Category Archives: North Carolina

Crow Creek – Course Review

Summary:

Our Myrtle Beach travel group played Crow Creek in Calabash, NC on Saturday, June 2, 2018.  This Rick Robbins design held up extremely well during the 2018 harsh winter and we were met with immaculate playing conditions which was a pleasant surprise.  Tropical Storm Alberto had soaked the area earlier in the week and every course we played on was wet and slow except for this beauty.  I had an 8-iron approach on the first hole, caught it fairly well and watched it bounce hard from the front of the green to the back.  The course’s website advertises V8 bentgrass greens, and these were clearly new, beautiful, and held up very well after the winter.

If you can drive it you can score here but if you are crooked, you’re going to struggle with the ample forced carries over water, troubling sucker pins, and loads of bunkers.  After playing a couple holes, the course reminded me of Thistle from a conditioning standpoint, and the visuals on the tee shots, but didn’t have Thistle’s share of wooded parkland routing that they boast on on one of their nines.

Gazebo overlooking the 16th tee at Crow Creek

Value: (4.25 out of 5.0)

Crow Creek would be considered a middle end play but provides excellent bang for the buck.  The combination of perfect conditions and a very reasonable replay rate ($35) make this a must play for your northern end golf packages.  We got paired up with one of the local senior players and he indicated the word was out on this course.  It was popular with all levels of players (five sets of tees make it playable for everyone) and that became evident when we tried unsuccessfully to book a replay in the afternoon.

Mike working on his swing

Facilities: (4.25 out of 5.0)

The course has a nice clubhouse and full service grill and is serviced by an all grass driving range and two beautiful manicured putting greens.  Once on your cart, you travel under a tunnel to the other side of the road where the practice range, large chipping/putting green, and first tee all reside in a nice orderly distance from each other.  You buy your range balls ($5.00 for a small bag) at the shed adjacent to the range.  The layout makes sense because once golfers are staged in the cart area, they are moved to the other side of the road for warmup and front nine play which reduces cart traffic around the clubhouse.  You travel back under the tunnel to play the back closer to the clubhouse.

Lou warming up his short game

 

 

 

Customer Experience: (3.75 out of 5.0)

We pulled up to the bag drop and there were a lot of players arriving simultaneously.  The cart guys got us unloaded reasonably well but seemed a little harried trying to get everyone saddled up and across the road, with ample time to warm up.  A special thanks goes to the gentleman manning the pro-shop counter in the afternoon.  After our round we inquired about a replay and he had nothing for a couple hours, but made a call to Sea Trail Dan Maples course and got us on there for the reduced price replay rate of $29.  This was a well appreciated effort.  The only ding I’ve got is an important one.  There were only two fresh water stops on the course.  Every track in the Myrtle Beach area should have at least two per nine because of the frequent hot and humid conditions.  So carry plenty of water with you from the start.

#1 tee

Taking on the sucker pin at the 169 yard par-3 13th.

Overall Rating: (4.0 out of 5.0)

If you are staying in the north at Sea Trail or the Glens Village, you could add this course to a package that included Thistle, and Perl East and West courses.  You’d be playing some great tracks on some excellent conditions.  Don’t miss out on playing Crow Creek!

183 yard par-3 16th at Crow Creek

The boys having a cold one in the grill after their round.

Great Golf In Myrtle Beach

At the baby gator hatchery. Pawleys Plantation, SC

Your humble servant has just returned from a trip to the Grand Strand for nine rounds over eight courses, in five days.  There is some great golf to be played in Myrtle Beach but some courses to be avoided at all costs.  Along with playing some awesome venues, we managed to visit with as many golf shops as possible to get an accurate picture of playing conditions across the region.  The following trip report has first hand accounts, photos, and snippets of knowledge picked up by conversations with key people.  Hopefully you’ll find it valuable and interesting.

On Monday, we made the hour drive from our condo at Sea Trail to TPC of Myrtle Beach only to get dumped on by Tropical Storm Alberto and completely washed out after three holes.  We grabbed our rain checks and went shopping.  Off to a poor start.

Practice Green at Kings North.  Notice the winter kill on the left.

Tuesday we ventured out to Myrtle Beach National for a round on Kings North.  Much to our surprise, the greens were rolling okay on this Arnold Palmer gem, but were in very poor shape with significant browning caused by the winter freeze/kill that affected the area.  After the round, the pro explained that the Champion 327 strain of Bermuda was on the Kings course and that another strain of Bermuda was on the West and South courses and they were playing much better, so we replayed on the West and had a very enjoyable round on lush conditions.  Only one or two greens were in questionable shape.  The North is still an awesome layout with tees and fairways in great condition, and is still playable but temper your expectations.

8th green at Glen Dornoch along the intercoastal waterway

On Wednesday we hit Glen Dornoch for 36 holes and encountered lush full greens that were rolling rather slow.  Admittedly it had rained the previous two days, and we got dumped on again for about five holes but the surfaces were in good shape.  We asked the pro how they managed to keep their greens in order and he indicated they had overseeded with Rye, which was essentially what we were putting on.  It had filled in nicely but you could see the spotty Bermuda and our thoughts were that after another month of heat, if that Bermuda didn’t come back, they’d be in trouble when the cool season grass became stressed from the summer bake.

