WILMINGTON, N.C. - Magnolia Greens Golf Plantation doesn't seem to mind its reputation as the best course to play on the way to and from the Grand Strand. This Tom Jackson designed golf haven just south of Wilmington is a popular stop for golfers as they make their way to and from points north.
But with 27-holes, a solid selection of golf villas, and a location just 10 minutes from downtown historic Wilmington, Magnolia Greens easily stands on its own as one of the area's premier golfing destinations. The true-rolling bentgrass greens are widely recognized as some of the best in the Carolinas, and the course's challenging design earned it a PGA Tour qualifiers in 1998 and 1999.
"The big thing we have been able to capitalize on is our location," says general manager Patrick Crean "There are a lot of people flying into Wilmington or Raleigh and they come down through us on U.S. 17 and right by our front door."
Magnolia Greens has filled a much-needed void in the Wilmington golf scene, one that lets golfers play a quality daily fee golf course at an affordable rate. Wilmington is blessed with some older public courses, some exclusive private courses, but not much in between.
Magnolia Greens comes in right in the middle of the spectrum and offers a championship caliber course that is decidedly daily fee, yet maintained to resort standards. To wit, Magnolia has shyed away from offering memberships, afraid that any hints of exclusivity would ruin the democratic spirit of the golf course.
"You can pay $1200 if you are a resident and that enables you to play as much as you want for just cart fees," Crean says. "We did not want the headaches that came with membership, and we are totally satisfied with our marketing strategy."
Filling a market niche in Wilmington has made Magnolia one of the most popular plays in the Cape Fear area. But Crean says he is equally excited to be a part of the ever-popular Grand Strand golf market, even if his course is bringing up the northern part of the map.
"I saw a map of the Grand Strand the other day, and our course was up at the top," he says. "I brought it to our owners and said 'look, we've finally made it into Myrtle Beach.'"
Inclusion in Myrtle Beach's impressive repertoire of fine golf courses is a nice luxury, but Magnolia Greens has plenty to offer as a stand-alone golf facility.
Jackson's superb routing and imaginative layouts garnered a 4-star rating from Golf Digest, and the course was voted the "Third Best New Course in North Carolina" in 1998 by North Carolina Magazine.
In addition to 27 holes of championship golf, the facility boasts a 12,000 square foot putting green, a practice bunker and chipping area, and a driving range with numerous grass stations, a water cooler and club cleaners. Magnolia is also home to two golf instruction schools: Coastal Golf and Ritson-Sole. Coastal Golf even offers golfers the ability to custom build golf school packages tailored around their recreational and personal needs.
The course is situated in a residential development that features a variety of custom homes. However, Magnolia has also made provisions for the traveling golfer in the form of a series of one and two bedroom golf villas. Crean and his staff have created a number of golf packages that even include other area courses.
"We have golf packages where you can come in and rent a villa and play here, and we can set up a package where you can play some of the other courses as well," Crean says. "That is what appeals to the golfers that come here. It's a slower pace and scaled down from some of the resorts of Myrtle Beach."
Scaled down, but not scaled back.
Magnolia's 27 holes are vintage Jackson: ameba style bunkers, subtlety mounded fairways, and two tiered greens can be found throughout the course. And the PGA doesn't choose just any old course for its qualifiers. Magnolia's 18-hole combinations of Magnolia/Camellia, Camellia/Azalea, and Magnolia / Azalea play to slopes of 138, 139, and 134 respectively.
"The trend in golf course architecture these days is that you make a course as easy or as difficult as you want through the placement of the tee boxes," Crean says. "That is what Jackson has done here. We have five sets of tees, and this thing can play as easy as 119 (slope) if you play from the men's white's".
Women will also find Magnolia accommodating. Unlike most courses, all three nines feature two sets of women's tees. Moreover, forced carries are kept to a minimum from the women's red tees, and Jackson allows golfers to run the ball up on greens via land on most of his holes.
Variety is also in full force at Magnolia. The Magnolia Nine (holes 1 through 9) play through open inland terrain on the first three holes, but take a turn into the Carolina hardwood trees starting with the 393-yard par-4 fourth hole.
