Rick Robbins has only designed one course on the Grand Strand from the ground up, and he left an impression with Crow Creek Golf Club.
The North Carolina course architect who was previously on Jack Nicklaus’ design staff turned farmland into a 7,100-yard layout that gets and holds a player’s interest with its design, surroundings and course features.
“Crow Creek is a great track,” said Bubba Williams of Longs, who took part in a review of the 13-year-old course in late November. “The course carries plenty of character in contour, hazards and natural habitat. Not every hole goes in the same direction so there is some variance. It requires the golfer to play both fades and draws.
“Crow Creek requires the golfer’s full attention and ability to hit shots.”
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Joining me and Bubba, an orthopedic salesman with a 4 handicap, in the review foursome were Mark Mason of Bolivia, N.C., a retired retail liquidator with a 15 handicap, and Rebecca “Keith” Webb of Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., a 20-handicap and women’s course rater for the Carolinas Golf Association who worked for many years at the National Gallery of Art.
Crow Creek is one of a dozen Grand Strand courses with bentgrass greens – it features L93 – and has scores of undulations and multilevel putting surfaces. “The greens are heavily contoured,” Bubba said, “therefore, usually playing to the middle versus to the pin provided more predictable outcomes.” Added Keith: “There’s enough stuff in the greens to keep them interesting.”
The course keeps things interesting from tee to green as well with elevation changes and mildly rolling terrain. “I’m impressed by the contours of the fairway here,” Bubba said. “It’s not just a flat piece of land.”
Bunkers are a big part of Crow Creek’s defense, as there are not only traditional fairway and greenside traps, but also regular and waste bunkers running up nearly the entire side of some holes. The course offers challenge and variation.
“Even from the gold tees where I play from now, there are no driver-wedge holes,” Mark said. “That’s what I think makes this course good. There’s a lot of variety and you use all your clubs.”
And you can start with driver on just about every par-4 and par-5, which is handy from the 7,101-yard tips.
“The course is sneaky long,” Bubba said. “Driver is certainly the club of choice and there is no punishment for hitting it too far, and you really need it from the back tees.”
A few holes are tree-lined, but trees aren’t a major factor and landing areas are generous. “Even if your drive goes astray the course is still fair,” Keith said. “It’s possible to recover. Water is out there but you’ve got to go really astray to get in it. It’s fun to play.”
The course is also generally fair around the greens. “Many holes I cannot reach in regulation but the bailout areas are ample and fair,” Mark said.
Ornamental vegetation and natural grasses are present throughout the course, including in and around bunkers. “The entire course is neat and tidy,” Keith said. “It’s obvious that the management cares. It’s never in outstanding shape but it’s always in good shape. It’s consistent and you can count on it. I think its consistency is one of its strong points.”
The group considers the local rate of $37 to be a great value, and found an ample amount of quality sand in bunkers throughout the course. “Bunkers actually have sand, unlike some other courses in the area,” Mark said.
Both Bubba and Mark were impressed with the friendliness and efficiency of the staff. “The amenities and staff are exceptional,” Bubba said. “They’re very efficient and regimented and concerned about the times.”
Keith appreciated clean on-course bathrooms, landscaping combined with the natural setting, and smooth and well-edged cart paths.
Mark appreciated the quick pace of play facilitated by the course setup. “The course moves,” he said. “You don’t have people looking for balls all day. It’s a user-friendly course without many trees and manageable rough.”
Bubba would have appreciated more marked sprinkler heads. “The on-course yardages are not well marked or plentiful, so it is necessary to have a GPS or Rangefinder available,” he said.
Bubba also found areas of greens that were “somewhat bumpy, which affected speed predictions,” he said.
Mark didn’t like the forward placement of some gold tee boxes. “A lot of the gold tees are with the ladies tees and I don’t think they should be,” Mark said. “They should either be on their own box or at the front of the white tee boxes.”
Ridges and hollows in greens allow for unfair pin placements, and we experienced some of those. “Greens can be challenging depending on the pin placements, and some of ours were really tough,” Keith said.
The par-3s measure between 169 and 208 from the tips – three are at least 193 – and between 131 and 167 from the white tees. “The par-3s were healthy in length,” Bubba said. “The pins were well protected, so getting the ball close enough for a reasonable birdie putt was challenging.”
