A circular, pillared gazebo containing a few white rocking chairs at the bag drop captures the charm of Willbrook Plantation.
A former rice plantation with old moss-draped oak trees and other hardwoods, low-lying wetlands, natural lakes and a variety of wildlife including alligators and hawks, it is the essence of Lowcountry golf.
“I like the courses on the south end of the Grand Strand. They’re so beautiful with the big oaks and moss hanging off. They’re all beautiful and they’re fun to play,” said Deb Hathaway of Myrtle Beach, a medical transscriptionist with a 12 handicap who took part in a review of the course in late May. “I think Willbrook is so southern and stands out in the category like Caledonia and Pawleys Plantation.
“I think this course has great character. That’s what I like about it the most. It’s easily one of my personal top-five favorites.”
Joining me and Deb in the review were her husband, Zane (Ziggy), a retired New York State Police officer and 11.3 handicap, and Paul Owens of Myrtle Beach, a bartender at Ocean Annie’s and Flip Flops Bar & Grill with a 9 handicap.
“Every hole on this course has character and none of the holes seem the same,” Ziggy said. “This is one of the prettiest courses down here.”
Trees that can impact shots even from parts of fairways, water hazards, a handful of waste bunkers and minimal but impactful bunkers make positioning more important than length on the 6,722-yard Dan Maples design that opened in 1988.
“Willbrook is definitely a shot-makers golf course and requires placement on the correct side of the fairway for proper angles into the greens,” Paul said. “You have to pick your lines on this golf course. You’re not totally blind but you can’t see your landing area on some holes. It’s challenging from the back tees.”
Deb and Ziggy consider the back nine to be more challenging. “I feel the back side is more difficult. The front nine is a bit more forgiving from the red tees,” Deb said.
Each hole at Willbrook is isolated from the rest. Well-manicured plant and flower gardens at a few tee boxes, brick curbing and steps to tee boxes and red brick fence rail posts at the 15th tee add to the course’s ambiance, as do exquisite neighborhoods that surround holes. “There are some pretty houses here too and that always helps with the aesthetics of a course,” Paul said.
The course was in good condition for our round, including the Champion Bermudagrass on mildly undulating greens and perfectly manicured bunkers. “The course was in great shape,” Paul said. “I loved the way the greens rolled. They rolled true, though they were a little slow, and the bunkers are all in awesome condition.”
Willbrook was named one of the nation’s best courses for women by Golf For Women magazine on a few occasions, reflecting the 4,981-yard length from the red tees, and well-maintained and advantageous tee boxes. “It’s extremely lady-friendly,” said Deb, who was wearing novel ball marker earrings.
The scenery eases the sting of disappointing play. “The beauty of the course makes Willbrook fun to play, even on a bad-shot day,” Deb said.
The group appreciated the character and variety of the layout. “I loved how every hole had its own character,” said Paul, who played Willbrook for the first time and found yardages to be well-marked on the course. “It definitely didn’t disappoint.”
Historical signs just off cart paths throughout the course explain the history of the former rice plantation.
Willbrook offers all you need in a practice area with a full-length driving range, practice bunker and practice putting and chipping greens.
Deb pointed out that Willbrook can occasionally have a lot of bugs because of the nature of the property.
Paul found some of the par-4 landing areas to be small.
Both Paul and Ziggy thought the first hole offers a tough opening tee shot with overhanging trees on the right side, particularly from the back tee because less of the landing area is open to the shot unless you play a cut as a right-handed player. “No. 1 was not to my liking with a lot of overhanging trees,” Paul said. “But again you have to put your tee shot in the correct spot.”
Said Ziggy: “No. 1 is a great hole, but it’s not good for the first hole of the day. Don’t get rid of it, though.”
Willbrook’s par-3s range from 145 to 199 yards, and from 127 to 180 from the white tees. “The par-3s have good variety and I didn’t use the same club on any tee, and that is a good thing in my opinion,” Ziggy said.
The 175-yard fourth hole has a creek to the left and a wide bunker fronting a green that slopes to the middle from the sides – more steeply from the right side – and also slopes mildly to the front. The 147-yard sixth has a slightly downhill shot to a bulkheaded island green with a bunker to its left. The green is fairly flat except for a rise in the back.
“Par-3s are fun to play and challenging,” Deb said.
The 199-yard 12th has a bulkheaded waste bunker containing native grasses in front of the tees and a green that slopes slightly forward and is protected by bunkers right and back left. The 173-yard 17th has a creek in front of the tees and a tall tree short and left of a slightly elevated green that slopes to the front.
