BALD HEAD ISLAND, N.C.
Playing at Bald Head Island Club isn't just a round of golf, it's an experience. A full-day experience at that.
The course off the coast of Southport, N.C., requires a 20-minute ferry ride and shuttle to the course from the ferry landing through both thick, jungle-like forested areas and beach dunes.
"It's something you have to plan ahead of time, but it's definitely worth it," said Allen Hylton Jr. of Little River, who took part in a review of the course in late July.
With a $3.9 million renovation project recently completed on the course that included the changing of greens to smooth Mini-Verde Bermudagrass and the addition of attractive waste areas surrounding holes, the highlight of the experience - the golf course - has been greatly enhanced.
Joining me and Allen, a 2-handicap and club salesman at Martin's PGA Tour Superstore, in the review foursome were Bill Keckley of Longs, a 10-handicap and retired insurance broker, and Linda Jordan of Longs, a 22-handicap and semi-retired sheet metal company general manager.
"This golf course is as pretty looking back toward the tees from the green as it is looking down from the tees," Bill said. "It's a gorgeous golf course. I wasn't expecting anything like this. It's a beautiful, picturesque golf course."
The 1974 George Cobb design - Cobb's other designs include the Surf Golf and Beach Club - has undergone a renovation overseen by architect Tim Cate, who eliminated some blind shots and blind water hazards, though one remains in the landing area on the right side of the par-4 third hole.
The addition of waste areas with sand and vegetation including pampas grass decreased mowing areas from more than 100 acres to less than 70 acres. The property includes a multitude of palms, oaks, water, waste bunkers, and sandy banks to water hazards. All of the environmental features work to draw the golf course from its surroundings.
"It definitely has a beach look to it with the water and sand along the banks of the water and the bunkers," Linda said. "A lot of the sand was around the tee boxes to give it that beach and resort look, and a lot of it didn't come into play."
Fairways are wider than they previously were, and balls that used to land in the jungle are now possibly playable in wild waste areas. Most greens are well protected by sand, including sprawling and often deep bunkers, as well as waste bunkers containing vegetation, such as pampas grass. Greens are often elevated to varying degrees.
The layout reacted well to the recent changes. "The course is in excellent condition," Allen said. "The greens are phenomenal. You hit a good putt and it holds its line. The greens are firm, and I like the speed because I like the fast greens. They had good speed to them without being unfair."
Bald Head Island Club is semi-private. It is owned by its members and accepts limited outside play booked mainly through select package providers.
Allen was impressed with the course's condition and appreciated the bag service for the ferry on both the mainland and island.
The entire group enjoyed the scenery of the course and island in general. "It's nice just to look around," Linda said. "It's a fun course to play."
Bill ranks the course among his favorites around the Grand Strand. "I was so impressed with the golf course," Bill said. "I've been here eight years and I put it in my top five golf courses in the Myrtle Beach area."
He enjoyed the ferry and shuttle as well. "I enjoyed the boat ride over. That's neat," Bill said. "I think it adds to the experience."
Linda appreciated the old oak trees and fairly large greens, and thought the distance from the teal tee gives women a chance to score. "For women the tee was short and it was fair," she said. "You could reach the par-4s in two."
Allen thought the waste and sand areas along the edges of many holes were excessive. "I like simplicity," Allen said. "I thought it was overdone in some places. I just want a good golf course but I don't want it to be boring."
Bill thought the course played a little shorter than the yardage showed, and suggested playing away from water because of that, and thought some of the teeing areas were too hard. "The only thing I didn't like about it was the ground was so hard to get a tee into it on the tee boxes," Bill said.
Linda would have liked more consistency with the sand around the greens, which were a combination of fluffy white sand in traditional bunkers and a darker and thicker sand in waste-like bunkers.
Par-3s measure between 173 and 208 yards from the tips and between 149 and 171 from the white tees. "Though they were very similar in length they each had a very different look and shape to them," Allen said.
