The Carolinas Newest Must Play Course

Cape Fear National Golf ClubSince the artificially inflated housing bubble burst a few years ago, the golf course construction business has slowed to a trickle. Many existing projects were halted at the halfway point, while others never really got started. Men moving dirt shut down their Caterpillar machinery and kicked off their Carhartts. The great America golf dig had come to an end.

With the economic tempest still swirling and golf course architects shuffling off to South America and Asia to earn their commission, there is certainly cause for celebration whenever a new course opens stateside these days. The excitement surrounding the newest gem to hit the Carolina coast, Cape Fear National, is significant. This Tim Cate design is preparing for its Grand Opening on April 19th, and there is reason to believe that the layout will attract golfers from every nook and cranny of the Southeast, and give Wilmingtonians an option other than heading south toward Myrtle Beach for a championship-caliber round of golf.

The day after a minor early morning motor vehicle accident kidnapped the golf industry’s attention (Nov. 28), golf was actually played on the 7,217-yard layout in Leland, North Carolina, a growing town situated on the Brunswick River just 10 minutes west of downtown Wilmington. While it lacked the flair and pageantry expected at next month’s official unveiling, this “soft opening” provided the local public a first glimpse at the area’s newest daily-fee golf facility.

Joined by well-known golf analyst Bobby Clampett, Cate will lead a course tour through the artful corridors of Cape Fear National on Monday, April 19 as a part of opening day ceremonies. A ribbon cutting will also be held.

Cate was selected for the highly sought after project over a number of more famous designers because of his familiarity with the area; the Sunset Beach-based golf course designer and landscape architect is responsible for a number of top-rated courses on the Grand Strand, a stretch spanning from Pawleys Island, SC to Calabash, NC that includes Myrtle Beach and its impressive collection of courses.

Esteemed creations such as Tiger’s Eye Golf Links and Thistle Golf Club are among Cate’s works of art in and around Myrtle Beach.

One of the striking visuals you'll find at Cape Fear National

“When the developers looked for a candidate, and they looked at some national names, we kept coming back to a local guy who understood the local area, understood the region and built courses that worked,” said Brunswick Forest Spokesman Tobin Spirer.

The developers of Cape Fear National, centerpiece of the Brunswick Forest master-planned community that will eventually boast 27 holes, had weighty expectations for the project and weren’t afraid to share their ambition with Cate.

“The client has given me simple instructions," Cate said. "Build us the best golf course in the Wilmington market and they have provided the resources to accomplish their goal."

With multiple waterfalls, several ponds, rock walls, bunkers filled with brilliant white sand that resemble works of art rather than hazards, colorful grasses, native plants and a seamless routing that ribbons through hundreds of well-wooded acres yet doesn’t suffocate golfers with tree branches and roots, Cate’s predilection for nicely blending golf and aesthetics shines through.

Moving more than 1.5 million cubic yards of earth, Cate was able to manipulate the land to create a visually striking golf course mature beyond its years.

A look at the terrain of Cape Fear National

“If you would have seen the land prior to this, you would've said no way he’d be able to build what he built,” said Ron Thomason, director of golf at Cape Fear National. “The course feels like it’s been out here for 20 years already. He took all of the wisdom he gained from previous designs like Thistle, Tiger's Eye and Leopard’s Chase; what he's done has made this one better than all of them by using all of their assets.

“For the region we have significantly more elevation changes than any other golf course around us, and it’s not done in a tricked out way,” Thomason added. The undulation looks like it naturally occurred, almost like this golf course carved itself out of the woodland. Another aspect Tim brings to the table that other golf architects don't is that he cares as much about aesthetics around the course as on the course itself. He’s actively involved in the landscaping around the clubhouse, practice areas; aesthetics of the main drive leading up to the course, the entry way of the neighborhood, exterior clubhouse construction, signage on the course…so much more than a golf course architect normally does.”

Cape Fear National Golf Club in Leland, NCSome publications have listed Cape Fear National among the most anticipated openings of 2010, including LINKS magazine. Whether or not it will warrant serious “Course of the Year” consideration is up to the raters and reviewers who will walk its fairways and absorb its aura over the coming months. Cate doesn’t seem concerned with national awards, but does think Cape Fear will be a powerful player in the local market.

“It’ll blow everything out of the water up there [in Wilmington],” he said in a recent interview. “You could bring it down here [to Myrtle Beach], and it would be one of those top five best new courses and all that stuff. Up there in Wilmington, they’ve never had competition like they have down here.”

The question of whether or not the newest offering in the Wilmington market will be considered the best when all is said and done was posed to Cape Fear National’s Director of Marketing Brad Walker. Walker said the course’s reputation will be determined by the public golfer.

“We strongly believe that it is, but if we make that statement on our own it carries a lot less weight than if someone who's recently played makes that same statement to a friend,” Walker replied. “It will be a perception developed through a grass roots word of mouth campaign rather than an official document. We know people will arrive at that conclusion on their own.”

Cape Fear National is expected to fill a demonstrable void in the Wilmington golf market that’s been created as high-end courses such as Porters Neck Country Club, Country Club of Landfall and River Landing transitioned from semi-private to private clubs.

Cape Fear National Golf Club

“Our intention initially was to open it up private, but we looked at the market, economy and long-term viability of the project and it made much more sense for it to be a public high-end daily fee golf course,” said Walker. “We think it's going to fill a vacant niche in the market. The only courses as nice as us are private ones and they’re much less accessible. It will be the premier high-end daily-fee course in Wilmington market.”

Cape Fear National Golf Club will be managed by KemperSports, and is a part of the Brunswick Isles Golf Trail. For more information on Cape Fear National, visit


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