“The par-3s, were very challenging from the back tees,” Paul said. “Most of them played into the wind today. But every one of them offers great opportunities to make birdie.”
Placement is particularly important on par-4s, as just three are 400 or more yards and peak at 428 yards. “Most of the par-4s made me think about what club I wanted to hit off the tee,” Paul said.
After the challenging first hole, which includes a creek on the left side through the green, the 394-yard second has water down the entire right side and fairway bunkers pinching the fairway in the landing area off the tee. The green slopes to the front and right and has bunkers front left and back right.
The 383-yard fifth hole has a peninsula fairway with water front, right and back and a sparse tree line to the left. The green is significantly elevated.
“The bunkers are so strategically-placed that the par-4s can be challenging,” Deb said. “The elevated greens and bunker placement often calls for creativity when skill fails.”
The 355-yard seventh is wide open and a potential birdie, and the right tree line on the 390-yard ninth pushes tee shots toward a left bunker before approaching a crowned green. The tee box has an extensive flower bed. “This is a well-landscaped hole,” Ziggy said. “It’s exceptional with the plants, flowers and curbing.”
The 379-yard 10th turns slightly right with water on the right that can be carried off the tee and a tree to the front right of the green. The 363-yard 13th has a bulkheaded waste bunker in front of the tees and bunkers front left and back right of a green that slopes to the front and back from a mild middle ridge.
The 419-yard 14th has water horseshoeing around the left, back and right of the green, and the 404-yard 16th has a green tucked behind a waste bunker buffering water to its front left. A front right bunker further protects the green.
“You couldn’t ask for a better variety of par-4s,” Ziggy said.
Much of Willbrook’s length comes in the par-5s, as all are at least 519 yards and two are more than 550.
“I loved the par-5s. They’re very challenging and long from the back tees,” Paul said. “You had to pick a line and execute your shot off the tee and I loved the challenge of whether to lay up or go for it because they have perfectly placed water and bunkers.”
The 553-yard third hole turns right on the second shot around a waste bunker backed by a water hazard, and mounding and four bunkers await players taking on the risk of a second shot toward the green. There is plenty of fairway to the left for a lay up. “I love the third hole,” Ziggy said.
The 519-yard eighth is a dogleg right around a tree line. If you don’t try to carry the trees it’s a fairway wood or long iron to the landing area.
The 572-yard 15th turns left off the tee around a bunker and mid-size tree before a creek crosses the fairway about 220 yards from the green. Left fairway bunkers can catch lay up shots and a green that slopes to the front and right is protected by bunkers front left and front right.
The 535-yard 18th is a dogleg right through trees, and long drives that don’t turn right can find a back bunker or run through the fairway. The green is protected by a wide back bunker and front-right bunker.
“The lady’s tees make the par-5s reachable yet challenging,” Deb said.
Paul’s favorite holes were the par-5 eighth and 15th holes – a dogleg right and dogleg left. Of the 519-yard eighth he said, “I liked the dogleg right and the second shot in, and the green was great,” and of the 572-yard 15th he said, “I loved the length and hole layout and its well-place hazards.”
Ziggy’s favorite hole was the peninsula-fairway par-4 fifth, which is 369 yards from the white tee. “It calls for a great first and second shot,” Ziggy said. He also enjoyed the island-green par-3 sixth. “It’s a beautiful hole and the ride on the bridge to No. 7 is great,” he said.
Deb enjoyed the par-3 sixth, which measures 87 yards from the red tee – “It’s so pretty with the water and bridges. It’s a great picture location,” she said – as well as the par-4 fifth, which measures a challenging 332 from the red tee. “It’s tough but beautiful,” she said.
Least favorite holes
Paul’s least favorite holes were the par-4 first and 11th holes. “I didn’t like the tee shot and overhanging trees down the right side,” he said of the 428-yard first hole.
The 336-yard 11th hole is a dogleg right with a tee shot over water with a patch of tall trees on the inside of the dogleg to deter shots at the green. Three bunkers are at the back of the fairway to catch long tee shots that are too far left. “It just didn’t fit my eye and wasn’t in the best shape [with thin spots in the fairway],” Paul said.
Ziggy’s least favorite hole is the par-5 18th, which measures 515 yards from the white tee. “I never seem to hit a good tee shot there,” Ziggy said. “I’m not fond of the landing area. Trees push the tee ball to the left off the fairway. However, I have met the homeowners on the right side [after tee shots] and they seem nice.”
Deb also identified the 18th, measuring 421 yards from the red tee, as her least favorite hole. “It can be a tough finish,” Deb said. “Even a good tee shot can end as a bad lie because the fairway rolls right to left.”