Back down to the southern end we went on Thursday to Willbrook Plantation.  The course was wet from the previous deluge but in otherwise great condition except for a lot of clumpy grass in the fairway since they had just mowed for the first time that week.  For the third straight day we were playing cart path only and getting plenty of exercise toting clubs from buggy to ball and back.  The greens were in good shape and were another overseed job similar to Glen Dornoch.  We had a nice round and elected to forgo a replay in order to save our strength for a head smacking big day on Friday.

The morning round on Friday was at Pawley’s Plantation and we left the condo at 5:45 a.m. to make our 7:48 tee time.  We found Pawleys in great shape and we were finally allowed to ride the fairways.  17 of the 18 greens were perfect, except for the memorable island 13th, which was very stressed.

Lou and Mike sizing up the tee shot at Pawleys #13

13th at Pawleys

I love this golf course and its killer par threes and it took every ounce of skill for me to muster an 8-over 80 from the blue tees which were playing at 6,549/73.7/144.  Finally the heat and humidity had returned.  These were conditions were were more accustomed to playing in.

173 yards of marsh carry to the 17th at Pawleys

In the afternoon, we made our way up the coast to Murrells Inlet and TPC of Myrtle Beach to cash in our rain checks.  TPC had dried out but for some reason they were still playing cart path only.  This is a big golf course with wide holes loaded with tons of sand and water.  The course was in excellent shape and the greens were rolling medium fast but again were primarily on overseeded Rye.  You could see the Bermuda was very spotty and we were glad we were playing it now before conditions deteriorated.   We were tired from the 36 holes, the heat, and playing from the cart paths in the afternoon.  But there was one more day to go.

10 foot friend guarding the banks of the 17th at TPC

Our last play day was Saturday and in the morning we tried out Crow Creek in the north.  Course review is coming but in short, conditions were pure on this all Bermuda track.  It’s a must play.

Dennis warming up at Crow Creek

We wanted to replay in the afternoon but they were booked.  They called over to the Sea Trail resort and got us a time on the Maples course right after lunch.  Sea Trail has three courses and had been brutalized by the winter kill.  Two of the courses, Jones, and Byrd had totally lost their Bermuda greens.  Maples had lost everything but their greens because they were bentgrass.  We learned that they close Maples in the summer so as not to stress their greens.  The Maples tee boxes were very scratchy and there wasn’t much turf in the fairways, although you could play on it.  We were just glad to be playing our final round of golf on a course next to our condo.  After all the driving to the south, it was nice to sink your final putt and collapse in your bed in five minutes.  Oddly enough, despite the conditions, I had my best round of the trip (3-over 75) on Maples.  I suppose if you’re going to play on a scratchy course, the one thing you want is playable greens.

#18 Green on Sea Trail Jones course

We did a great job moving our venues off courses with known winter kill and generally played on very good conditions during the week.  Sunday, I had a late flight and decided to visit some of the area courses for intelligence gathering.  Here’s what I learned:

Oyster Bay:  I adore this layout but the greens are shot.  Avoid it.

The sad practice green at Oyster Bay

 

 

 

Big Cats in Ocean Ridge Plantation:  Tigers Eye’s greens are slowly coming back.  They are letting them grow out, and they looked kind of spotty and shaggy.  Lions Paw is closed for two weeks and Panthers Run is closed for six weeks.  Those two courses totally lost their greens.  Leopard’s Chase is still reportedly playable as they have bentgrass on the surfaces, but I didn’t get a visual.  I’d stay away from these courses as a package.

The Legends:  According to the pro in the shop, Moreland has the Champion 327 Bermuda and lost seven greens.  They are giving discounts to play it.  Steer clear.  Heathland is in great shape and Parkland has a few spots on a couple greens.  I checked the practice green and it looked fine.  Play here at your own risk.

Thistle:  The practice green had a couple damage spots but I examined a green on the course and spoke to the pro who told me the greens keeper did a great job and the course was in excellent condition.  I rolled a few balls on the putting green and it seemed fine.  I’d play here as the layout is awesome and the operation first class.

9th at Thistle. Looking good.

Then I drove across the street to Perl (East and West courses).  Their greens were Bermuda and looked immaculate.  I went inside and learned that Perl had covered their greens during the winter, off and on and especially during the one week stretch that had killed everyone else.  This was the key, and I had received earlier reports that both courses were in great shape.  Passed the eye test, get yourself out on both of these!

Beautiful greens at Perl

Finally, I struck up a conversation with my seatmate on the flight home who was wearing a Caledonia shirt.  He reportedly had played and said the course was in fabulous shape.  So there you have it.  If you are making your way down to the Grand Strand, I’d do it sooner rather than later when all the Rye overseed on some of these good courses is going to get stressed.  If you have any other first hand accounts on Myrtle Beach course conditions, please share!

Play well.

