A golf orgy to Myrtle Beach -- now that's a novel idea. But change your latitude about 20 miles north, and you'll be gripping and ripping with a little originality just over the state line in Brunswick County, North Carolina. Everything you've heard or come to know about Myrtle Beach and the area dubbed the "Grand Strand" -- throw it out along with your old golf gloves. Such connotations don't properly describe the northernmost extent of this golfing pantheon. As you drive up U.S. 17 from North Myrtle Beach and cross the state line, tourist traps and miniature golf courses give way to mom-and-pop seafood restaurants, quaint beach cottages, and rustic roadside gift shops. Anchoring the coastal portion of the region are the Brunswick Islands -- a group of barrier islands that run from the world famous "seafood capital" of Calabash all the way north to the Cape Fear River near Wilmington. The scenery is unrivaled, as Carolina oaks and pines combine to give the area a mid-Atlantic feel.
Brunswick County is home to 30 courses ranging from bargain-level tracks and mid-range surprises to high-end, daily-fee and semi-private courses. While traditional marshland layouts are decidedly old school, which in this corner of the Sun Belt is any course built in the mid-1980s or earlier, don't think the new school hasn't noticed -- a slew of new public-access courses have opened over the past year.
So if your golf trips revolve around 36 holes, a beer, and a bed, Brunswick County is the prescription for what ails you. Unlike its more commercialized cousin to the south, this area is more likely to overwhelm you with wildlife than nightlife. But the region's fine seafood, unspoiled beaches, and eclectic shops provide enough perks to get you by.
WHERE TO PLAY
Rivers Edge(877-748-3718). Marshland course by Palmer Design Company was listed among GOLF Magazine's "Top 10 You Can Play" Honorable Mentions for 1999. Yardage book is key playing aid for first-time patron -- a number of holes feature blind tee shots and hidden water hazards.
Tiger's Eye(800-233-1801). Nice blend of traditional design principles and modern nuances provided by Tim Cate. Offers some of the best conditions in Brunswick County.
Oyster Bay (800-530-1875). Dan Maples design is one of the true classics of Brunswick County golf. Marshland course winds along Intracoastal Waterway and offers some of the county's best golf views. Great par threes. Good hot dogs, too.
Marsh Harbour (800-530-1875). Quintessential Dan Maples course features Carolina hardwoods, extensive marshland. Directional changes make this a shotmaker's course. Par-five 17th has been dubiously dubbed as "marvelously terrifying."
Sea Trail Plantation (800-546-5748). Three well-groomed layouts by Dan Maples, Rees Jones, and Willard Byrd make this full-service resort a Brunswick County mainstay.
Thistle Golf Club (800-571-6710). The Tim Cate-designed layout, which opened in 1999 and added a third nine earlier this year, features elevated tees, sculptured fairways, and large bentgrass greens. Green fees range from $59 to $95, depending on the season. Rates include cart, range balls, and yardage book. Walking is permitted after 1 p.m. www.thistlegolf.com
THE SECOND TIER
Ocean Harbour (877-592-4653). Clyde Johnston design has dramatically narrow fairways, lushest vegetation in county.
Carolina National (888-200-6455). New 27-hole Fred Couples course has nice mix of marshland, inland holes.
Crow Creek (877-287-3081). Immaculate conditions and notably excellent bentgrass greens compensate for lack of trees and coastal vegetation at this newcomer.
Meadowlands (888-287-7529). Well-maintained Willard Byrd layout in Calabash offers one of the better courses for the money in Brunswick County.
The Pearl (888-947-3275). Thirty-six hole facility by Dan Maples occupies a 900-acre marsh preserve in Sunset Beach. East Course boasts a scenic finish set along Calabash River; West Course is a links-style track with open fairways.
BEST OF THE REST
Calabash Golf Links (800-841-5971). Green fees cost less than a dozen new balls at this family-owned establishment.
The Player's Club (910-457-0049). Tim Cate gem at St. James Plantation features interesting fusion of traditional design principles and modern attributes.
WHERE TO EAT
For seafood in a true lowcountry atmosphere, head to Crab Catchers in Little River, 15 minutes south of Brunswick County off US 17. Bronco's Steakhouse on the ocean side of Ocean Isle Beach Bridge weighs in with cowboy-sized steaks and ribs that fall off the bone. Calabash is Grand Strand's fried seafood capitol.
Brunswick county nightlife is essentially an oxymoron, but for some local flavor head to Victoria's Sports Bar or Sharky's in Ocean Beach. Otherwise, pack up the SUV and head for Myrtle Beach.
Barefoot landing is worth the 20-minute drive south -- specialty shops carry everything from fine chocolates to nautical belts. For those with significant others who play golf, Ocean Ridge Plantation Golf Shoppe (site of Tiger's Eye) is tops along the Grand Strand.
Go fish. There are more deep-sea and backwater fishing charters in Brunswick County than golf courses. For starters, try the Hurricane Fleet (910-579-3660), which offers half- and full-day charter trips, as well as specialty tuna and shark fishing tours.
The Winds Inn And Suites (800-334-3581). Located on Ocean Isle Beach, sports a beachside pool, poolside bar, suites with kitchens. Golf packages feature more than a dozen Brunswick courses. Includes hot breakfast buffet.Call for current rates.
Goose Creek Bed And Breakfast (800-275-6540). Great alternative to typical Myrtle Beach hotel style accommodations, located in Shallotte. Twenty-four courses within a 15-minute drive. Specially priced golf packages available upon request. Rates vary by room and season.