Bolivia, North Carolina 28422
Nestled along the beautiful North Carolina shoreline, between Wilmington and Myrtle Beach, one of the finest golf experiences on the eastern seaboard awaits. Carolina National Golf Club.
Designed by Masters Champion Fred Couples, this 27-hole championship golf course will thrill players of every skill level with its innovative tee placements. And it will enchant every visitor with stunning natural beauty.
Recognized as one of the finest courses on the eastern seaboard, golfers flock here from around the globe to experience the three nines of Egret, Heron, and Ibis, named for the native waterbirds that make the course their home.
In fact, Carolina National Golf Club has been recognized by Audubon International as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. Our commitment to providing our members and guests with a challenging and exciting course is matched by our commitment to preserve the natural beauty of this land. Carolina National provides sanctuary to native and endangered species, and environmental education & outreach to our community.
Recognizing the special beauty and delicate environmental harmony of these woods, wetlands, and beaches, Bluegreen Golf chose Masters Champion Fred Couples as our course design consultant. Fred couples is a golf legend: a Master's Tournament Champion and PGA Tour Player of the Year for two consecutive years, and winner of numerous national titles. In 1995 he recorded back-to-back victories on the PGA European Tour, the first American to do so in over two decades. Fred's enthusiasm, dedication, and vision are evident in every yard of Carolina National.
Carolina National: White hot Bates contribution to Grand Strand golf arsenal solid, not spectacular
By Shane Sharp, Managing Editor
BOLIVIA, N.C. (March 22, 2004) -- Before Southwood and Circling Raven, there was Carolina National. At least that is what Gene Bates would like to remind Myrtle Beach bound duffers this spring.
The comparatively clandestine Palm Beach Garden, Fla. based golf course architect is in serious jeopardy of blowing his cover, what with two of the aforementioned clubs garnering national recognition as two of the best new pay for play courses in the U.S. in 2003.
The third, Carolina National has quietly held it's own amid the seemingly endless sea of golf courses that is the Grand Strand. In fact, those in the know around here will patiently explain that National is one of the 10 best courses at the beach, no exceptions.
"It is a great golf course, no doubt about it," says Patrick Crean, General Manager at Crow Creek Plantation and a man with nothing to gain and everything to loose by tooting National's horn. "It is a good design and it's always in good shape."
Like its maker, National manages to fly quietly under the radar of most beach-bound duffers. Yet, its questionable Q rating has a logical explanation -- location, location, location. While newer North Strand courses like Crow Creek, Farmstead and Tiger's Eye enjoy an enviable 10-20 just over the N.C./S.C. border, National is situated about midway between Wilmington and North Myrtle Beach.
"The land was out in the middle of nowhere when (owners) Bluegreen contacted us about designing the course," Bates says. "They knew I worked with Fred and they needed that name to draw people out there to sell lots."
Fred, as in PGA Tour darling, sweet swinging Fred Couples. Unbeknownst to many weekend warriors, "Boom Boom" as he's known to his fans, and the unassuming Bates form one of the longest standing player/architect teams in golf course design. The partnership began in earnest in 1992 when Couples was one of the hottest names on Tour. Bates actually approached Couples prior to his 1992 Masters victory about assisting in the design of Hamilton Mill Golf Club just north of Atlanta.
"That was pretty good timing," Bates admits.
Good timing and good times are what Bates and Couples are all about. A couple of easy-like-Sunday-morning personalities, neither care much for the spotlight when it comes to taking credit for their work. Good thing, as player/architect relationships are strange beasts.
To wit, how much is the Tour player actually involved in the design work? Does the architect really want the Tour player looking over his shoulder? Are these seemingly blissful unions simply marriages of capitalist convenience? According to Bates, these issues have defined these precarious couplings over the past two decades.
"Some work, some don't," he says.
The voice of experience? You know it. Bates cut his teeth in Jack Nicklaus' design firm for six years, laying out some of the Golden Bear's card-wrecking circuits alongside player-turned-commentator Johnny Miller. When he decided to strike out on his own in the late 80s, Nicklaus surprised with a parting gift.
"Jack said to Gene, 'I hate to see you leave, but if you are going, good luck and would you take Johnny Miller with you?,' " says Andy Johnston, construction services manager for Couples/Bates design.
Bates and Miller worked together for a couple of years before agreeing to go their separate way. Miller found NBC and Bates found Couples. And eventually, Bluegreen found Couples and Bates. Or was it just Couples? A thorough perusal of Carolina National's Web site and even a trip around its 27 holes gives little or no indication that Bates was involved in the project at all. The Web site's virtual tour of the newer Ibis Nine (2000) includes an overview of the par-4 ninth hole that includes the annotation, "now what was Fred Couples thinking here?"
The controversial two-shotter is all waste bunker down the middle with fairways spilt to either side. All-in-all, it is one of the stranger golf holes in Myrtle Beach. So exactly what was Couples thinking?
"Well, Fred had never even seen that hole until he was there in 2000 for the opening of the new nine," Bates says with a chuckle. "Fred's still a long hitter so he doesn't even give the two fairways a second thought. He tries to blow it down the middle and over the waste bunker. That's a good 300 and some yards and he ends up in the bunker." Bates wasn't there that day, but National's head superintendent Billy Lewis was. "Fred turned and looked at everyone and asked what the heck Gene was thinking," Lewis says.
In addition to perplexing golfers of all skill levels, the ninth also typifies the misperception that exists among the golfing public when it comes to player/architect relationships; a misperception that is gladly perpetuated by the golf course itself for marketing purposes. Just as John Daly, Ray Floyd and Gary Player couldn't pick Wicked Stick, Arrowhead, and Blackmoor out of a lineup, respectively, Couples actual involvement at National was minimal.
"Fred had a lot of things going on in his life at that time," says Bates. "There was never an expectation that he'd be hands on."
Nor is there an expectation that Couples will return to take up residence in his honorary lot on the Ibis Nine. The Seattle, Wa. native isn't likely to give up his cozy life in tony Santa Barbara, Calif. for the backwoods charm of Bolivia, N.C. anytime soon.
"I think the lot was part of the agreement," says National's GM Beth Murphy.
National is a fine product, worthy of mention alongside North Strand courses like The Thistle, Panther's Run, and Farmstead. However, the marshy layout falls just short of the area's top tier, which includes Tidewater, River's Edge, Oyster Bay and Tiger's Eye.
The property -- and the golf course -- have their moments, however. The par-4 fourth on the Heron Nine is an illusionary masterpiece. From the tee box it appears to require a strong drive to clear the random bunkers in the middle of the fairway when in fact a fairway wood or well struck long iron will do the trick from the black and gold tees. Looking back up the fairway from the green, the truth is revealed.
Fast fact: Gene Bates and Fred Couples form one of the longest-standing player/architect teams in the golf course design business.
The par-3 fifths on the Heron and Ibis nines are both excellent one shotters in terms of scenery, but the shot value from the back tees on the former is a bit out of whack. The hole plays 203 yards from the tips and calls for a long iron into a shallow green fronted by a deep bunker. Huh? Bates says the hole was designed to play from the Blue, Teal, and White boxes located 45 degrees to the right. As for the aforementioned ninth on the Ibis -- we say dare to be different on the Strand -- there are only 2,000 other holes if you don't like it.