Thistle Golf Club – Course Review

Summary

Thistle Golf Club
Thistle Golf Club

On Friday, June 3rd, 2016, our travel group had the pleasure of playing Thistle Golf Club in Sunset Beach, NC.  Thistle had not been on our regular Myrtle Beach course rotation but it is now.  We last played it about 10 years ago and the course has only been open since 1999.  It has grown into a fabulous track and should be on your MUST play list of northern end courses.

I will usually poll my playing group at dinner on their likes and dislikes about the day’s course and the group was hard pressed to fine any negatives.  In short, we loved it.  Thistle is a straight forward superbly conditioned course with all Bermuda playing surfaces.  There are no trick holes on the two nines we played and if you drive it well, you can shorten some of the par-4s considerably and score.  If not, you’ll struggle because there is a lot of water on the tee shots.  Of the three nines (MacKay, Cameron, and Stewart), we played MacKay-Cameron as Stewart was closed for maintenance.

Right out of the gate on MacKay #1, you have hidden water on the left and an approach over water, so keep your tee shot right center.  Most other shots have a clear line of sight for the player to follow.  Trust your aiming points and if you’re hitting it solid, you’ll be in for an enjoyable round.

Facilities (4.5 out of 5.0)

Mike on the range
Mike on the range

We started off our day warming up on the beautiful driving range.  There are 12 all grass hitting stations and a bag of 40 balls costs $5.00.  Much to our surprise, all the range balls were brand new Titleist NXT Tours and were in excellent condition.  This added to the sense of class, and to the feeling that we were entering into the realm of a hidden gem.

The clubhouse is a modern well appointed beauty and the entire premises has that feel of a classic Scottish course.  There is an ample sized putting green and pitching area and all are located very conveniently to the starter’s station for efficient traffic control.  Out on the course, there are several rest stops with modern clean bathrooms, as well as water fountains and good supplies of divot mix replacement bottles for your golf cart.  This struck me as a good idea and probably helped keep the golf course in its great condition.

View of the putting green from the clubhouse
View of the putting green from the clubhouse

Value (4.25 out of 5.0)

Thistle is a high end play but doesn’t charge high end prices.  The replay rate was $45 (a steal for this caliber of course).  I suppose you could ding them for not including balls in your greens fee but that’s a nitpick when you figure the overvalue you are getting for the golf experience.

With Mike at the par-3, 4th hole, Cameron nine
With Mike at the par-3, 4th hole, Cameron nine

Customer Experience (4.5 out of 5.0)

The bag drop guys provided snappy service as soon as we pulled in and got us loaded and on our way promptly.  The gentleman manning the desk in the pro shop was courteous and helpful, but the lady in charge at mid-day went over and above.  Three of us badly wanted to replay and came in right after the a.m. round to inquire.  The lady said the tee sheet was full until 4:00 p.m. (it was 1:00 p.m.) but she could get us out again if we wanted to go in 10 minutes.  She made sure we had time to grab a lunch to go and a drink, and got us back out into a sweet spot that allowed us to play the afternoon in just under four hours.  We very much appreciated her flexibility and loved our afternoon round.

Then, our group leader found out he lost his car keys and the same lady let him come behind the desk to use the phone, call a tow, and take all the time he needed.  The cart guys helped search the premises for the missing keys which was also appreciated.  We found them locked in our car and resolved the situation with their help in 1/2 hour.

The course would get a perfect 5.0 except that each of the golf carts were equipped with two coolers and neither had any ice.  Virtually every course in Myrtle will provide ice in your coolers and hand towels, but there were none.  A very minor inconvenience but not perfect.

Mike sizing up the tee shot on the par-3, 3rd hole - MacKay nine
Mike sizing up the tee shot on the par-3, 3rd hole – MacKay nine

Overall Rating (4.5 out of 5.0)

I would love to come back and try the Stewart nine when it’s open.  As it was, we played the MacKay-Cameron combination from the blue tees (one up).  The course measured 6,495 and I carded an 8-over 80.  Thistle is a fabulous play.  I’ll be back and you should too on your next trip to Myrtle Beach!

Chris on the par-5 ninth, Cameron nine
Chris on the par-5 ninth, Cameron nine

Lion’s Paw – Panther’s Run Course Reviews

Clubhouse at Lion's Paw and Panther's Run
Clubhouse at Lion’s Paw and Panther’s Run

My travel group played Lion’s Paw on Monday, June 8, 2014 and Panther’s Run the day after on a recent trip to Myrtle Beach.  These are two of the four Big Cat courses at Ocean Ridge Plantation in Ocean Isle Beach, NC.  We’ll review them together because they are sister courses and play out of the same clubhouse.  Tiger’s Eye is the top play of the Big Cats group and is run from a separate clubhouse across the street, but as we learned, the golf operations are distinctly different.

On Monday, we arrived at Lion’s Paw as they were preparing for a ladies tournament on the front nine.  Our two foursomes were scheduled to go off #10 and we were thankful for that.  The bag drop and staging area is rather small and was extremely congested and chaotic.  Play for both courses is launched from the same constricted space.

