At the more expensive end of the spectrum is Cape Fear National (CFN) just south of Wilmington in Leland, Brunswick County. The course is always in fantastic condition and even at $60+, still affords great value. The practice facilities are superb, they offer an expansive driving range, large putting green and several chipping greens with practice bunkers. They do the little things well like including bottled water in the golf cart coolers, free tees and towels. The course was designed by architect Tim Cate in 2009 and opened to glowing reviews, making both GOLF Magazine’s and Golfweek’s top 10 best new courses. Cape Fear National is a visually stunning golf course while also offering a challenging yet fair set up for golfers of all handicaps. Several holes feature waste bunkers that run the length of the holes and water hazards are plentiful. The 9th and 18th holes are both par 3’s which is a little unusual and not really ideal. That said, this is the most scenic course in the area and the one that the majority of golfers would consider the gold standard. Bring lots of golf balls.
The newest course in the Cape Fear area, again located in Leland in Brunswick County. A thoughtful design with generous open fairways, and firm and fast greens offering the courses only defense on many holes. The back 9 features some demanding yet picturesque holes where you really have to hit quality golf shots to earn your par. You will likely to have to play this course several times before you learn where to be defensive and where to attack. The practice facilities are very good and there is a delightful 90 yard “19th hole” where you can settle bets should you be tied after 18. The clubhouse includes a nice bar area, an outdoor patio and the restaurant does a sound job with their pub food.
Not many cities are fortunate enough to boast a Donald Ross design as their municipal course, but that’s exactly what we have here in Wilmington. The course was completed in 1926 in order to “provide the public with an 18 hole championship course, at affordable prices”. It is quite remarkable that holds true today almost 100 years later. $1.5 million was invested into in the course in 2014 aiming to restore the course to Donald Ross’ original design. Tee boxes were improved, bunkers were restored and added, areas in front of the greens were re-sodded and bridges were built. Subsequent reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. The only real blight on “The Muni” is due to the course’s in town location and affordable green fees the pace of play is often quite slow. Well that and the limited lunch offerings of hot dogs and sandwiches with a 2 week shelf life. That said, they make up for these shortcomings by offering ice cold beers at insanely low prices. If you eat before you play and have 5 hours free, you will most likely enjoy your round immensely. From the tips the 3rd hole is one of the toughest you will find anywhere.
Billed as the only “true links” course in the area, Castle Bay is around 30 minutes north of Wilmington in Hampstead. The course is well maintained even though the greens are sometimes a little sluggish. As with links style golf there are no trees on the course, with forgiving fairways and soft greens, Castle Bay’s main defense is when the winds blow. The practice facilities are more than adequate but not as extensive and polished as some of the other courses’ on this list. While the course features tall bankers and many water features this is a course where you can hit driver off of almost every tee. Castle Bay is a fun, forgiving golf course and where you can score well and feel good about your game.
Again located just north of Wilmington in Leland, Magnolia Greens (the “sister course to Compass Pointe), offers a first rate golf experience. Mature pines line almost every hole, the bunkers, tees and fairways are always in good shape. The greens are typically fast and some of the best around. Even though the greens can be firm, well struck shots will still be rewarded. Magnolia Greens has 27 holes, the original 18 are excellent while the 3rd 9 (Azalea) is justifiably less heralded. The practice facilities are super and the clubhouse features a nice bar for a few sociables after the round. Magnolia also do a great job with Sunday brunch.
Even though Porters Neck is a private course the opportunity for non member play still exists, albeit for the princely sum of around $125. A Tom Fazio designed course, beautiful clubhouse, impeccable facilities and great food combine to afford golfers a truly 5 star experience. While the course is quite forgiving off the tee approaches to the greens must be well executed. The greens can be extremely fast which can make distance putting and short chip shots a challenge. Porters Neck offers an excellent golfing experience, the course is always in fabulous condition and the service is typically exemplary.