Carolina National Golf Club has five tee boxes on every hole that offer a number of options and different looks.
Regardless of the tee played, you’ll experience an attractive course immersed in nature with difficulty on and around well-protected undulating greens.
The course is an Audubon International Certified Sanctuary Golf Course and diverse vegetation and wildlife is visible throughout the layout.
“I really like the surroundings. It’s very pretty,” said Billie Ellwanger of Calabash, N.C., a retired radiography instructor and 8.6 handicap who took part in a review of the course in early March. “And for winter it’s in great shape. After the rain and the ice storms we’ve had I’m amazed it’s in this good of shape.”
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Joining me and Ellwanger, who is the reigning women’s club champion at the Surf Golf & Beach Club, in the review were Chris Zepkowski of Huntersville, N.C., a computer programming analyst with a 15 handicap, and Matt Telfer of Charlotte, N.C., a private banker and 12 handicap.
The 27-hole Gene Bates and Fred Couples design opened in 1998. We played the Egret and Heron nines, which combine to measure 7,017 yards, and there’s also a 3,444-yard Ibis nine.
The course features fingered and often large bunkers greenside, a multitude of fairway and waste bunkers, undulating greens that often have hollow areas, holes along marsh, water hazards and the Lockwood Folly River, and trees on and around fairways.
“Some of these courses down here are so mundane, you hit the same shots over and over,” Billie said. “Here none of the holes look the same, and each hole can look different from the different tee boxes. They have some neat looks from the different tee boxes. The course has good shot options and a lot of risk-reward.”
Several back tee boxes have chutes through tight openings in tree lines.
Greens and their surrounds provide much of the course’s challenge. “There are a lot of undulation in those greens,” Billie said. “They were not easy. They were challenging, which I liked.”
Mounding around the greens can leave a challenging downhill or side-hill chip.
“There are so many hazards and very challenging approach shots on almost every hole,” Chris said. “It’s a tough course. It’s really the greens and the shots into them that make it difficult. You might have to carry a bunker then have to stop the ball on the green, and if you miss the green you usually have a tough chip.”
Continuing a trend on the Grand Strand, the greens on the Egret and Heron nines were changed from bentgrass to Champion ultradwarf Bermudagrass last summer, and they were a good speed for our group. “The greens rolled pretty true,” Chris said.
The Ibis nine has bentgrass greens until it closes for a few weeks this summer for a transition to Champion, and it features a couple holes along marsh and creeks.
Carolina National’s tees, fairways and greens were not overseeded this winter, and instead dormant Bermuda was colored with a pigment. “It’s worth the trip from Myrtle Beach to play,” Matt said.
Matt found the staff to be friendly, enjoyed the scenery and appreciated an extensive practice area. “It’s a great driving range and warm-up area,” he said.
Matt also liked the easy-access nearly drive-through snack bar just off the cart path on the bottom level of the clubhouse. “It’s a quick turnaround at the turn with that snack bar and they have good hotdogs,” Matt said.
Carolina National has good options for seniors and women, with an Egret-Heron 5,982-yard blue tee, 5,399 teal and 4,738 white. Billie appreciated the length of the teal for a challenge, and noted homes encroach upon play on only a few holes. “I like that the houses are set back and aren’t right on top of holes,” Billie said.
Chris appreciated the landscaping and beauty of the course, “and the different challenges each hole offered,” he said.
The course drains well, as we were on fairways just two days following four consecutive days of rain. “I’m surprised how dry it is,” Billie said. “I was expecting cart-path only.”
Matt noted the cement cart paths were raised in many places, making for a rough ride around much of the course, and neither he nor Chris were fond of the tight lies on the colored, dormant Bermuda fairways resulting from no winter overseeding. “All of the fairways were too bare,” Chris said.
Billie found the combination of the Egret’s long par-3 seventh hole and par-4 eighth, which features a blind shot over a mound to the green, temporarily slowed an otherwise good pace of play.
Chris discovered “there were too many bunkers for my liking.”
Par-3s offer difficulty in their length alone, measuring between 173 and 219 from the back black tees and between 156 and 191 from the next tee up, the gold. “They have tough and intimidating tee shots from the tips and tough green contours,” Matt said.
On the Egret, the 184-yard fifth hole requires a carry over water that continues to the right of a bulkheaded mildly three-tiered green sloping from back to front and to the left away from water. Bunkers are front right and back right and a bailout area is left.
The 219-yard seventh has a slightly downhill tee shot to a large and generally flat green with trees left and bunkers front left, back left, right and front right, and the back of the green falls off to a swale behind the green.