Staging area on Monday
Staging area on Monday

Due to an airline luggage snafu, four guys in our group were playing with rental clubs, which the golf staff had hastily assembled.  They charged $40 per set for the rentals which were a mediocre mishmash of late year model irons and metal woods.  Nobody in our group was impressed with the offerings and the guys renting actually played several shots using clubs from the rest of our bags which was a little disruptive for everyone.  Given the short notice, I was thankful that the staff could even assemble the sets to allow us to play together.

#3 Tee at Lion's Paw
#3 Tee at Lion’s Paw

Both courses share a medium size driving range with Tiger’s Eye , and the range is located at the far side of the parking lot across the road.  Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to ride your cart to the range from Lion’s/Panthers, but you are from Tiger’s.  Also, the shop charged $3.00 for balls from Lion’s/Panthers, but Tiger’s extended complimentary range privileges.  We thought this was strange given the courses were under the same management company.  There is a small pitching green with one flag and a practice bunker next to the range and two putting greens next to the Lion’s / Panther’s clubhouse.  I felt it would have been beneficial to have a chipping green that allowed your shots to run out, but clearly there was no space for one.  There was good turf to hit off at the range but the quality of the balls was suspect.

Lion’s Paw:

On the course, we found Lion’s Paw to be in good condition, with the Bermuda greens rolling medium fast and smooth.  A couple of the tee boxes were crowned  which was a bit odd but didn’t affect playability.  The course is fairly open off the tee and weaves its way through a residential area with several nice homes nearby, but you don’t have a lot of privacy.

Mike on #3 tee at Lion's Paw
Mike on #3 tee at Lion’s Paw

A couple of the par-3 holes were memorable for the contouring, water carries, and bordering with oyster shells, but you weren’t struck by anything overtly beautiful or difficult.  Lion’s Paw is just a solid, well maintained nondescript golf course.  The biggest appeal for the enthusiast is the ample opportunities for afternoon replay.  With the four Big Cats in close proximity, we chose Tiger’s Eye for the afternoon and at $45, found it a tremendous value and a tremendous golfing experience.  The replay rate at Lion’s and Panther’s is $35 and we actually were given the $35 rate to replay Tiger’s later in the week after they had started fairway aeration.  For the record, at Lion’s Paw, I had a 7-over par 79 from the white tees which were playing 6,457 yards.

#9 green at Lion’s Paw

Panther’s Run:

Tuesday we played Panther’s Run and had a decidedly different experience.  There was no tournament, the course was fairly empty, and everything seemed more organized and less rushed.  Everyone in our group was now playing with their own equipment and the day was more enjoyable.  IMG_0857Panther’s Run is more of a traditional parkland style course that meanders through tall trees with the holes being better framed than Lion’s Paw.  I preferred this layout, although the greens were putting a bit slower, a few tee boxes were a little chewed up, and the fairways were starting to brown out.  Again, nothing affected playability as overall conditioning was pretty good.  Of note are the back to front sloping greens.  Several of the pins were cut in the back along ridges that dropped down at the rear of the greens.  Long two putts were difficult because if you charged these back flags the drop offs would roll out significantly.  I took 36 putts and thee-jacked three times.  Playing for the middle of the greens with back flags was the way to go.  I shot a 9-over 81 from the blue tees which were playing at 6,706 yards.

Jim contemplates the approach on #18 at Panther’s Run

A couple of nitpicking notes:  When we played the par-3 11th, one of the rangers was sitting in a cart just behind the tee box talking on a cellphone and seemed completely unaware of his surroundings or that people were playing golf nearby.  It would have been considerate if he could have held down the chatter.  Also one of our group was perturbed by an experience in the pro shop while in line making a purchase.  The person behind the counter was interrupted by a club member with an inquiry about another matter and immediately discontinued their service on the transaction at hand to cater to the member’s request.  Otherwise, we had a fairly positive golfing experience at Panther’s Run.

If you are traveling to the Myrtle Beach area and want to play the Big Cats, Tiger’s Eye is your course if you only have time for one round.  Lion’s and Panther’s are enjoyable plays as well.

Rivers Edge – Course Review

Summary

On the 9th tee at Rivers Edge
On the 9th tee at Rivers Edge

We visited this Arnold Palmer design in Shallotte, NC on Thursday, May 27 and played 36 holes on a very challenging layout.  From the back tees, this course is rated at 74.7/149 and thankfully we played them one set up.  At 6,440 yards, Rivers Edge is not that long, but the firm fairways and windy conditions put solid ball striking at a premium and tested every ounce of our patience.  Several of the holes are very scenic and run along the Shallotte River and when the tide is out, the site of thousands of golf balls donated in the mud flats gave even the best players in our group cause for hesitation.

Conditions were somewhat of a mixed bag, with several of the bentgrass greens infiltrated with spotty brown patches, which were either dormant grass (unlikely) or some type of disease.  They were rolling fairly slow but were dry and bouncing hard, especially on the down wind shots.  The tee boxes were a little scratchy in spots and the fairways hard and dry.  The series of exposed holes by the river were reminiscent of conditions at a British Open.

