Unsung resort golf courses of the Carolinas deserve recognition

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. - Like Robin, Britney Spears' backup dancers or Demi Moore's plastic surgeon, some things are just under appreciated; unsung, if you will. Same goes for a handful of resort courses in the Carolinas. The two-state region is blessed with some of the Southeast's highest profile golf resorts: Pinehurst, Kiawah Island and Sea Pines, to name a few.

But these high profile resorts also house some quality low-profile resort golf courses worthy of a little ink from time to time. So by all means, don't miss a shot at Pinehurst No. 2, The Ocean Course or Harbour Town Golf links. Just don't forget to sample some of the Carolina's unsung resort courses while you're at it.

Ocean Course, Sea Pines Resort

Harbour Town Golf Links holds a special place in golfing lore. The Pete Dye/Jack Nicklaus design is regarded as one of the finest examples of modern golf course architecture in the United States. Since opening in 1969, the course has hosted one of the most popular events on the PGA Tour. In short, Harbour Town is notch-in-the-belt experience for golf history buffs.

Ironically, the real history is just a smooth pitch away. The Ocean Course at Sea Pines Resort is the oldest golf course on Hilton Head Island, having opened for play in 1960. The George Cobb layout underwent a major renovation in 1995 by Mark McCumber that essentially ushered it into modernity via the installation of more bunkers, forced carries, mounding and length.

Unlike typical resort courses, the Ocean Course starts off long and strong and gradually settles into "playable" mode midway through the front nine. The back nine is manageable up to the 17th and 18th - both well-crafted "statement" holes. The former is a muscular, 430-yard par-4 with water everywhere; the later a 540-yard par-5 with water down the entire right side.

Cougar Point, Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Pete Dye's Ocean Course - Ryder Cup, Bagger Vance, and seaside setting considered - is the undisputed champion of this rambling, 10,000-acre golf playground. Jack Nicklaus' Turtle Point and Tom Fazio's Osprey Point run a distance second and third. Cougar Point - the course formerly known as Marsh Point - is often cast aside like a broken tee.

Gary Player's design team authored the course back in 1976 when the resort was just emerging from the wind-swept beaches of Kiawah Island. Marsh Point was originally slated as an executive course, as its precarious perch between the Kiawah River and the edge of the island left little room for a full par-71 or 72 layout. Midway through the design process, however, the course's original owners decided to stretch it to 6,400 yards.

For whatever reason (shortest course, cheapest course, quirkiest greens), Marsh Point was by far and away the least popular of the resort's four circuits. Tim Freeland, Player's senior designer at the time, returned in 1995 and completely gutted the course. Other than the routing, nothing was off limits. Freeland altered every bunker, green and tee box, and even moved every forced carry on the course.

The result is the best little resort course at Kiawah Island Resort no one talks (or writes) about. In fact, at just over 6,800 yards, Cougar Point isn't so little anymore. The front nine opens with a well-planned, par 4, 3, 5 sequence and then segues to three scenic holes overlooking the Kiawah River. The back nine features one of the resort's more controversial par-5 holes (No. 15) and a solid finishing hole with a legitimate risk/reward approach shot over water.

No. 3 Course, Pinehurst Resort

The No. 2 Course has history, pedigree, Payne Stewart at the 1999 U.S. Open - everything you'd expect from one of the world's great golf courses. The No. 4 and No. 8 courses have Tom Fazio signature tags and the No. 7 course was recently remodeled by no less than Rees Jones, the U.S. Open Doctor.

The No. 3 course, designed by Donald Ross in 1907 and 1910, has developed a bit of a cult following despite sitting in the shadow of four of North Carolina's most revered courses. Like the No. 1 course, No. 3 is short (5593 yards from the back tees!), undulating, and tight. Anyone who has played it, though, will attest that a lack of brawn doesn't make No. 3 any less interesting (Ben Crenshaw was rumored to have studied the greens before jumping into the design business).

The course's maintenance staff recently oversaw the installation of a new irrigation system and new turf grass on the small, crowned greens. The word out of the Sandhills is that No. 3 is in sublime condition and is set to reopen the day after Thanksgiving. Pinehurst visitors would be well-advised to work it into the rotation.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

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.

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