CALABASH, N.C.- Farmstead Golf Links General Manager Keith Stanzel doesn't want to overkill the number one attraction at this newly opened, Willard Byrd designed golf course. Yet, no matter how hard he tries, he keeps coming back to it like a rubber-bellied tourist at one of the Grand Strand's all-you-can eat joints.
The reason that Farmstead will be a hit among the beach's 120 some odd golf courses: the par six.
The thing that will set Farmstead apart from other courses in Brunswick County: the par six.
The one thing that golfers will remember about Farmstead long after they return to Akron, Ohio, Syracuse New York, or Bensalem, Pennsylvania: the par six.
"It is simply the most incredible feature on the golf course, and I never realized its mystique until I played it," Stanzel says.
Without the 767-yard 18th hole that actually begins in South Carolina and ends in North Carolina, Farmstead Golf Links would still be one of the better inland golf tracks in the North Strand. With the 18th, it could become the stuff of legend. After all, where else in the greater Myrtle Beach area can you pound a 243-yard drive down the middle of the fairway, arrive at your ball, and see a placard buried in the ground that reads "525 (yards) to go"?
"I think it's a hole that people will be talking about throughout the region," Stanzel says. "Not just because it looks immense, but because it brings some new elements of course management into the game. Here's a hole that if you don't play it smart, the number you write down could constitute a major part of your scorecard."
Heck, in time, "did you go for the green in three?" and "did you take driver on your second shot?" could become common questions over cold beverages at Farmstead's 19th hole.
It would be easy to dismiss this "four-shotter" as being gimmicky. Opening a new course in Myrtle Beach's saturated golf market is a risky business, and every facility is looking to one up the other with some type of marketing hook.
But "gimmicky" and "risky" are not two words commonly associated with Farmstead owner W.J. McLamb. The McLamb family and Brunswick County are virtually inseparable -- intrinsically bound by the area's history. McLamb's ancestors made their way down from Wilmington in the 1700's, and settled into present day Calabash. The majority of the family went into the construction business, as evidenced by the dozens of local signs bearing the family name.
Still, McLamb admits that the temptation of building something totally out of the ordinary was even too much for his traditional mindset to overcome.
"The idea for the par six first came up in 1995," McLamb says. "I liked the idea from a promotional standpoint. It wasn't part of the original plan, but we had Meadowlands opening, too, and I wanted to set Farmstead apart."
The Meadowlands is an affordable, well-conditioned golf course that fills an important market niche in the North Strand, but McLamb confides that Farmstead is actually the golf course he has always longed to build. His father bought the land the course sits on back in 1939 at auction, and the family farmed it until the early 1990's, raising tobacco, corn, beans, and livestock.
In mid 1990's, McLamb acquired the last parcel of land needed to support his 480-acre dream course, and he called upon Byrd, whom he had worked with at Brunswick Plantation and the Meadowlands, to design the layout. In the fall of 2001, Farmstead opened its doors to reveal a wide-open, 7242-yard golf course that has quickly become a favorite among low and high handicappers alike.
"This course blends playability and challenge like few other golf courses that I have played," Stanzel says. "If you want to play from the tips, it will challenge you, but with a slope of 135 it's not going to beat you up all day."
Like most new courses, Farmstead offers players five sets of tees. The thoughtfully placed 5638 and 4998-yard "golds" and "reds" make the course enjoyable for seniors and women, while the 6566 and 6097 blues and whites cater to the mid to high handicappers.
Unlike many modern course designers, Byrd is not a big proponent of the reachable par four. Players that opt for the white tees will find the shortest two-shotter to be the 313-yard fifth, and seven of the remaining eight par fours play longer than 350 yards. According to Stanzel, however, its Farmstead's par threes that will stick in players' heads.
"When I play, I always find that I reminisce about the par three and par fives," Stanzel says. "Other than the par six, the par threes here are what really set this course apart. The 12th hole is one of the most unique par threes in this area and one of the prettiest holes I have ever seen. There are seven or eight different tee boxes, so it can be a different hole almost every time you play it."