Playing notes:

  • #9 is a 90 degree dogleg left par-5 that played into the wind on the first two shots and as you made the dogleg, were forced to contend with a strong right to left wind and a fairway and green that sloped hard right to left.  Trying to keep the ball on the putting surface was almost comical.  I made bogey in both rounds and felt I had conquered the world.  Favor the right side of the fairway off the tee because a drive left of center will catch the hard turf and roll down into the marsh.
  • #10 is a 330 yard par-4 that has more landing room than it looks like from the tee.  I laid up with a 3-iron but could have easily hit 3WD and gained a shorter approach.
  • #16 is a 386 yard par-4 that you must favor the left side on your tee shot or risk a hard bounce right and a lost ball in the river.  Take your tee shot over the middle of the left fairway bunker for the best line in.
  • #17 is a par-5 with an awkward approach because of the positioning of a tree right in front of the green.  Only a left pin placement is actually accessible and seemed a bit unfair to us.
  • #18 is a 360 yard par-4 where you have to decide how much marsh to carry on the tee shot.  I found a well struck 3WD at the gazebo in the distance is a good line and left about a 100 yard shot in.  My playing partner buried a driver in a bunker about 60 yards from the green (video below).  Your choice.

Value (3.5 out of 5.0)

Greens fees are $100 to play at this time which seemed a bit high for the summer.  Of course, ours was included in our package but we found the replay rate of $25 low in comparison to other courses of this caliber, and a very pleasant surprise.  Range balls were complimentary.  We ate lunch in the clubhouse and the entries were delicious and very reasonably priced.  Treat yourself to the blackened fish sandwich if you are inclined.  It was excellent.

Facilities (3.0 out of 5.0)

The clubhouse and grill were good sized with a medium to small pro shop.  The driving range was in very good condition and you hit from all grass stations.  The putting green was medium sized but you weren’t allowed to chip and I couldn’t find an alternate chipping / pitching area.  The practice area was clearly meant for resort players who want a quick bucket to warm up before their game and not for protracted practice.  My rating here would go higher with top notch course conditions because the layout of some of these holes is outstanding.

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

The bag drop off / cart attendant was very friendly and provided an excellent first face.  He had your clubs loaded, your range balls in hand, and directions to wherever you wanted to go.  The pro in the shop was very friendly and accommodating and I believe discounted us $10 off the normal replay rate, which was much appreciated.  They got us off when we wanted to play in the afternoon without issue.  The servers in the grill area were very friendly and brought our food and drinks promptly.

On this day, we played the black tees at 6,440 yards and I carded an 84 and an 83.  Rivers Edge is a great layout and we had a lot of fun.  I’d like to replay it when conditions are at their peak.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)

15th green looking back at the tee - Rivers Edge
15th green looking back at the tee – Rivers Edge

Tiger’s Eye – Course Review

Summary

18th green at Tiger’s Eye

My travel group played Tiger’s Eye on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 as an afternoon replay from a morning round at the premium course (Leopard’s Chase) at Ocean Ridge Plantation.  Located in Ocean Isle Beach, NC, if you are playing the Big Cats, make Tiger’s Eye your first and foremost destination.  It’s the number one course at Ocean Ridge and is in my top five in the Myrtle Beach area.  I played the course three times in 2009 and our return trip this year did not disappoint.  The course is a fabulous layout that combines large natural waste areas with some well placed bunkering and forced carries over water, and interjects a mix of very drivable wide open landing areas with careful meandrous routing among the tall pines.  No two holes are alike and you’ll be struck by the natural beauty of the landscaping and the unique challenge of some of the greatest holes in Myrtle Beach.  The bentgrass greens were rolling a little slow as the course was trying to keep them from getting stressed in the hot weather, but otherwise, our playing experience was perfect.

Clubhouse and 9th green at Tiger’s Eye

Playing tips:

  • #1 is a short and seemingly benign dog leg right par-4.  Do not miss your tee shot right because the woods and fairway bunkers can turn this into a struggle.  There is plenty of room left in the fairway.
  • The par-3 second hole plays uphill and long so take one to 1 ½ extra clubs; it’s all carry.
  • #4 is a beautiful par-4 with a split fairway.  You’ll need about 220 yards to carry the water if you choose the left (shorter) fairway.  Otherwise, play to the right but avoid the approach from the large waste bunker in the middle; it makes the hole needlessly difficult.
  • The par-5 seventh has room beyond the right fairway bunker on the tee shot, so pound the driver and get as much distance as you can.  Good scoring opportunity here.
  • The par-4 ninth has a forced approach over water.  Avoid the right side on the tee shot because if you hit the fairway bunker, clearing the hazard on the second is difficult.
  • On the back-nine, #15 is one of the best par-5s in Myrtle Beach.  Your second shot here is the key and must be placed on dry land.  When playing into the wind, this hole can be as brutal as it is beautiful.

    #15 Tiger’s Eye
    Photo by Mike DeOrio
  • On the par-3 17th, take the middle of the green which is a great play for any pin position.
  • The green on the par-5 18th is very undulating.  Two precision shots are required to give you the best chance to get it close.  If you don’t a three putt is very likely.