One of the most scenic holes on the course, No. 4 sports a sprawling bunker to the left and two more traps right of the green. And the entire hole is framed with enough trees to make the staff at nearby Airlee Gardens jealous. The par-5 fifth and the par-4 seventh uphold the treelined fairway theme, while the par-4 sixth intermittently delves back into the wide-open, house-lined look.
The Camellia Nine (holes 10-18) is routed through a smattering of trees and homes, and is home to a number of intriguing doglegs, as well as one of the most challenging holes on the course, the 467-yard par-4 14th. Crean is also fond of the finishing hole, the par-5, 592-yard 18th.
"It has all you want in a finishing hole, and that includes drama and risk reward," he says.
The Azalea Nine (holes 19-27), which recently opened in 2000, presents players with a marked difference from the original 18. From a design standpoint, Jackson becomes a bit more experimental as evidenced by the controversial 21st hole.
"You either love or hate that hole," Crean says.
The love hate relationship stems from the hole's huge, dogleg left that can only be cut by the longest of hitters. A lateral hazard to the left keeps average hitters from shaving any significant yardage off the 470-yard hole, and about 90 percent of golfers are left with a low iron or fairway wood into the green.
Crean says the love hate theme actually carries over into the entire Azalea Nine. While the new nine is as well groomed as any course in the area (and the greens are superior to those on the original 18) some players prefer the established, traditional feel of the original 18 to the somewhat raw vibe given off by the Azalea.
"Some players request to play the new nine, but some say they don't want to play it," Crean says.
Golfers are as fickle as the day is long, but there is one thing that most players agree on: Magnolia Greens is a whole lot more than just a golf course to play on the way to and from Myrtle Beach. It's much needed addition to the Wilmington area golf scene, and a viable golf destination on its own.
Designer: Tom Jackson
Year Opened: 1998
Turf: Greens - bentgrass, Fairways - Bermuda with rye overseed.
Slope/Ratings: Magnolia/ Camilla/ Azalea,75.3/138, 72/130, 68.6/119, 74.9/135, 70.3/120, Camellia 75.3/139, 72.2/132, 68.5/124, 74.9/132, 70/122, Magnolia / Azalea 74.4/134, 71.2/130, 67.9/120, 73.8/128, 69.1/120
Yardage:Magnolia 3533, 3256,2926, Camellia 3649, 3411, 3050, Azalea 3454, 3237, 2907
Address: 9049 Ocean Highway, U.S. 17, Leland, N.C. 28451
Tee Times 1-800-677-7534
Head Professional: Patrick Crean
Sharp Says: Magnolia Greens stands for everything that is right about daily fee golf courses. It is affordable to a fault, its kept in good condition, the greens nearly reach perfection during the fall and spring, and the service is excellent but not smothering. I particularly enjoyed the new nine, despite some of the grading and land clearing underway on the adjacent property. The controversial 21st hole was a breath of fresh air to me. Magnolia has 26 player friendly holes, so more power to Jackson for creating one two-shotter than can challenge low handicappers to walk away with par. The golf villas were clean, modern, and tastefull decorated. The one bedroom villa is bachelor's dream, replete with a small fridge within a beer bottle's throw of the television, and a small bar with a phone jack a couple feet away for easy Internet access.
With 27 holes, wouldn't it be nice if you could just bed down at Magnolia Greens? Actually, you can. With two bedrooms and two baths, fully equipped kitchen, spacious living room and screened-in porch for taking in our wonderful views, Magnolia Green's Fairway Golf Villas are well equipped to house you and yours on a Wilmington or Brunswick County golf vacation.
One bedroom one bath models are also available, and are popular with singles, or even couples on two or three day trips. Either villa model can be rented as part of a golf package to Magnolia, a deal that includes lodging, golf and even custom golf instruction at Clay Kuhnert's Coastal Golf School. Unlike some of the older edifices out there, Magnolia's golf villas are almost brand new, and they show it. Kitchens are open, allowing for views of the living room and the back patios that look out onto the golf course.
From the Myrtle Beach Jetport, take U.S. Highway 17 north through Little River, and north into Brunswick County, N.C. Continue north towards Wilmington, and Magnolia will be on the left just a couple miles southwest of the bridge over the Cape Fear River.
Practice Facilities: B
Club House/Pro Shop: A-
Pace of Play: A
Overall Rating: A-
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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