On the Heron, the green on the 203-yard fifth is surrounded by marsh with a dead tree between the tees and green. A kidney-shaped green slopes off a mild back mound and is well protected by adjacent marsh front and left, and bunkers at the front and front right. Tees swing in a horseshoe around the marsh, and though the distance changes the difficulty of the hole is maintained by its design and bunker placement for all tees but the women’s white tee. “That hole is difficult but pretty,” Billie said. “I loved the view from all of the tee boxes.”
The 173-yard eighth has an area of wetlands splitting the tees and green, a pair of stacked bunkers in front and a bunker right of a green that slopes both left and right from a middle ridge. A hollow exists on the far left portion of the green.
“The par-3s were very picturesque, had varying length and were challenging but fair,” Chris said.
A pair of par-3s are 162 yards from the teal tees and shorten to 140 and 120 from the white. “They’re long for most women,” Billie said. “I liked the different looks from the different tee boxes.”
Five par-4s are 390 yards or less, and four are more than 425 yards. “I thought there was a great variety of looks and challenges on all of the par-4s,” Chris said. “A few of them were a little longer than necessary, especially considering that every hole provided trouble for errant tee shots.”
On the Egret, the 388-yard first hole is wide open off the tee with a green featuring a left-front hollow behind a large, deep bunker. “It’s wide open off the first tee, which gives you a good starting hole to get warmed up,” Matt said.
The 427-yard second curls mildly left around a pond with fairway bunkers left and right and a large bunker buffering a rolling green from water to its left. The 384-yard fourth turns mildly around water to the right to a green that angles to the right behind a large bunker.
The rolling green with few flat pin placements on the 445-yard sixth is surrounded by mounding with a deep bunker left. The 390-yard slight dogleg-left eighth has a blind shot to the green over fairway mounding containing three bunkers.
On the Heron, the 400-yard first has water left and a fairway that snakes between short and deep fairway bunkers. The 384-yard third has bunkers left and right both off the tee and at the green, and the 365-yard fourth is pockmarked with four bunkers in and around the fairway that can generally be carried off the tee. The Lockwood Folly River and marsh behind the green is visible from elevated tees. The green slopes to the right and front and turns around a fingered front bunker.
The 432-yard sixth is open off the tee and its green features a hollow front left behind a bunker, and the 443-yard seventh requires a long carry over water from the back tee with wetlands pinching the fairway front right of the green.
“There’s a good mix of long and short par-4s,” Billie said, “and bunkers make you think.”
Two par-5s are longer than 575 yards, and two are 530 or less. On the Egret, the 577-yard third hole is a dogleg right that turns around a large and long waste bunker beginning on the second shot, and another waste bunker backs it up to the right of a green that slopes to the front from the middle and slightly left in the back. Two bunkers are left and front left of the green.
The 486-yard ninth is a quirky open dogleg left with a pair of sprawling bunkers to either carry or avoid just inside the fairway at the turn. A group of tall trees 100 yards from the green can block the approach to a green that slopes primarily to the front and has a bunker in front and creek angling to its right.
“I like the layout of the par-5s,” Billie said. “Each hole is unique so you are always challenged. I thought the lengths were fair and there are good placements of greenside bunkers.”
On the Heron, the 530-yard second is a dogleg right with bunkers to be carried at the bend. Short trees down the right side can impact shots from that side of the fairway and the green is tucked behind a right-side waste bunker containing vegetation. The 587-yard ninth is a dogleg left with water to the right on the second shot and a green that curls around a fingered front bunker and has mild hollows left and right.
“There are birdie chances to be had, but some long bunkers are punishing,” Matt said. “The ninth holes are birdie opportunities.”
The entire group appreciated the attractive par-4 fourth and par-3 fifth holes on the Heron nine. “They were absolutely beautiful and nicely designed holes with the river acting as the backdrop,” Chris said. “They were challenging but fair.”
Billie also enjoyed the Heron par-5 ninth, which measured a testy 469 yards from the teal and 443 from the forward tee, finding it to be a good finishing hole, and the Egret’s 427-yard par-4 second hole. “It’s a great hole – challenging but fair,” she said.
Matt also appreciated the closing par-5s, saying of the Egret’s 486-yard ninth: “There are so many decisions on how to play the hole.”
Least favorite holes
Billie and Chris both identified the Egret’s ninth, which measured 457 yards from the gold and 393 from the teal tee, as their least favorite hole.
“You would have to play here a lot to figure out where you want to go,” Billie said.
Added Chris: “I’m not a fan of holes with a lot of chaos on them, where you’re not sure where to hit the ball. It was very challenging but unless you had played the course you did not know how to set up for your second shot. There were too many bunkers scattered all over and although it provided a lot of options, I felt some good shots could be penalized unfairly.”
Matt’s least favorite was the Egret’s 577-yard par-5 third hole. “It’s a punishing bunker on the right side and it’s tough to get away from it if you get in it.”