River. It was recognized by Golf Digest as among “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses” in 2005 and 2007, and Golfweek ranked it the number 5 course in North Carolina. The signature hole, number 18, a 350-yard par 4, plays tough with a great view of the clubhouse to finish the round.
There are a number of other fine courses in the area that are well worth your time. So, consider the northern Grand Strand and Brunswick Islands area if you are looking for peace and quiet, delicious seafood, magical scenery, pristine beaches and sightseeing along with superb golf. And, the nightlife of the central and southern Grand Strand is only a few minutes’ drive away.