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

We played in the afternoon on a $45 replay rate which was an excellent value considering the quality of course.  The regular summer greens fee is $72 is also an excellent value.  High season rates go over $100 but for summer golf, you cannot beat Tiger’s Eye.

Facilities (4.0 out of 5.0)

Tiger’s Eye boasts a huge and fully stocked clubhouse, pro-shop, and full service grill.  There is a practice putting green adjacent to the cart staging area which is ample enough for warm-up but they do not allow chipping.  There is a separate pitching area and driving range that is shared with Lion’s Paw and Panther’s Run that is accessible by cart.  The clubhouse is dedicated to Tiger’s Eye, as Lion’s and Panther’s share a separate facility.  We ate lunch on the clubhouse veranda overlooking the 9th and 18th greens.  The food was good, the service a bit slow, and the panoramic view excellent.  Oddly enough, the view was obscured a bit for those sitting at the tables by the large top railing, but in the grand scheme of things, this was inconsequential.

Customer Experience (4.0 out of 5.0)

Scheduling replays from any of the Ocean Ridge Plantation Courses at any of the others was a breeze.  We had 3:00 p.m. reserved at Tiger’s and when we arrived, they were cognizant of our standing and had us set up and ready to go on time after we ate lunch.  The pro-shop staff, starter, and beverage service attendants as well as the ladies working in the grill were friendly and accommodating.  We had the course to ourselves all afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed our day.

For the record, I played the blue tees at 6,628 yards and shot a five-over par 77.  For summer time golf in Myrtle Beach, Tiger’s Eye has my highest recommendation.

Overall Rating (4.0 out of 5.0)

Friendly cold-blooded lizard by the 18th green at Tiger’s Eye
Photo by Mike DeOrio

Leopard’s Chase – Course Review

Summary

Approach on #18 at Leopard’s Chase

Leopard’s Chase, is considered the premium play for the four Big Cats courses at the Ocean Ridge Plantation located in Sunset Beach, NC.    My travel group played here on Wednesday, June 20, 2012, and the experience was decidedly different from when we played this Tim Cate design in 2009.  Unfortunately, the change was not for the better and course conditions were the issue.  As we did three years ago, we enjoyed the same great routing and hole variety, especially on the back nine,  but the excellence ended there.  The L-93 bentgrass greens had just been treated for a fungicide and were colored aqua-blue and were rolling extremely slow.  Most bentgrass greens get hammered in late summer from the persistent heat in the Southeast U.S. and it seemed a bit early to see greens on a course of this caliber stressed.  Also, general maintenance had clearly slipped.  Last time out, the course was pristine with lightning fast greens.  This time we noticed a few bare spots on the approaches, the landing surface on the practice pitching green was literally covered in weeds, and there was grass growing in several fairway bunkers.  You got the feeling that a general level of malaise had set in regarding pride of ownership.  Interestingly enough, this was not evident when we played Tigers Eye later in the afternoon (another Big Cat course) which was in beautiful condition and is under the same management.  Leopard’s Chase was still quite playable and we had a good time, but were surprised at the shape.

Our group on the range at Leopard’s Chase

A few playing notes:  There is a lot of sand.  You will hit into greenside and fairway bunkers so bring you’re A-bunker game.  Also the back nine is more challenging than the front and features the par-5 11th, which requires three precision shots to get home, and the scenic par-4 18th ,with the lovely approach over the stone configuration and waterfall.  I enjoyed one of my better ball striking days on our trip, but was continually frustrated at my inability to get short birdie putts to the hole because of the shaggy putting surfaces.  Others in our group felt the same.

Checking yardage on the par-3, 6th at Leopard’s Chase

Value (2.0 out of 5.0)

Morning greens fees for the summer run at $83.00 which seems high for the current conditions.  Range balls are included in the greens fee and you are given a very small bag of about 20 balls to warm up with.  I do recall a much higher greens fee back in 2009 and a very steep replay rate of about $80.  Clearly, rates have come down, but with our prior replay rate experience, we played the afternoon at Tigers Eye for $45 and were happy we did.

Facilities (2.5 out of 5.0)

The pro-shop is little more than a double wide trailer with a decent retail area with some clothes and limited equipment for sale.  There was a very small snack bar and a restroom but nothing else.  The practice putting green was modest sized and the all-grass driving range while limited to about 15 hitting stations was in pretty good shape.  I already mentioned the dreadful shape of the pitching green.

Customer Experience (3.5 out of 5.0)

The pro-shop staff were courteous and helpful getting our replay time set up over at Tigers Eye when we checked in.  The bag drop was staffed by one gentleman who was a bit slow unloading us (we essentially did it ourselves) and the course was basically empty when we got there.  We warmed up and teed off when we were ready.  It struck me as a bit unusual that the place was so empty on a Wednesday morning, as all other courses we played mid-week had plenty of players.  Perhaps word got out regarding the conditions.  For visitors planning on playing at Ocean Ridge Plantation, spend your money at Tiger’s Eye and bypass this one until the conditions improve.  For the record, I played the blue tees at 6,645 yards and shot a four-over par 76.

