SUNSET BEACH, N.C. — Dan Maples’ design of Oyster Bay Golf Links is award-winning.
Yet you may be too busy gazing at your surroundings to fully notice its nuances.
An abundance of marsh, lakes, wetlands, oaks and other tree varieties, a healthy population of alligators, a great variety of birds and impressive houses all surround and/or are integrated into the course, and the beauty of the outlying areas is accentuated by dramatic bunkering.
“It’s a beautiful golf course and beautiful setting,” said Cindi Woodard of Conway, who took part in a review of the course in late October. “I just enjoyed being out there and looking around and golf was secondary. I could have had a fine time just driving around the course.
“I’ve never been on a prettier golf course, without a doubt. These surrounding make you want to be outdoors.”
Joining me and Cindi, a retired teacher with a 26 handicap, in the review foursome were here husband, Mick, a retired correctional officer with a 25 handicap, and Tracy Davis of Conway, the owner of Tech Service Heating and Cooling who carries a handicap of 8.
The 6,685-yard par-70 has three par-3s on the front nine and just one par-5 on the back.
The 30-year-old layout was named Golf Digest’s “Best New Resort Course” in 1983 and was later ranked among the 50 best public courses in the U.S. by the magazine. “I thoroughly enjoyed this course,” Cindi said. “It’s a great layout.”
In addition to the marsh and water hazards, trees that overhang fairways, greens and the front of tee boxes protect the course’s par, as well as multiple undulations in greens that leave little room for flat pin placements. The TifEagle ultradwarf Bermudagrass greens had decent speed, as well. “Some of the pin placements were out of some amateurs’ reach,” Mick said.
There’s housing alongside many holes but the course has a local rule that all white stakes play as lateral hazards, and the housing only adds to the aesthetics. “I enjoyed seeing huge two-story houses on the course,” Mick said. “The houses are very nice. They don’t detract from the scenery at all.”
The course has some elevation change and tilts to fairways. “I like that it’s not perfectly flat,” Cindi said.
The course was in good shape for our visit. “The condition was excellent and the sand provided a worthy challenge,” Cindi said.
For the most part, Cindi found the red tee boxes to be planned and well maintained. “The women’s tee boxes were fair and well placed,” she said. “The difference between the yardages are fair and they don’t put you on the same tee boxes as the men, and the tee boxes are flat.”
The group enjoyed the course’s nature. “I love the nature and watching the egrets and herons,” Cindi said. “The scenery and wildlife is spectacular.” Added Tracy: “It’s probably as pretty and scenic as any course out there. The view was great on every hole.”
Mick appreciated the staff’s customer service and availability. “The cart girl wasn’t hard to find. She was there all the time, and the rangers were right there also,” Mick said. “The bag drop was efficient and friendly and the pros were courteous.”
Cindi liked the greens’ “moderate size forcing well-placed shots.” Tracy believes the yardage of 6,685 is apt for a par 70.
Oyster Bay has become a great bargain for area residents with local rates that include breakfast, lunch and two drinks – in line with other area properties managed by Arnold Palmer Golf Management. “It’s a great buy for the money,” Mick said.
Mick and Tracy pointed out that the maintenance of bunkers with machines resulted in balls settling in shallow ruts in the sand. “Instead of raking them out they use a tractor and they leave some grooves,” said Mick, who also found there to be too much sand in areas of some bunkers. “I could have built a sand castle in them,” he said.
Cindi found the restrooms to be clean, but said one of the restroom doors on the course wouldn’t close. She also thought “the slopes on most of the greens were a bit more challenging than I prefer.”
Tracy also found pin placements were often unfair. “The greens didn’t seem to have many flat areas and it seemed like every pin was on a slope or crest,” he said. “Even though the greens were in great shape, you couldn’t be confident and go at putts.”
Par-3s measured between 160 and 210 yards from the back gold tees, and between 120 and 180 from the one-up blues. “The par-3s weren’t gimmies,” Mick said. “You had to hit the ball straight and you had to get it there.”
The 190-yard fourth hole is uphill and has a tree in front of the tee boxes on the right that impacts shots, particularly from the blue tee. A bunker is right of a rolling green that predominantly slopes to the front and left. The 165-yard sixth has a deep bunker and trees front-right of a green with a ridge separating the higher right and lower left portions.
The slightly uphill 160-yard eighth has a bunker and marsh to the left and below a green sloping to the left into a mound coming off the side of the left bunker.
“The par-3s were fair in distance yet challenging with well-placed bunkers,” Cindi said. “A need to navigate the different hazards adds to the adventure.”