The 190-yard second hole measures 171 from the white and has a large bunker to the front-right of the green. The 173-yard eighth is 149 from the white and has a sharp downhill shot over a waste bunker and water that extends to the left side of the green. The back-left portion of the green extends farther into the water, setting up a very difficult pin placement. "That's a gorgeous golf hole," Bill said.
The 208-yard 13th measures 169 from the white and plays much longer because of an elevated green that falls off sharply to the right side. The 187-yard 16th plays 169 from the white, and the ocean is visible a few hundred yards away to the left from elevated tee boxes framed by jungle and a dead tree. A downhill tee shot over water is to a deep green with a hill to its left lined by sand interspersed with pampas grass.
"Each par-3 had its own character," Linda said.
Five par-4s measure between 356 and 395 yards, while five measure 412 or more, capped by the 444-yard 18th. "The par-4s had a good variety of lengths. I hit many different irons into greens," Allen said. "Some are forgiving off the tee, while others put a premium on accuracy."
The first two par-4s are short. The 356-yard first requires a drive over and around water on the left, and the 363-yard third has elevated tees and water in the landing area short right and trees deep left.
The 430-yard ninth has water left and water right that is lined by a series of long, narrow bunkers. The green is protected by bunkers on the right, front-right and back-left. "It's a real tough hole," Allen said. "It's tough on the tee box not to think that there's water left and water right."
The 376-yard 10th requires a drive over water with jungle to the left that has been cleared out near the fairway and replaced with waste sand and vegetation. The 412-yard 12th is a dogleg-right with an elevated green split by a ridge about one-third in from the left side. Deep bunkers reside below the green front and left.
The 395-yard, slight dogleg-right 15th has water down the left side and in front of the green. The 18th is the only par-4 longer than 400 yards from the white tees. It features water left and right off the tee and a fairway that narrows the longer you hit the drive. The pin can be tucked in a shallow area of the green behind a front-right bunker.
"The par-4s are tough for the average golfer," Bill said.
Par-5s measure between 491 and 545 yards from the back tees, and are much more benign from the white tees, measuring between 452 and 516 yards, with only one longer than 495 yards.
"There are good risk-reward par-5s," Allen said. "They are short enough to hit in two with good shots, but tricky enough to make a big number if you're not careful."
The 545-yard fourth hole turns left after a wide landing area off the tee, and a large oak with a wide canopy guards the front of the green's left side. The 511-yard seventh features a creek down the entire left side of the hole and trees right, and an elevated green is nearly surrounded by traditional or waste bunkers.
The 513-yard 11th has a risk-reward element both off the tee and on the second shot. The hole turns left around water off the tee with small trees and a bunker on the inside of the bend, and a bulkheaded pond comes in from the left in front of the green. "I like this hole because it tricks you into wanting to cut the corner, but it's not really an advantage unless you can hit it 300 yards," Allen said.
The 491-yard 17th has water down the left side. "Most par-5s have trouble on both sides," Linda said. "It's OK if you're straight."
Allen's favorite hole was the 545-yard fourth. "It's open off the tee but cutting down the left side shortens the hole, then the oak tree about 50 yards short of the green on the left guards the layup," Allen said.
Bill enjoyed the eighth, 13th, 16th and 11th holes. Of the par-5 11th, which played 421 yards from grey tee, he said, "It's a good driving hole with the risk-reward off the tee."
Linda liked the par-3 16th over water, which played 94 yards from the teal tee. "It has a beachy look with water in front and a sandy area behind, and it has a good-size green," she said.
Least favorite holes
Allen didn't care for the drives presented by the ninth and 15th holes. "They're very narrow off the tee and there's not a lot of room around the greens for error," Allen said. "They're too penal."
Bill's least favorite holes were the first, ninth and 17th. He wasn't fond of the tee shot over water with water to the left on the first hole. "It's tough for the opening shot," he said.
Linda's least favorite hole was the par-5 11th, which played 376 yards from the teal tee. "It's the only hole with unexpected trouble before the green," Linda said. "I didn't realize the water came out that far to the right."
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