Brunswick Islands is a chain of seven barrier islands that stretch north of Myrtle Beach and south of Wilmington.  Known as North Carolina’s Golf Coast, Brunswick County has more than 30 championship courses designed by renowned golf legends. Home to 40 miles of tranquil beaches and top courses you can play in NC, Brunswick Islands is the perfect destination for that golf vacation.

During a recent golf media trip, I met a group of guys, who were staying at The Winds Beach Resort as part of their annual golf trip. For many years past they went to Myrtle Beach for their trip, but a few years ago they discovered the serenity of the Brunswick Islands and have been returning ever since.  I asked them why they left the famed Myrtle Beach? Their answer…“We like that its a more secluded, less congested area with less traffic, less noise, fewer golfers, easier tee times, without the next foursome breathing down your neck.” Whether you prefer golf a-la-carte style or an on-site inclusive plan, Brunswick Islands can accommodate and here are some island pleasures we sampled. 

Where to Play 

Thistle Golf Club (Sunset Beach), ranked 4 ½ stars by Golf Digest for the last six years, has earned the reputation as one of the best Brunswick Islandsconditioned courses in the area and the only course in the region with 12-minute tee time spacing. Crafted by Tim Cate, this 27-hole Scottish links course sports a wide-open layout, windswept rolling fairways bordered by heather-covered mounds, massive sand bunkers and generous greens all nestled within the serene atmosphere of nature preserves, lakes and abundant wildlife. The facility offers a choice of three rotations of nines you can play.  The newest (Stewart) nine, the most challenging, offers more risk/reward shots and has three of the meanest, and most talked about finishing holes. The Thistle is named after an ancient Scottish golf society and the purplish, plumed plant that grows wild on the hillsides of Scotland. A collection of artifacts from the original Thistle Golf Club are displayed in their newly build Scottish-design clubhouse.

Leopard’s Chase (Sunset Beach), the newest and toughest of the four Big Cats at Ocean Ridge Plantation, which also features18th hole waterfall Tiger’s Eye, Panther’s Run, and Lion’s Paw, has ranked by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine as one of the “Top10 Best New Public Courses in America”. Every twist and turn on this Tim Cate masterpiece presents challenges and incredible scenery. Dramatic elevations, significant mounding, lots of water carries, and fast, undulating greens add to the challenge along with exposure to the breezes that blow in off the ocean. A shot-placement course, Leopard’s Chase’s tight fairways demand accuracy. The course is enjoyable even if your score gets ugly. It offers a series of picturesque vignettes such as the back-to-back island greens on the front nine and a waterfall on the 18th green…hazardous for an approach shot, but also a soothing feature upon completion of your round.

Sea Trail Golf Resort & Convention Center (SunsetBeach) is an ideal destination for golf, family vacations, business conventions and resort living. Sea Trail is named for an historic road that winded through the land that is the present-day Sea Trail Golf Resort. In 1791, President George Washington traveled this road as he made his famous Southern Goodwill Tour to promote the new U.S. Brunswick IslandsConstitution. Each of Sea Trail’s three championship courses is named for its architect… Rees Jones, Willard Byrd and Dan Maples. All three courses have been named as “Courses of Distinction” on Golfweek’s annual “America’s Best Residential Courses and “America’s Best Resort Courses” lists. You don’t have to battle high slope ratings, as all three courses are player-friendly and a “breath of fresh air”, especially after playing Leopard’s Chase! The Maples course has a “Pinehurst” feel, defined by twisted ancient oaks, tall Carolina pines, massive waste areas and it boasts gorgeous views alongside Calabash Creek.  The picturesque Jones course, said to be the more difficult one, dazzles with native grasses, wildflower plantings and features a layout with mounded fairways, generous landing areas, elevated bent grass greens and water on eleven holes. The Byrd track, now featuring undulating Champion Bermuda greens, is build around several lakes that come into play on thirteen holes.  The scenic 18th hole winds between two beautiful ponds leading to a picturesque finish at the Jones/Byrd Clubhouse.

Pearl Golf Links (Calabash), the jewel of coastal Carolina, offers 36 holes (East/West) that wind along the Calabash River.  Thefinishing holes links-style West Course is contrasted by the more scenic, demanding, parkland-style East Course which features crowned greens and tight tree-lined fairways that dogleg through the pristine forest. The easy beginning holes give no clue to the dynamic finish. Keep your eyes wide open on the downhill approach on the 16th as you will be in awe of the extraordinary vistas that await you…a coastal fusion of Carolina pines and moss-draped live oaks obscure the beauty of the immense marshland and Calabash River lurking beyond.

Brunswick IslandsFarmstead Golf Links (Calabash), crafted by Willard Byrd, is a flat, open track that meanders around sparkling lakes and native grasses.  This player-friendly course boasts the “Best Bermuda grass greens in the Myrtle Beach area…smooth, consistent roll every hole”. Farmstead is “Where the Carolinas meet to play golf”…it is the only area course that plays in two states.  Well known for its 18th hole, which was selected by Golf Digest as part of its fantasy design “Top 18 Most Fun Holes in America” (2010).  The area’s only par 6, this mammoth 767-yard 18th hole, tees off in South Carolina and finishes in North Carolina.

Where to Stay

 The Winds Resort Beach Club nestled in the sand dunes of Ocean Isle Beach, one of the south Brunswick Islands, is where wePool and Tiki bar stayed our first night.  Impressed by the beach side setting…the ocean is right there about 100 feet away! A cozy oasis, The Winds offers a variety of accommodations:  1-2-3 bedroom suites with kitchens and balconies overlooking lush palm-gardens, pool with Tiki bar and the ocean; for larger groups they offer 4-5-6 bedroom cottages with spacious living/dining areas, private baths for each bedroom and private outdoor whirlpool spas.  The Winds offers customized golf packages– nearly 20 courses are within 8 miles and ninety-five courses within 30 minutes drive. Enjoy a complimentary hot southern breakfast buffet each morning and relax by the sea after golf.  For golfers…the best of both worlds!

Sea Trail Golf Resort is an excellent choice for families and golfers if you prefer to stay where you play.  Accommodations include beautifully decorated, spacious 1-2 bedroom privately owned condos with golf course views. Many amenities are included in the Village Activity Center along with complimentary breakfast buffet and shuttle service to Sunset Beach. Stay and Play packages are available.

Where to Eat

More than 40 excellent restaurants can be found in Sunset Beach and Calabash, “The Seafood Capital of the World”.  Indulge in catch-of-the-day-fresh seafood at renowned area seafood restaurants (see below). Don’t leave without tasting fish Calabash style—a lightly breaded, fried preparation synonymous with Southern seafood, invented in right in Calabash.

Ella’s of Calabash      Twin Lakes Seafood Restaurant, Sunset Beach     The Boundary House Restaurant at Callahan’s, Calabash

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