Water must be carried on three of the four par-3s. The 200-yard sixth requires a carry over water and a front bunker to a green that is innocuous other than a mild hollow on its front-left portion.
The 193-yard eighth requires a carry over water with a bailout area short right, and a bunker is to the right of a green that slopes to the front. Cypress trees that often support cormorant birds are in the hazard, and a cabin that predates the course is to the right of the tee boxes.
The 169-yard 13th has a bulkheaded green rising above water to its front-right and right, and has a small bunker left. The 208-yard 16th has a waste bunker from the tee through the left side of the green and a trio of bunkers around a putting surface that slopes to the front from a middle ridge.
“The par-3s are fun and interesting,” Keith said. “Three of the four are about 100 yards from the red but each one is different.”
The course has a nearly equal mix of par-4s that go either straight, left or right. The 399-yard first is fairly straightaway with bunkers down the right side and around all but the front of the green. The 428-yard second turns right along bunkers, and the corner can be cut with a drive over water to the right. The green slopes to the front and back from a mild middle ridge.
The 424-yard fourth turns right around water that nestles against the right side of a bulkheaded green, and the 386-yard fifth turns left around water.
The 408-yard 10th is straightaway with bunkers predominantly down the right and around the green. The 439-yard 14th has water down the right side off the tee, long bunkers deep down the right side of the fairway, and bunkers left and back-right of a green that slopes forward.
“The 14th is a bit long for ladies at 344, but all others are fair, and bunkers and hazards are well placed,” Keith said.
The 411-yard 17th turns slightly right along long bunkers, and the green features a swale in its right-middle portion.
“The par-4 holes require the golfer to be comfortable and accurate with mid irons for approach shots,” Bubba said.
Length presents a challenge on all par-5s, which measure between 538 and 574 from the tips and between 471 and 533 from the white tees. “Cool and damp conditions did not allow the opportunity to get there in two, which required the lay up position to be right,” Bubba said. “The par-5s have hourglass patterns in the 100- to 130-yard range so accuracy was necessary in order to get a fairway lie for the approach shot.”
The 545-yard third turns around long bunkers on the left side of the landing area, and a bunker in a mound sits in the middle of the fairway 90 yards from a severe green that has higher left and lower right halves. The 574-yard seventh has elevated tee boxes offering a view of the entire hole, which features a fairway elevated above water down the entire right side and a green that slopes forward.
The 562-yard 12th turns right around water and long bunkers. Water pinches the fairway 80 yards from a green that slopes to the front from the middle. The closing 18th is a 538-yard par-5 with a wide landing area, bunkers down the left side and a kidney-shaped green that slopes from a back-left plateau and is protected by four bunkers.
“The par-5s are all three-shot holes from the gold tees for seniors,” Mark said.
Bubba’s favorite hole was the seventh, the longest on the course. “It’s a mammoth par-5 with trouble on both sides,” he said. “The narrow fairway inside 130 yards requires an accurate lay up and the green is relatively small with plenty of contour. Par is a great score.”
Keith’s favorite hole is the par-3 eighth, which measures 106 yards from the red. “From the [two] forward tees your shot goes between two cypress trees coming out of the water,” she said. “It’s like kicking a field goal.”
Mark is partial to the 429-yard par-4 ninth hole, measuring 310 yards from the gold and turning slightly right along large bunkers down the right side to a fairly flat and open green. The left side of the landing area off the tee contains a lone bunker. “Stay out of the bunkers and a good drive still leaves a long second shot,” Mark said.
Least favorite holes
Bubba’s least favorite hole was the 420-yard par-4 15th, which turns slightly left off the tee, has long bunkers down the entire left side that buffer the fairway from a narrow red-staked hazard, and bunkers to the left and right of the green. It also has a pair of trees to the inside left of the back tee. “The tee shot from the back is obscured by two large trees, therefore the fairway cannot be seen from the tee,” Bubba said.
Keith’s least favorite hole is the dogleg-left, 368-yard par-4 11th, which measures 219 from the red tee and requires a tee shot over water on all but the red tee. It has a trio of bunkers on the right side of the fairway and larger bunker containing a pair of trees closer to the green on the left. “There is a fairway bunker protruding into the fairway at about the 150 marker that catches way too many tee shots,” Keith said.
Mark also cited the 11th, measuring 309 yards from the gold tee, as his least favorite. “You must hit a pinpoint drive to a narrow fairway over water,” Mark said.