Rater’s notebook: Cape Fear National
LELAND, N.C. – The game was born on firm ground, and when a course sits on marshland there had better be plenty of room to play. That is especially the case on a course such as Cape Fear National at Brunswick Forest, which does double duty as a daily-fee facility and as centerpiece of a vast real-estate development.
The plan is ambitious. Brunswick Forest’s developer, Lord Baltimore Capital Corp., has planned 7,000 homes for the 4,500-acre, master-planned community. That’s a bold blueprint, though the property, sitting six miles south of Wilmington, is in a region blessed with a year-round climate for golf, easy access to beaches, a diverse economic base and a revived downtown. It helps that the area has not suffered through the kind of golf-development boom that has glutted many other communities.
Course architect Tim Cate, something of a fixture on both sides of the coastal North Carolina-South Carolina border, has done a good job taming a tough site. Wetlands and lateral ponds abound, limestone was excavated and piled into walls to create attractive vertical relief, and 1,500 feet of bridges was built to carry players across environmentally sensitive areas. All told, 1.5 million cubic yards of material was moved to create the course. Some of the work is aesthetically pleasing, thanks to large-scale hazards, occasional beach bunkers and three tee-to-green sandy waste areas on par 4s.
The course has five sets of tees ranging from 4,802 to 7,217 yards. Depending upon the angle of play, the number of forced carries over wetlands and lakes ranges from six to 12. Unfortunately, they are most evident on the opening two holes of each nine, which can create awkward starts. It takes a while for the impression to wear off that shotmaking here is stressful. In fact, there’s plenty of width, and the forced carries generally turn out to be less strenuous with each successive play.
Cape Fear National has plans to expand to a third nine. If the golf management team from KemperSports can figure out a way to make a 27-hole arrangement work without confusion, it should qualify for an industry award.
Already Kemper earns high marks for a graceful operation that includes marshals who are uncommonly friendly. Given the blind forced carries of the first and 10th tees, they have to be well-schooled in their manners.
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Rater’s notebook: Cape Fear National at Brunswick Forest
1.) Ease and intimacy of routing: 5
Returning nines, with the front a modified clockwise loop and the back a more spread-out counterclockwise circuit. A rarity: Both nines end in par 3s.
2.) Quality of feature shaping: 5
Many of the greens betray the same angled outslope on the edges of their fill pads. Bunkers are big and readily visible because of modest flashing; a few too many obscured ponds are adjacent to landing areas.
3.) Natural setting and overall land plan: 6
It’s a tribute to Tim Cate that the course sits on the most interesting part of the development’s otherwise low-lying plat of land. A modest clubhouse provides ample space for golf and social gatherings. A nice short-game area, but the full-shot practice range would benefit from better-defined targets. Homesites, though well set back, still will intrude mildly on the vistas.
4.) Interest of greens and surrounds: 6
Most greens feature varied frontal and side bunkering but have a similar shape to the outside dimensions of the full pad. Interior slopes tend to be broad in scope, with not too much decking or tiers.
5.) Variety and memorability of par 3s: 6
Three of the par 3s have a similar look to the putting surfaces – vaulted and tipped toward the front, with formulaic shaping and angles. Most interesting is the ninth, up to 205 yards across a diagonal pond on the left. The green seems more difficult than it really plays, thanks to a feed-in from the right and a counterslope in back that holds the ball up.
6.) Variety and memorability of par 4s: 7
Dazzling bunkers everywhere, especially along the length of Nos. 5, 13 and 16 – but why only down the left? Great variance of approach shots.
7.) Variety and memorability of par 5s: 5
Tee shots are crucial. In every case, the second shot is pinched on one side of the landing area. Too bad the second hole is all but unmanageable for mid-to-high-handicappers because of an acutely angled carry over a wetland and alongside a pond. It’s too much to ask so early in the round.
8.) Basic conditioning: 8
Solid grow-in and a consistent surface throughout. Tees, fairways and primary roughs are Tifway 419 Bermudagrass, with the tees and fairways overseeded in winter. Greens are A-1/A-4 bentgrass; bunker collars are Empire zoysia grass, which enhances definition throughout.
9.) Landscape and tree management: 6
Crepe myrtle, pine and oak adorn the course, with the occasional pinching of corridors taking place through or alongside wetlands crossings. Course thus becomes narrowest when it needs to be widest.
10.) “Walk in the park” test: 5
Front nine is pleasant; back nine is more of a hike, though there is not much elevation change.
Overall rating (not cumulative): 6.0
Attractive, at times visually dazzling and more appealing on each subsequent play. But there also are some basic limitations because of the site. Still, Cape Fear National is a strong contender for inclusion in the top 100 of Golfweek’s Best Residential Courses list.
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• 1281 Cape Fear National Drive, Leland, N.C. 28451
• 888-342-3622; www.capefearnational.com
• Par 72, 4,802 yards to 7,217 yards
• Green fee: $60-$75 local residents (Brunswick and surrounding counties); $80-$110 non-local (includes cart and range balls).
• Annual pass: $3,000-$5,250 Brunswick Forest residents;
$5,000-$7,750 non-residents (includes cart and unlimited golf).
• Walking policy: Carts are mandatory in morning, optional in afternoon.