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.