SUNSET BEACH, N.C. -- Sandpiper Bay Golf & Country Club is literally surrounded by its competition.
Signs for Thistle Golf Club, the three-course Sea Trail Golf Resort & Convention Center and the Pearl Golf Links, line up like ducklings along Old Georgetown Road (state road 179). Just to the north, there's the sprawling development of the 72-hole Ocean Ridge Plantation. Even more courses sit within 10 miles or less.
But as golf developments have sprung up around Sandpiper Bay, the 27-hole club hasn't gotten lost in the shuffle.
Sandpiper Bay was named the 2010 course of the year by the Myrtle Beach Golf Course Owners Association after finishing a major three-year renovation. The project converted every green to MiniVerde bermuda, the best of the new ultradwarf grasses. More improvements included touchups and new flat screens in the charming clubhouse, repaired cart paths, rebuilt bridges and the removal of 300 trees to open up the Piper Nine and Sand Nine. The club will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2012 looking good.
"I think it is the best deal on the Grand Strand for you what you put in and what you get out," said Charlie Richardson, who lives in nearby Ocean Isle Beach and has been a member for five years. "It is always in great shape. The staff is great."
Sandpiper Bay won't wow visitors with vistas or signature holes. It still wins over the hearts of players because it's not cruel and conniving like so many modern layouts. There's something to be said for straight-forward, well-designed holes.
Sandpiper Bay Golf & Country Club: The nines
Richard Kascsak, the head professional and assistant general manager at Sandpiper, said the credit goes to architect Dan Maples, who designed the original Sand and the Piper nines in 1987, and added the Bay in 2000.
"(Maples) kept all skill levels in mind. He didn't make it too long," Kascsak said. "The bunkers are placed well. He kept the greens playable, and there are many pin locations. He just did a good job thinking about the average player."
Richardson said each of the nines is different enough "to keep from getting stale."
For sheer shot-making, Sandpiper Bay's Bay Nine stands out. There's water on every hole, but that's counterbalanced by a handful of shorter par 4s. The fourth, sixth and seventh all play less than 365 yards from the tips.
The dramatic tee shots on the par-3 third and the par-4 eighth make the round. No. 3 requires a near-200-yard carry over water to a well bunkered green. The eighth is another harrowing all-carry shot across a marsh to a diagonal fairway leading away.
"The par 3s on the Bay course are some of the best on the Beach," Kascsak said. "The par 4s are more generous on the Bay. They give you a chance to get the strokes back you might have lost on the par 3s."
It's probably best if you don't start your round on the first tee of the Sand nine. The 562-yard par 5 is the longest hole on the property and pinches severely on the second shot.
"You feel that knee-knocking and the heart rate going up. Golfers feel it on that second shot," Kascsak said.
The easiest of the three is the Piper Course, although the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth don't relinquish scores without execution. They're earned.
"A lot of courses on the north end (of the Grand Strand) are good courses," Kascsak said. "They are value priced. That's why we have return customers year after year."
Sandpiper Bay Golf & Country Club: The verdict
Playing Sandpiper Bay was the most stress-free round of golf I've had in a while. That's a compliment, not a knock.
Sometimes it's nice to play a course that gives you a chance to shoot a score, instead of one that requires survival mode. We need more courses like this if the game wants to expand and grow. As one member told me, she loves it because there aren't too many hills or bunkers.
It's just a well maintained, friendly place to play golf. For the price, you won't be disappointed.