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|The Rees Jones Course is the most memorable at Sea Trail resort in Sunset Beach, N.C. (Kiel Christianson/TravelGolf)|
SUNSET BEACH, N.C. -- Rees Jones has come to be known as "The Open Doctor" for his work renovating courses prior to major tournaments.
His original layouts, however, are equally impressive. A hallmark of Rees Jones designs are holes that deliver arresting visual aesthetics on the tee but also include a lot of bailout areas short of the classic "A" positions to make the layout playable for typical amateurs.
The Rees Jones Course at Sea Trail Golf Resort and Conference Center is a bit atypical for him, as he has not done a lot of resort courses situated within larger complexes of other courses and substantial real estate development. Given the residential surroundings and the resort traffic, one might imagine the layout to be less than memorable or even generic.
This expectation is happily dashed after the first few holes.
From the time you step onto the tee of the rather dramatic 189-yard, par-3 fifth hole, the variety and artistic flourishes of the remaining holes more than make up for the surfeit of houses lining the fairways. The abundance of alligators lining the shores of the multiple water hazards also spice things up quite pleasantly, as long as your ball doesn't land too close to one.
At only 6,761 yards (par 72) from the back tees, it might seem at first that a long hitter could overpower the Jones Course. But between pinched fairways, water on 11 holes and a curious lack of carry (noted not only by me but also my three playing partners), the track feels longer than the scorecard says. The 445-yard, par-4 opening hole, for example, which plays straight down a corridor of pines, seems more like a 545-yard par 5.
The first glimmer of the course's surprising beauty is at the aforementioned fifth hole. From the tees it is only a wedge or short iron downhill to a relatively wide, large green, but it bows out into water. It should not be a difficult hole, but that gator-filled pond can get in your head.
The 500-yard, par-5 eighth hole epitomizes the design features of the golf course as a whole. Being relatively short, the hole might present eagle opportunities for bigger hitters, but there are two caveats. The first is the fairway, which turns left to right around a couple of deeply banked fairway bunkers. In order to have a decent shot at the green in two, you'll need to either bend your tee shot around those bunkers or carry them, and either way your ball will need to land in the narrowest section of the dogleg. On top of this, any approach will need to clear a channel of water to the elevated, small and undulating green.
The stretch of holes from 13 through the 18 is as pretty as any resort course in the Grand Strand. If you could lift these holes up out of the residential setting and plunk them down in the middle of a forest or wetland, they would not look out of place in the least. And the 18th, despite being only 510 yards from the tips, plays as a brute of a closer. If you get home here in two, you're either a pro or a sandbagger.
All three courses at Sea Trail Golf Resort and Conference Center -- the Willard Byrd, the Dan Maples, and the Rees Jones -- are local favorites and long-time Grand Strand bargains. The Jones, though, is the most memorable, and with greens fees from $25 (twilight) to $54 (peak), including cart, it is the best deal, too.
The only serious criticism that can be levied against the course was the condition of the greens. The mixture of bent and Bermuda grasses was shaggy, slow and uneven on the day I played. Given that my playing partners and I had just played another local course with greens running close to 12 on the Stimpmeter, the Jones Course greens were impossible to adjust to.
Taken together, the three layouts at Sea Trail Golf Resort and Conference Center represent a convenient and eminently playable trio of big-name designer courses. Sea Trail serves as a comfortable home base in bucolic Brunswick County, which is technically still part of the Grand Strand/Myrtle Beach Golf Mecca. It's just much more pleasant, more quiet, and more homey here than it is over the state line.
But even if your plan is to travel to other Brunswick County or Myrtle Beach golf courses, be sure to schedule tee times on the Jones Course, too. It might just be an unexpected highlight of your trip.
June 5, 2013
Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Ill. Read his golf blog here and follow him on Twitter @GolfWriterKiel.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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