Golf Is the Centerpiece of a Brunswick Islands Vacation

Golf Is the Centerpiece of a Brunswick Islands Vacation

The Bald Head Island Club Golf Course is stunning, with Old Baldy Lighthouse in the background

Golfers generally are not fond of sand, but they are when it’s on North Carolina’s glorious “Golf Coast,” where a hardy collection of manicured courses and beautiful beaches combine to set the stage for a first-rate golf vacation. Six barrier island towns – Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Holden Beach, Oak Island, Caswell Beach and Bald Head Island – and quaint coastal towns such as Southport and Calabash comprise the Brunswick Islands, scattered along the southernmost stretch of the state’s coast.

Whether it’s a bunch of golf buddies, couples or a family on the go, groups of all kinds and sizes find the Brunswick Islands are the ideal place to set up a vacation headquarters, from seaside inns to resort villas to spacious homes steps from the sand. Then there’s everything else fun under the sun, from fishing to sightseeing to seafood. And plenty of golf, with more than 30 highly regarded courses bearing the names of such notables as Arnold Palmer, Rees Jones, Willard Byrd, Tim Cate, Fred Couples and Dan Maples. You can make your own plans, or rely upon the services of the area’s experienced specialists who can create a complete custom package.

4-Day Itinerary

Day 1: Start the fun in Southport with a challenging 18 (or two), followed by dockside drinks and snacks from the sea.

Day 2: Get an early start to play 36 holes, and then settle down in Ocean Isle for cold brews at a bar on the beach.

Day 3: Challenge one of the world’s longest holes or get a taste of Scottish links, and then head to the “Seafood Capital of the World.”

Day 4: Finish strong with a full day on the links where big cats prowl, but leave time for a last stroll on a peaceful beach.

Day 1: Feast Your Eyes

The funky seaside village of Southport is an ideal starting point, especially for the 20-minute ferry ride to Bald Head Island, where a can’t-miss golf experience awaits. The Bald Head Island Club Golf Course winds through a maritime forest and alongside freshwater lagoons, salt marshes and sand dunes. Originally designed by George Cobb, it was reworked by Tim Cate and draws rave reviews. If non-golfing ladies are tagging along, some pampering at the Island Retreat Spa & Salon might be in order.

Or you could drive inland and start with a hearty breakfast at the Plantation Grille in the clubhouse at Carolina National Golf Club before checking out the kind of “boom-boom” Freddy Couples can unleash when he draws up a course. Graced with four-and-a-half stars by Golf Digest, the three nines meander naturally through marshes and along the Lockwood Folly River.

After this excursion, a visit back to the Plantation Grille is a good choice, this time for drinks to swap tales and mourn lost balls. Another option is a return to Southport for beverages and seagoing fare at the always colorful Fishy Fishy Cafe, or a dockside pause at Yacht Basin Provision Company, where the beer is cold, the seafood hot and the sun sets gloriously over the water.

Day 2: Par for the Courses

With so many courses to choose from and so little time, an early start is always smart. River’s Edge Golf Club bears the unmistakable touch of Arnold Palmer as it wanders along the Shallotte River, with its smooth-rolling greens featuring paspalum grass. As witness to its worthiness on your to-play list, the club is consistently ranked among the country’s best public courses by Golf Digest and Golfweek.

If you want to maximize your time on course, check into an on-course villa at Sea Trail Golf Resort, which offers three 18-hole layouts designed by Rees Jones, Willard Byrd and Dan Maples. Each course, situated among moss-draped oaks and lofty pines, has its own distinct look, feel and playability. After a long day in the sun, perhaps make a short pilgrimage to Museum of Coastal Carolina's Ingram Planetarium, featuring a celestial theater with a 40-foot projection dome.

A great place to unwind is Ocean Isle Beach, where Sharkey’s, Ocean Isle Fish Company and Pogies serve up cold ones and fresh sea breezes on flip-flop-casual outdoor bars. If hearty Italian cuisine is required, check out Roberto’s, while the ever-groovy Sugar Shack serves up ribs and steaks with Jamaican flair.

Day 3: See Golf and Seafood

Assuming that at some point golf ceases to be your primary focus, there are plenty of ways to take a break in the Brunswick Islands. You could go for a peaceful kayaking excursion along the Intracoastal Waterway or into the salt marshes to observe local wildlife. If landing your own dinner has appeal, you can fish from a pier, in the surf or venture off on a charter trip to deeper waters.

But always back to the links: You have to man (or woman) up for the fun and games at Farmstead, particularly the beast of a finishing hole. One of the world’s longest, 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.

A distinct Scottish influence emanates throughout the 27 holes at Thistle Golf Club, from its replica 19th-century clubhouse to the links-style feel that features an abundance of heather and wild flowers. The handiwork of locally based architect Tim Cate, the Thistle has earned four-and-a-half stars in Golf Digest’s “Best Places to Play in America” for its design, condition and service.

Crow Creek Golf Club was originally developed by a local family to counteract the corporate approach to the game. It still prides itself on condition, service and downhome hospitality, drawing kind reviews and positive word-of-mouth from locals and visitors.

No self-respecting golf outing to North Carolina’s Golf Coast would be complete without at least one visit to world-famous Calabash, billed as “The Seafood Capital of the World.” And who’s to argue? With close to two dozen seafood restaurants, its available popcorn shrimp per capita is unmatched. The original family-owned places – such as Seafood Hut, Ella’s, Captain John’s – are still thriving, while a relative newcomer, the Boundary House, promises to satisfy surf-and-turf desires.

Day 4: Final Rounds

With the emphasis on making the most of your final day, you can mix and match the three nine-hole layouts at Brunswick Plantation, opting to finish with a wind-down on the 19th hole in the gracious antebellum clubhouse.

Or maybe you just take the Big Cat challenge at Ocean Ridge Plantation, where a ferocious foursome waits to pounce: Leopard’s Chase, Tiger's Eye, Panther's Run and Lion's Paw. The newest addition to the pack, Leopard’s Chase, has been rightfully honored as one of the nation’s best public courses. If these cats scratch up your game, a visit to the plantation’s golf academy might offer the cure.

And then why not another visit to Calabash for a last meal of local seafood?

Final note: While the golf is always good, there’s no better way to wind down than a stroll along the pristine and peaceful beaches of the Brunswick Islands. You won’t need your golf shoes, but, if necessary, you can take along your sand wedge and practice bunker shots.

Enjoy all the area has to offer by mixing and matching activities and events to your particular interest. Be sure to check days and hours of operation for each venue.

Gary Carter is an Asheville-based travel writer who covers a range of topics for magazines, online publications and his blog, Eliot’s Tales 4 Gen B.

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