Overall Rating (2.5 out of 5.0)

Tee shot on the par-3, 4th at Leopard’s Chase

Pinehurst – Resort and Course Reviews

Resort Review:

The Carolina Hotel – Pinehurst, NC

Just returned from an excellent trip to Pinehurst Resort for three days of golf at one of America’s premier destinations.  Here’s a link to the trip photo and video album.  Played the #8 course on Saturday, #4 on Sunday, and finished out on the storied #2 course on Labor Day.

Pinehurst sells a variety of all inclusive deals with various lodging and playing options.  We played on a three-day, two-night package and stayed at the Manor Inn which was the least expensive choice for lodging but was more than adequate for our needs.  The Manor is an older building with clean rooms, nice comfortable beds, mahogany desks and wardrobes, modern bathrooms, and high speed internet access.  Manor is very convenient to the rest of the resort as free shuttle buses can be summoned from any resort property and will take you anywhere.

The Carolina Hotel, pictured above, is the center of Pinehurst operations and is the largest of the lodging options.  We enjoyed our three course dinners and morning breakfast buffets (all included) at the Carolina in their formal dining room.  The food was delicious and the service impeccable.  The staff at the Manor and Carolina were friendly and helpful and exuded class and plenty of old Southern charm.

Upon arrival, you are assigned a bag tag with your tee times and course numbers for your entire stay.  You leave your golf bag at the main club and every day the staff has your clubs loaded on a cart at the course you are scheduled to play.  Courses 1-5 play out of the main clubhouse and 6-8 are off-site.  The main clubhouse is a tremendous facility with two pro shops managing play (#2 has it’s own).  A huge grass driving range and extensive putting green are available along with several practice chipping and pitching areas.  The practice facilities are simply the best I’ve ever played at.  Inside the main clubhouse along the long corridor from the entrance to the locker rooms are displays detailing the wonderful history of Pinehurst and the various championships, trophies, and tributes to the winners.

Payne Stewart, 1999 US Open Champion

Course Reviews:

Pinehurst #2

Pinehurst #2 – 17 tee

The original 1907 Donald Ross design has been altered considerably by Coors and Crenshaw in 2010.  Gone is most of the rough, replaced by natural looking waste areas containing sand, grasses, and pine straw.  The par-3 17th pictured above, features this to the right.  In some instances, bunkers have been placed within the waste areas blurring the line between hazard and waste area.  My group was wondering how a ball on the edge of a bunker within a sandy waste area should be played.  On a pre-round tour of the course, I thought I’d be playing several 3-woods off the tees for position since the waste areas extend the length of most par 4 and 5 holes, but surprisingly I found ample landing area in the fairways and hit driver on all holes.  Making clean contact from the various lies in the waste areas was difficult and we also noted that after playing the first few holes with the same waste area look, subsequent holes were fairly indistinguishable from the previous.  At the end of the round, no single hole stood out for its features or magnificence.

Our biggest disappointment was learning that the greens had been aerated and top dressed four days before our round.  This was supposedly a surprise to everyone including the pro shop staff, as the greens superintendent had judged that the Bent grass greens were under tremendous stress from the summer heat and needed to be saved.  I was highly suspicious of this reasoning until I learned that they aerated one day before a major member guest tournament.  Maybe it was true?  Either way, our round was played on bumpy sandy greens and we payed the full $175 surcharge.   Elsewhere the course was in excellent shape with the Bermuda fairways and tees quite immaculate, and good quality sand in the bunkers.  I found the lack of formal elevated tee boxes and the all-sand cart paths interesting, as an obvious attempt had been made to preserve the most natural of looks to the land.  Also the closeness of several greens to teeing areas made me wonder how the 2014 US Open and Woman’s US Open participants would manage the proximity to other groups and the associated distractions.  Finally, in contrast with the other Pinehurst courses, there were no indicators for pin positions and guessing yardages was difficult since the only markings were on the sprinkler heads.  The course requests that you keep carts on the paths at all times and there are no distance indicators on the paths.  The other seven courses employ the Red, White, Yellow flags to indicate positioning but the #2 pins are all white with the #2 logo emblazoned and unless you take a caddy or are equipped with a range finder, you’ll end up guessing the yardage and lugging a handful of clubs from cart to ball.

For the record, I played the white tees at 6,307 yards and carded an 82 and was left with the impression that #2 was an impressive layout but was a bit over-hyped.

Pinehurst #4

Pinehurst #4 – 13 green

The Tom Fazio 2000 rework of #4 produced a stunning must-play.  The course was the best conditioned of our three with the greens rolling smooth and true, although not very fast, and the tees and fairways in excellent shape.  Fazio has framed several tee shots with clusters of pot bunkers, most notably on the edges of dogleg par 4s and 5s.  Additional pots are cleverly placed green side to defend against wayward approaches.  I found myself hitting 3-wood off several tees for pot bunker avoidance which turned out to be a good strategy.  You have to think your way around this course and can score by avoiding the trouble.

Each hole is unique and memorable.  They do a great job on hole #4 which is a beautiful downhill par-3 that requires a forced carry over water, and reuse the same lake on #13 to present a sweeping dogleg left par-5 that is the consummate risk-reward adventure.  The fun continues on the par-3, 14th which features the same lake all the way down the left.   A few of the holes have significant elevation changes that adds to the uniqueness of the track.

