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Cape Fear National at Brunswick Forest: Expect big future for new Wilmington, N.C.-area golf course

Lisa AllenBy Lisa Allen,
Cape Fear National GC - hole 5
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The fifth hole at Cape Fear National features a fairway-length waste bunker right and more bunkers left. (Lisa Allen/WorldGolf.com)

LELAND, N.C. - Just 45 minutes north of Myrtle Beach, S.C., just outside of enchanting Wilmington, N.C., is Cape Fear National.

The 18-hole links-style golf course just opened in December, with a grand opening slated for early 2010.

There are some big names behind Cape Fear National. It's managed by Kemper Sports and sits amid Brunswick Forest, a massive development 10 minutes from Wilmington slated for 8,000 homes owned by Lord Baltimore Properties. That's some major muscle.

The course owners had at their beckoning any number of celebrity designers, but they wanted someone who knew the area. They chose Tim Cate, who has made a name for himself on the Grand Strand.

At Cape Fear National - an intimidating moniker if there ever was one - Cate bandied about 1.5 million cubic feet of earth to hollow out ponds, elevate tees and add undulations to fairways and greens. That's to be expected.

Unexpected is the huge, heather-covered berm that forms a spine along much of the back nine. It is that ridge that sets this golf course apart in the world of flat near the coast. Looking at that mound covered in wind-blown heather, one does develop a hankering for haggis.

Other Cate influences are the three holes lined with tee-to-green waste bunkers, wildflowers growing along most of the course and shades of Cate's landscaping past in the form of waterfalls and rock-lined creeks. A couple of his green-side sand bunkers drop right into the water.

Cape Fear National: Lots of sand and water

Similar themes run through the course: no trees in the way, but lots of sand and water.

There isn't a flat surface on the greens nor fairways, but it isn't overdone. The swales make the course visually interesting. It appears much of the hazards are placed to intimidate you on the tee, but they are fairly easy to avoid because the fairways, covered in tifway 419 Bermuda, are more than generous. Stay on them, though, because the rough is gnarly. Plan a short iron to extract yourself, no matter how far from the green.

Get used to carries over marsh, waste bunkers or water. You'll fire over them on more than half of the holes, either off the tee or on the approach. After a few test rounds, the course is adding forward tees on No. 1 and No. 10 to avoid marsh carries, said Brad Walker, director of sales and marketing.

The greens are super-sized, covered in velvet-like A1/A4 bentgrass, giving them speed, accuracy and smoothness. Go for the pin or else chance a three-putt.

Head Professional Ron Thomason, who joined Cape Fear National from Bald Head Island Country Club, said he is impressed with Cate's design, calling it his best yet

"I like the elevation changes, but he didn't overdo it with the waste areas," Thomason said. "The rock work he did is unbelievable."

The contrast between the front and back lies in remoteness. The back ventures into the wilderness with long treks between holes among a cypress swamp and marsh. It was interesting to note that on No. 12, each tee position faced a different challenge, from water in the back to a bunker carry at the front tees.

The sand in the bunkers at Cape Fear National is the same diamond-cut variety used by Augusta National. It's so nice, you won't mind trying for a sand save or blasting onto the fairway.

Cape Fear National: Other amenities

The brand new clubhouse is cushy, cozy and inviting, with a broad patio overlooking the 18th green and forest. The menu features imaginative sandwiches, soups and salads.

Not on line yet is the short-game facility that will feature three greens rimmed by rough and sand and room for shots of 100 yards or less. The club invites anyone to come out and use it.

The full-swing driving range will have tee times, a clever approach for a narrow range.

Cape Fear National: The verdict:

Between five tees laid out between 7,217 and 4,802 yards and six pin placements, there is a combination to entertain golfers of many skills.

The only time you'll see golfers on other holes are at the start of the nines and a pair of holes on each nine that share water hazards.

Cape Fear National isn't a rush job. The vegetation on the golf course is well established, and the clubhouse is fully staffed and stocked.

No matter how you play, it's a peaceful jaunt through a large expanse of yet-to-be-developed North Carolina coastline. Enjoy it while you can.

This might be the first time you've heard of Cape Fear National, but it likely won't be the last.

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Cape Fear National golf courseCape Fear National golf course - hole 1

Lisa Allen is a golf, travel and business writer based in Beaufort, S.C. She has edited newspapers, magazines and books in Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina. Follow her on Twitter @LAllenSC.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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