And Farmstead can be a different course every time you play it, depending on the prevailing winds. If the stiff coastal breezes are in your face on the 223-yard par three sixth hole, you could find yourself pulling a three wood. If they're at your back, a five-iron might suffice.
Hitting into the wind on the 446-yard, par four second hole feels a little too much like work. But uncork a 250-plus yard drive on the par five, ninth hole past the signature Byrd oak tree stuck in the middle of the fairway and you'll feel like you got some retribution.
"Wind or no wind, the key to this golf course is hitting it straight," Stanzel says. "This may not seem like the case, because the course is wide-open and the landing areas are huge. But miss a fairway and you are stuck in the love grass and you really don't have a reasonable play."
On a crisp, clear January afternoon, standing on the tee box at the par six 18th and eyeing Framstead's 8000 square foot Georgian clubhouse off in the distance is a surreal experience. Almost a half-mile of real estate sits between your tee shot at 767 yards, and your first cold drink at the 19th hole.
"That feeling is so incredible that it will bring people back to this golf course," Stanzel says.
No doubt, it will. But so will the revolutionary Tif Eagle Bermuda greens, already proven to roll as fast and true as their bentgrass cousins, or the historical 150-year-old cemetery on the other side of the pond on the seventh hole, or the fact that you get to hit your tee shot over the North Carolina, South Carolina border on the 10th hole.
"Well, if you hit it like you are supposed to you'll cross the border," chides W.J.'s daughter Teresa McLamb.
Farmstead doesn't have the coastal, marshland setting of Rivers Edge, Marsh Harbor, or Oyster Bay, but it does display the clever inland routing and attention to aesthetic detail of Crow Creek and The Thistle. Overall, the course is an excellent blend of gently rolling terrain, crisp bunker lines, and native grasses, and Byrd's minimalist layout is the perfect perscription for the McLamb's old farmland.
"I think we'll compete with any course around here, and we've entered the market as a non-surcharge course so we are affordable to a large percentage of the golfing population," says Teresa McLamb.
Designer: Willard Byrd
Year Opened: 2001
Turf: Greens - Tif Eagle Bermuda with overseed. Fairways - Bermuda with overseed.
Slope/Ratings: Black 135/74.5, Blue 128/71.8, White 123/69.1, Gold 118/67, Red 118/68.4
Yardage: Black 7242, Blue 6566, White 6097, Gold 5638, Red 4998.
Address:541 McLamb Road, Calabash, NC 28467
Tee Times: 910.575.7999
Head Professional: Steve Gullet
Sharp Says: Local low-handicappers will tell you that Farmstead is one of their favorite new courses. Its fair, you can boom drives off the tee, and the Tif Eagle greens can be cut low enough to roll as fast, and even faster, than bentgrass. At the time of my playing, the place was a ghost town, even by Grand Strand winter standards. The course is mature, but probably opened before it should have. The defunct Links Group managed the operations for just over a month before filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and probably set the course back almost a half year in terms of marketing. Now, with Burroughs and Chapin at the helm, the McLamb's course is set to burst onto the scene this spring. For $50 in the afternoon, and a three-hour round of golf, Farmstead is a steal.
There's plenty of seafood down Highway 904 in Calabash, the self-proclaimed seafood capital of the world. For some local flavor, head south just over the border and have a cold one and some Grouper bites at Crab Catchers in Little River. If too much fried seafood is taking distance off your drives and putting inches on your waistline, try the Grapevine Restaurant and Lounge (910.575.6565) in Calabash (see our accompanying review). For breakfast, the Sunrise Pancake House (910.575.1001) in Calabash serves up greasy spoon diner food better than any joint in town.
Beach Vacations, Inc. offers one, two and three bedroom golf villas around the corner at Sandpiper Bay Golf Club. This Myrtle Beach stay and play mainstay will also fix you up with a custom golf package that includes Tigers Eye and any other of the Brunswick County, North Myrtle Beach courses you want to play. Call 800.449.4005 for more information, or check them out online at www.beach-vacation.com.
Practice Facilities: B
Club House & Pro Shop: A
Pace of Play: A
Overall Rating: B+
January 29, 2002
Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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