Inevitably, you will visit some of the 140+ pot bunkers so bring your sand game but if you can avoid the majority, you’ll do well.  We played from the blue tees at 6,658 yards and I shot a five-over 77.  #4 was clearly our favorite play on this trip.

Pinehurst #8

Pinehurst #8 – 17 tee

Number 8 plays off it’s own clubhouse and is another Tom Fazio design and was built to commemorate the Pinehurst centennial year of 1996.  The layout of this course was varied and very enjoyable however conditioning was an issue.  The greens had obviously been stressed by summer heat and had significant brown patches.  Some of the collars were completely killed and were being actively worked on.  The Bermuda grass tees and fairways were in excellent shape, as they were across all courses.  After the sum of our experiences on the three courses, we thought the resort may want to resurface all putting surfaces with Bermuda to better manage the heat.

The key to playing #8 is placement off the tee.  you MUST hit the fairway or are left with awkward lies in very penal Bermuda rough.  Once in the second cut, either off the fairway or green side, the ball sat down and was very difficult to extract with clean contact.  Despite the ragged conditions on the greens, I managed to have a good day putting as the surface of the practice putting green mirrored that of the course and left me very comfortable with the speed.

#8 has its own driving range which was beautiful but was only half opened and got very crowded during the morning warm-up with some folks waiting a few minutes for a spot.  Double teeing was the culprit and I’d like to see the course avoid that practice.  There was an excellent short game area that included several mowed approaches and a good size bunker.  A second smaller putting green was located next to the first tee which was convenient.

We left thinking that if conditions were better, #8 would be a great play.  That being said, we had a very fun day and I carded a six-over 78 from the blue tees which were playing at 6,698 yards.

Pinehurst #8 – post round on the range

Oyster Bay – Course Review

#5 tee Oyster Bay

Summary

Oyster Bay, in Sunset Beach, NC is the northern most track affiliated with The Legends courses managed by Arnold Palmer Golf Management.  My group played here on a recent trip in early June.  Located close to the ocean, the course boasts a variety of holes that weave their way around scenic lakes and marshes and are buffeted by the stiff ocean breezes.  Notable holes begin with #14, a downhill par 5 with a large tree to negotiate in the middle of the fairway, which is followed by a risk-reward carry to the green over water.  This is followed by #15, a beautiful short par 3 surrounded by water that challenges the player’s ability to keep a ball down under the prevailing sea breeze.  #16 is a long par 4 that plays downwind and is bordered by water on the right and in front of the green.  Set just inside the ocean, these three holes, along with the par 5 fifth hole (pictured above), provide a standout variety of challenges for the nature loving golf enthusiast.  Course conditioning is less than spectacular, with several brown patches intruding on some greens as well as a good number of burned out tee boxes and worn spots in the fairways, but the scenic views and variety of holes make this a very fun course to play.

Value (4.0 out of 5.0)

Greens fees run $79 dollars during June and July and include cart but range balls are extra.  Our group was playing on the package offered by The Legends which included breakfast, lunch, two drinks, and golf, which was a great deal.  If you are a playing conditions purist, Oyster Bay’s value is middle of the road at best.  Our group felt like we easily got our money’s worth and enjoyed a second 18 in the afternoon at a $30 replay rate which was discounted, as the course honored our 9-hole price replay card from our scheduling snafu at Heathlands earlier in the week.  We viewed Oyster Bay very favorably and would rate it a top value except for the slightly scrappy conditions.

Facilities (3.5 out of 5.0)

The clubhouse structure was a bit dated and the grill was on the smallish side and offered a limited variety of food choices, especially on the breakfast buffet and just a few ready made sandwiches and hot dogs for lunch.  The pro shop seemed nicely stocked for its size.  Oyster Bay has a medium size grass driving range with balls costing $5 for a bag.  There’s a good size practice putting green where chipping is allowed since there’s no separate short game area.  Most holes on the course are surrounded by houses albeit very beautiful properties, but there is little privacy during play.

Customer Experience (3.0 out of 5.0)

The course had double teed groups from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. and we began our morning on the 10th tee accompanied by a very friendly and informative starter/marshal.  We played our first nine quickly and our marshal visited us a couple times on the course to inform us that our pace was good and on one occasion brought a player in our group some fresh ice and cold towels to relieve a painful shoulder injury that had flared.  We appreciated the assistance but when we turned the pace slowed to a crawl with three and four groups playing each hole and we never saw our marshal again.  Ultimately our second nine took three hours to play which taxed everyone’s patience.  A few of us decided to replay and went out again shortly after 2:00 p.m. and breezed around 18 holes without waiting on a single shot which picked up our spirits and provided a very enjoyable afternoon.  If you are interested in 18 holes on the weekend during the summer, try to reserve between 1:30 and 2:00 p.m. for the best pace of play.  The final verdict:  If you want a beautiful layout and don’t mind playing on less than stellar conditions, Oyster Bay is a good choice.

Overall Rating (3.5 out of 5.0)