The 15th has a peninsula green and is 210 from the back tees well to the right of the other three tee boxes, which top out at just 135. The green slopes from a left bunker then flattens. The 165-yard 17th is 120 from the blue and features a small island green surrounded by oyster shells.
“All the par-3s were set up to make you hit certain shots,” Tracy said. “If you sprayed the ball off line it was tough to get up and down.”
Par-4s measure between 330 and 470, and five of the par-4s are 420 or longer from even the blue tees. “I don’t think it would hurt to shorten a couple of the par-4s to make them a little more competitive for the amateur,” Mick said.
The 390-yard first hole is among the shorter par-4s. It’s a dogleg left with a bunker at the turn and water behind the fairway that continues along the right side of the green. “They start you off with a short and fair par-4,” Mick said.
That is followed by par-4s measuring 450 and 460. The second has a fairly narrow drive with a trio of bunkers right and trees left before an uphill second shot, and the third has two greens – one straightaway with water to its left and another over the water to the left. Our pin was on the straightaway green. “I would have liked to have played that green on the left,” Tracy said. “It looks like a neat hole that way.”
The 390-yard seventh has a wave-like green with bunkers front left and front right. The 440-yard 10th is a slight dogleg right that plays uphill, the 450-yard 11th is long and straightforward with a green sloping to the right, and the 370-yard 12th has a large oak on the right side of the fairway off the tee.
The 330-yard 13th is a dramatic hole that curls right around water with a pair of bunkers along the water on the right, a tree on the left side of the fairway and a green elevated over the water behind it and a wide and deep bunker in front. The high wall contains oyster shells. “Now this is a good hole,” Tracy said. “This is a beautiful par-4.”
The 470-yard 16th has water down the entire right side that cuts off the fairway from 160 to 90 yards from a heart-shaped green that has an elongated back right portion. The hole played 360 from the red tee. “The 16th shouldn’t be a par-4 because even with a good drive and second shot I was still a long way out,” Cindi said.
The 400-yard 18th is fairly narrow with wetlands in a swale in front of an elevated green that slopes to the front. “There was a good balance of par-4s,” Cindi said. “A few were beyond my reach but some shorter ones made up for it. I found them forcing me to plan ball placement whenever possible.”
The 550-yard fifth hole has marsh down its entire right side while the 560-yard ninth has marsh down the entire left side. On the fifth, marsh pinches the fairway off the tee between a pair of bunkers and trees await on the left side. A second shot must navigate fairway bunkers on both sides and a green that generally slopes to the front with a hollow back right is protected on three sides by bunkers.
The ninth has bunkers on either side of the fairway that can be carried with a big drive, setting up a second shot over a knoll to a largely hidden green that slopes to the front with a back-left hollow and has bunkers left and right.
“Par-5s are open with some strategically-placed sand,” Cindi said. “… It has great risk and reward [on some par-4s and par-5s]. You had to plan approaches.”
The 535-yard 14th has a downhill shot to a green that has water in front from 100 to 30 yards from the green, which plateaus in the back and otherwise slopes to the front. A tree is in the middle of the fairway off the tee. “All the par-5s were scoring holes with a good wedge in on the third shot,” Tracy said. “A couple of them were reachable in two with a good tee shot.”
Cindi was partial to the par-4 13th hole, which measured 230 yards from the red tee. “It’s a scenic yet challenging par-4 with a choice to take on the sand or go around it,” she said. “There’s water in the area but it’s not an issue with accurate shots.”
Tracy also enjoyed the 13th. “I thought the 13th was a great hole,” he said. “It made you think off the tee to give yourself a good shot into the green. Its’ a very beautiful hole with the traps and large sea wall.”
Mick’s favorite hole is the par-3 17th, which measures 106 from the white tee. “It’s an easy pitching wedge and you’re there, but it’s still challenging with the island green because if you don’t get enough of it you’re in the water,” Mick said.
Least favorite holes
Cindi’s least favorite hole was the par-5 fifth, measuring 380 yards from the red tee with bunkers possibly impacting the first three shots. “There is more sand than I prefer on a hole, especially a par-5,” she said.
Tracy’s least favorite hole was the 210-yard par-3 15th. “When they put the back tee off to the right that changes the hole,” he said. “From the tips it wasn’t very accessible with the pin on the front and water so close, and the ground was soft if you missed the green on the front side.”
Mick’s least favorite hole was the par-5 14th, which measured 474 yards from the white tee. “If you don’t execute all three shots you’re going to hit it in the water,” he said.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.