SUNSET BEACH, NC - Wet, warped plywood. That is how designer Tim Cate describes the putting surfaces at Tiger's Eye Golf Links. Cate ought to know - he designed this $10 million golf course that sits just over the border at Ocean Ridge Plantation in North Carolina's Brunswick islands.
Cate's assessment of his greens, however, is only a starting point in sizing up this North Strand predator. There may not be a flat putt at Tiger's Eye - not even from gimmie range - but the greens are in excellent condition, and hold the lines if you can find them.
The layout is one of the best in the North Strand, and the course is regularly recognized as one of the ten best at the beach. Cate's cleverly, yet traditionally designed golf links were patched together through an amazing piece of coastal property that contains over 60 feet of elevation change.
Not a big number if you're from Colorado, or even the mountains of North Carolina. But for those of us that are used to hitting knock down shots through sea mist, it's time to prepare for nosebleeds.
Tiger's Eye is what the Ocean Ridge Plantation folks call their "crown jewel," and without a doubt, it's the best of the three courses on site. Lion's Paw, OCP's first course, is a strange mix of Willard Byrd and Cate - a mentor and pupil that never quite saw eye to eye on course design. The front nine at Lion's Paw is a densely forested, shotmakers course. The back nine is wide open, brutally windy, and unabashedly linksy.
Panther's Run (at right), OCP's second track, is all Cate, and if it weren't for the Tiger around the corner, this fascinating jungle of a layout would be considered one of the best courses in Brunswick County. The entire course plays through a nature preserve, and the challenge, simply put by OCP Director of Golf Tom Plankers, is to stay out of it.
But Tiger's Eye is the one they have come to see, and let it be known that the giant beast is ready for them. At 7014 yards from the back tees and a slope of 144, Tiger's Eye will challenge low handicappers, but five sets of tees enable the average golfer to manage the course without any major disasters.
Water is in play on 13 holes, and Cate has almost invariably placed the hazards to the right of the fairways and greens. A few holes, like par four fourth, and the par five 15th, bring water into play for golfers with right to left shot shapes. But if you are like most average golfers, and hit a weak fade, the Tiger will be on your heels the entire round.
Tiger's Eye backs off of its predatory nature on the opening hole - a par four that plays only 313 yards from the white "Bengal" tees. The safe tee shot should favor the right side, but a nicely drawn five wood will put you in the money position with a wide open look at the green.
The par three second hole, however, is the toughest one-shotter on the course and the No. 9 handicap hole overall. Forty-five feet of uphill elevation change, two deep greenside bunkers and a small pond to the left ensure that golfers don't get too cocksure about conquering the beast from the get-go.
Whether its one of Cate's more manageable par fours, or one of his knee-knocking par threes, the theme remains the same at Tiger's Eye: Come accurately with your approach shots, or don't come at all.
"The difficulty at Tiger's Eye is truly in the greens," says Plankers. "There are no flat spots, but they are not ridiculously undulating or tricked up. You have to pay close attention to the pin placement sheet, or it will cost you stokes."
Playing the course for the first time will also cost you strokes, according to Plankers. Unlike the quintessential resort course, Tiger's Eye was not designed for players to go out and shoot the best round of their life. To shoot your handicap, says Plankers, you need to experience the course two or three times.
"I would say that the second time you play it, you'll have a five stroke advantage," he says. "You'll know the break of the greens, and that will be the key."
Cate takes most of the guesswork out of the fairways by providing huge landing areas that are almost always visible from the tee box. Other time, however, he employs some visual deceptions that force players to contemplate their next shots like chess moves.
"This is the only course that I have played where you literally have to think about each and every shot," Planers says. "Even if you've played it a few times, you may know the lay of the land, but you still need to make a mental assessment of what you are doing."
Think about this:
On the par four 4th hole, Cate splits the fairway with a waster bunker, and also tempts long hitters to go for the green in one. Short hitters have to decide whether to shoot for the left fairway over the water, leaving nothing more than a chip shot to the green, or play it safe down the right side.
On the par five 15th, a flared up fairway bunker appears to be much further away than it really is, making the green look almost unreachable in two shots. In reality, the hole plays just 467 yards from the white tees, and 531-yards from the tips, and getting home in two is plausible for players who draw the ball.
The par three 11th hole plays just 165 yards from the back tees to an island green fronted by a deep finger bunker. Normally the third easiest hole on the course, the No. 11 can play two clubs longer with the coastal breeze in your face. Nothing is more humbling that crunching a solid iron shot on this hole, watching it rise majestically above the tree line, having it pause momentarily at its apex, and then drop like a rock into the water below.
When it comes to aesthetics, however, there is no deception involved at Tiger's Eye. Yes, those giant coquina boulders are real, and so are the wall-to-wall concrete cart paths, the sprawling flowerbeds, and the waterfall on the 18th tee box.
"A lot of players think of this course at the Caledonia of the north," Plankers says. "That is the thing, more than any aspect of Tim's design characteristics, that sets this course apart from the others. We have people out here that just stop and look at all the flowers, or sit in tranquility on the 18th and listen to the waterfall."
Listen too closely and the Tiger will lull you to sleep ... just before it pounces.
Designer: Tim Cate
Year Opened: 2000
Turf: Greens - bentgrass, Fairways - Bermuda with rye overseed.
Slope/Ratings:Saber Tooth 73.5/144, Amur 71.4/139, Bengal 68.1/124, Caspian (Men) -66/108, Caspian (Women) 70.1/128, Tigress 66.6/108
Yardage: Saber Tooth 7014, Amur 6628, Bengal 6120, Caspian (Men) - 5136, Caspian (Women) 5136, Tigress 4502.
Address:360 Ocean Ridge Parkway SW, Sunset Beach, NC 28469
Tee Times 800.233.1801
Head Professional: Tom Plankers
Sharp Says: Golf Digest recently ranked Tiger's Eye as the third best course in Myrtle Beach, but I can't go that far. That ranking included both public and private courses, and its hard for me to say that Tiger's Eye is better than the Barefoot Resort courses, Tidewater, Pawleys Plantation, the Wild Wing Courses, and Rivers Edge. But it is top ten in my book, and a must-play for anyone searching out some of the better surcharge courses. The gentleman I played with hit the ball short and right, and I can't over emphasize how much trouble you'll find if this is your shot type. He was reluctant to move up to the Caspian tees where he would have actually enjoyed his round and shot 10 stokes better. If you are from a state that actually has hills and mountains, you won't even notice the 65 feet in elevation changes. At the time of my playing, the greens were in excellent shape, but rolled somewhat slow.
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 (pictured above) 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.
Conditions: A -
Practice Facilities: B
Club House/Pro Shop: A
Pace of Play: A
Overall Rating: A-
January 16, 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.
Referred to by its hosts as a "hidden gem," the greens alone at Sterling Hills Golf Club in Camarillo, Calif. make this a stone worth turning over. Located an hour northwest of L.A., it's a pleasing, quiet and generally engaging round that will appease players of all levels.
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