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|Designed by Tim Cate, Leopard's Chase Golf Club is perhaps the fiercest of the Big Cat courses at Ocean Ridge Plantation. (Courtesy of Leopard's Chase G.C.)|
OCEAN ISLE BEACH, N.C. - This Leopard has a bigger bite than the Tiger, the Panther and the Lion.
Leopard's Chase Golf Club is the newest and most difficult of the four golf courses at award-winning Ocean Ridge Plantation, which also features Tiger's Eye, Panther's Run and Lion's Paw. A fifth golf course, Jaguar's Lair, is under construction.
Measuring 7,155 yards from the tips, the Tim Cate-designed Leopard's Chase course features undulating greens, small driving areas, significant amounts of water and sand and enough exposure to the elements to challenge players of all levels.
"It is a test of the golfing ability," Head Professional Allen Rising said. "It's not really long from the white tees, but it's really the slope rating. It only measures 6,165 from the whites, but the slope of 130 tells you the difficulty of the golf course. If you're keeping it down the middle it's definitely fun to play."
That's much easier said than done.
The latest in the Big Cat courses, Leopard's Chase opened to the public in 2007. Since beginning the project early last decade, Cate promised that the course would take the Ocean Ridge challenge to another level. Based on the reputation the course has gained, it's safe to say he achieved that goal.
Featuring five par 3s and five par 5s, Leopard's Chase is more demanding than the other golf courses inside the vast Ocean Ridge expanse, which sits just a few miles west of the North Carolina beaches and just 10 miles north of the South Carolina state line. The other three are challenging in their own way, but none of them require the precision of Leopard's Chase and it's tight fairways.
At this course, driving accuracy is at a premium.
"You can get after the ball a little better at the other courses," Rising said. "It's best to keep the ball in play on this golf course. If you are hitting the driver straight that works out really well for you here. If not, you better pull a 3-wood or something else to keep it in the short grass. I tell people all the time that if you get in trouble you need to get it back out to the short grass, take your medicine and move on to the next hole, because the Leopard will jump up and bite you."
Rising admits that he didn't break 100 in his first trip around Leopard's Chase.
It's obvious on each hole why this was such a time-consuming project for Cate and Co. There was significant thought put into every mound, bunker, tree and hazard on the golf course. Each of those obstacles has a direct impact in some way on each and every shot.
The Myrtle Beach area features of a number of difficult courses, but most of them have holes that allow its challengers to take a breath. Relax for a hole - or even a shot - at Leopard's Chase, and your score can turn ugly in a matter of moments.
Plus, the elements are a major factor. There are major portions of the golf course that are exposed to the breezes that blow in off the ocean. Cate built many of his holes so that the approach shots force you to either tempt fate over water or risk losing your shot in the wind. It's a stiff test that often requires either low, links-golf-type shots or the ability to fade or draw with consistency.
"It's very challenging, more challenging than I need," said Frank Delvero, an 18 handicap. "I have trouble with it, because it's a shot-placement course. I'm not a very accurate hitter. I can fade some. I can draw some. The problem is I never know when they are going to happen. This course demands accuracy. It's a fun course in a lot of aspects, but you have to know where you want to put the ball."
That is the requirement for the signature hole at Leopard's Chase, the par-3 13th. The tee shot goes over a wasteland and a waste area to one of the smallest greens on the course. Like many of the other greens, this one features a significant amount of undulation. And it's fast. The greens at Leopard's Chase measured 12 on the stimp meter when it opened. Your approach shots must be on the correct side of the hole or you'll find yourself lagging eight-foot putts with the hope they'll stop within a few feet of the cup.
The course features back-to-back island greens on the front side. The par-3 fourth measures 213 yards from the tops to a green surrounded by water. The ensuing hole, a par 4 that measures 295 yards, features a green surrounded by a waste area/bunker.
Those holes are on the front side, but Leopard's Chase saves its toughest challenges for the end.
"The first eight holes aren't bad, but it gets really interesting after that," said Bill Kanach, a 15 handicap. "It's a tough course. You can't spray the ball. There is a lot of water and retention ponds. You've got to play smart."
This course is certainly among the finest in the area. It's also one of the toughest. While first timers and duffers may find it overbearing, Leopard's Chase is still enjoyable even if your score gets ugly. It requires each challenger to assess the status quo - their game, the lay of the land, the consequences of a bad shot and the weather - before each shot. This is more than just a round of golf. It's a cerebral test of the toughest variety.
Leopard's Chase has its own driving range, putting green and chipping area. The other three courses within Ocean Ridge Plantation share their own practice areas. Instruction is available from PGA Professional on site.
March 5, 2010
Josh Hoke is a newspaper journalist currently living in one of the world's golfing meccas, Myrtle Beach, S.C. A high handicapper who plays as often as possible, he spends more time in the green-side sand than the beach-front sand. He currently covers the Div. I athletic program at Coastal Carolina University for The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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