Brunswick Islands, North Carolina’s Golf Coast

Brunswick County Tourism Development AuthorityBrunswick Islands, North Carolina’s Golf Coast

5th hole on the Heron Course at Carolina National Golf Club in Bolivia

In the Brunswick Islands of North Carolina, Calabash bills itself as “The Seafood Capital of the World.” And who’s to argue? With close to two dozen seafood restaurants to serve a year-round population of 800, its available popcorn shrimp per capita is unmatched. But year-round visitors consume their fair share as well.

Along with the delectable and renowned ocean fare, Calabash and the surrounding Brunswick Islands are home to some of North Carolina’s (and America’s) best daily fee golf courses. The area is known as North Carolina’s “Golf Coast” because of its more than 30 daily fee courses designed by the game’s most recognizable architects, including Arnold Palmer, Rees Jones, Dan Maples, Willard Byrd, Tim Cate, Fred Couples and Hale Irwin.

The Brunswick Islands include such beloved coastal destinations as Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Oak Island, Holden Beach and Bald Head Island. This popular vacation destination is ideally situated on 45 miles of coastline between Wilmington to the north and South Carolina’s beaches to the south, with their collection of courses. But serious golfers are remiss if they don’t book tee times across state lines on the Brunswick Islands’ highly regarded offerings. So, where to start?

Ocean Ridge Plantation in Ocean Isle Beach tempts players with four courses named for jungle cats. The “big cats” at Ocean Ridge are Tiger’s Eye, Leopard’s Chase, Panther's Run and Lion’s Paw. Tiger’s Eye, whose greens are likened to that of Pinehurst, and Leopard’s Chase, with an 18th hole that's as scenic as you'll encounter anywhere, consistently rank among the top-rated golf courses in North Carolina.

A can’t-miss golf experience is taking the 20-minute ferry ride from Southport to the Bald Head Island Club. The layout winds through a maritime forest and alongside freshwater lagoons, salt marshes and sand dunes. Originally designed by George Cobb, it recently was recreated by Tim Cate and draws rave reviews.

Arnold Palmer’s Rivers Edge Golf Club is another gem that needs to be on the Brunswick golfing itinerary. Six of the holes at Rivers Edge sit high upon bluffs along the marshlands of the Shallotte River, and the greens feature paspalum grass. Golf Digest voted it among the “Best 100 Public Courses in America.”

Sea Trail Golf Resort in Sunset Beach is a commendable choice, featuring three 18-hole courses designed by Rees Jones, Willard Byrd and Dan Maples. Each course has its own distinct look, feel and playability.

Farmstead Golf Links in Calabash confounds players with one of the world’s longest golf holes. The 18th plays to 767 yards and is one of the few par-6 holes in existence. The tee box for the finishing hole is actually located in South Carolina. But somewhere along the fairway, golfers traverse back across state lines to the green located in North Carolina.

Locally based golf course architect Tim Cate has left his impression across the Brunswick Islands, including responsibility for the 27 holes at Thistle Golf Club in Sunset Beach. A Scottish influence emanates from the property, from its replica 19th century clubhouse to the links-style feel of the course that features an abundance of heather and wild flowers. The Thistle has earned 4.5 Stars in Golf Digest’s “Best Places to Play in America” for its design, condition and service.

Another Cate course that should make the playlist is Cape Fear National, one of the area’s newest layouts that’s gaining a solid reputation for playability and its natural setting. And if you’re a Fred Couples fan, certainly check out the 27 holes at Carolina National.

Ask around, and both locals and visitors will sing the praises of other top-notch courses strung along the Brunswick Islands, such as the Pearl Golf Links, Lockwood Folly Country Club, Crow Creek, Oyster Bay, Brunswick Plantation and other favorites. And golf packages combining multiple courses are readily available in the area.

Golfers interested in quality golf opportunities situated in a tranquil coastal setting certainly should give strong consideration to North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands. And the local seafood, as the folks in Calabash will tell you, is also tough to beat.

Patrick Jones, with contributions from Gary Carter


There’s much to see and do in North Carolina, so read on.

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