With immaculate conditioning and an excellent staff, along with reasonable green fees, it's no wonder that Farmstead Golf Links is one of the top picks for visitors to the north Grand Strand.
CALABASH, N.C. -- Similar to Hollywood, the Myrtle Beach "Grand Strand" is an idea rather than a place. It's a state of mind conjuring white-sand beaches, seafood and, most of all, golf.
There are, of course, other associations that may spring to mind as well, such as T-shirt shops, traffic jams and mini-golf. But if you want to experience "Grand Strand" golf in its purest -- and arguably best -- incarnation, along with a laid-back, restful vacation away from those secondary facets of the region, consider Brunswick County.
Before you protest that I'm talking about the wrong "Carolina," take a quick look at a map, and you'll discover that Brunswick County lies about an hour north of North Myrtle Beach, S.C. Indeed, there are 34 golf courses in Brunswick County that are counted among the Grand Strand's multitudinous tracks -- a significant percentage of the total (whatever one might agree that total to be).
Brunswick County also contains five islands, boasting some of the prettiest, most pristine beaches on Grand Strand, along with resorts, restaurants and attractions ideally suited for serious golfers.
One perennial favorite course among golfers visiting Brunswick County is Farmstead Golf Links in Calabash. Well, we should clarify: The clubhouse is in North Carolina, but the 480-acre layout wends its way from the Tarheel State into South Carolina and then from the Palmetto State back into North Carolina.
Playing Farmstead Golf Links
Farmstead Golf Links is a Willard Byrd and Dave Johnson design that stretches to 7,200 yards from the back tees. The course occupies 480 acres of gently rolling land that, consistent with its location straddling North and South Carolina, seems to transition from the relative flatness of most southerly Grand Strand courses to the more varied topography of Brunswick County courses.
Farmstead is not only distinctive in its routing across state lines. The par-72 track also boasts five picturesque par 3s along with the only par-6 hole in the area. The behemoth 767-yard 18th hole is, despite its par and length, not at all gimmicky. No matter which tees you play for the rest of your round, it's tempting to play the 18th from the tips just to see how you stack up. (It was one of my own personal golf highlights to barely miss a birdie putt en route to parring this hole from the championship tees.)
Before you get to the final hole, though, take your time to enjoy the previous 17 holes. Before the round, the starter even warned us, "There's lots of trouble off the tee box. Some of it you'll see, and some you won't." Despite this warning, the bentgrass fairways are quite forgiving, though there is plenty of trouble -- usually in the form of water -- to be found. As the starter also pointed out, the black and white stakes in the fairways are "the absolute best aiming points," so if you cleave closely to these, you'll have a great scoring day.
The greens are also bentgrass and generally run at a frisky 10-12 on the Stimp meter. The large putting surfaces are full of subtle movement, but the breaks are usually less severe than you think.
Farmstead throws a challenge at players almost right out of the gate. The no. 1-handicap, 446-yard, par-4 second presents you with a tee shot over a pond and around tall trees to a dogleg-right fairway that is bisected about 150 yards from the green by a small creek. From the tips, even a good drive will likely leave a long approach, and from more forward tees, club selection is tricky, as a big drive will run through the fairway into pines and pine straw.
When you make the turn, the course crosses the state line to South Carolina. Then, on the 541-yard, par-5 14th hole, you tee off in South Carolina and land back in North Carolina. There are not many courses where you play from one state to another.
The rest of the back nine meanders back and forth a bit, as marked by several signs letting you know which state you happen to be in at various points. The only downside to this quirk is that the course doesn't have a vendors license in South Carolina, so if you get thirsty or hungry, you'll have to wait to buy something until getting back into the Tarheel State.
Returning to that epic, 767-yard, closing par 6 -- no matter which set of tees you decide to play from -- you'll need to avoid the water left on shots 2-4 (or so) and stay safely in the sort of "cape-style" fairway as it bends ever more acutely right to left around the water as you (eventually) get to the green.
Farmstead Golf Links: The verdict
With immaculate conditioning and an excellent staff, along with reasonable rates ranging from $53-$66 in peak season, it's no wonder that Farmstead Golf Links is one of the top picks for visitors to the north Grand Strand.
Located in Ocean Isle Beach, about 30 minutes from Farmstead, the Winds Resort Beach Club serves as a popular and relaxing home base for golfers and families alike as they explore the courses and beaches of Brunswick County and the northern end of the Grand Strand.
The Winds sits on a white sand beach and offers hotel-style rooms, ocean-view suites, and 4-, 5- and 6-bedroom houses to suit groups of just about any size. Some golfers have been coming here with their buddies for more than 20 years, enjoying the 100-some courses within 30 minutes from the resort, along with the indoor and outdoor pools, beach, tiki bar and other assorted amenities.
The resort is also popular with couples planning "destination" weddings. Rates run from $59-$170 per golfer per night, including a hearty, hot breakfast buffet every morning. Stay-and-play packages are available with dozens of courses (including Farmstead) through The Winds' own golf package coordinator.
The best part is that The Winds has such a laid-back, family-owned, small-town feel to it. No hordes of tourists, no "gentleman's" clubs, no bungee-cord catapult rides. Just beach, food, drink, golf, and peace and quiet, all converging to create the ideal "Grand Strand" state of mind.