I shouldn’t write this, but on a sunny October day in Beaufort, North Carolina, I was very thankful for the Great Recession that struck in the second half of 2008. I wish were I was compassionate enough that I’d feel bad for the original developer of the North River Club, who lost the golf course and development property to foreclosure.
Alas, I’m just selfish enough to be glad that only about 30 of the proposed 1,500 homes were built before residential construction halted adjacent to North River’s fantastic golf course, because the peace and stillness of the mostly undeveloped land significantly upgraded the entire experience.
The North River Club, designed by Bob Moore of JMP Golf Design, opened in 2008 as the centerpiece of the aforementioned proposed housing development. Despite the development’s demise, death and trip through the auction ring, the golf course has been maintained throughout and is now thriving under new ownership.
The new owners have re-branded the entire property as more of a resort style retreat, though the change hasn’t yet affected access to the golf course.
Upon navigating the maze of newly paved roads, the gorgeous new clubhouse, which still smelled of wet paint and wood polish, welcomes visitors and sets the stage for a great golf experience.
On a lazy Wednesday afternoon, head PGA Professional Joe Kreuser couldn’t have been more gracious both before and after my round, taking the time to chat with me about the course, its back story, or what the courses and weather were like back home.
I sincerely appreciated him sending me, a single, off the back nine so that I wouldn’t catch and be slowed down by the groups he had just sent off of number one. If only all courses made that kind of effort, then THIS sort of thing wouldn’t happen.
The golf course was about as flat as I’d expected for being in such close proximity to the Atlantic Coast. However, an army of bulldozers must have moved untold tons of earth to create some interesting hills, moguls, bunkers, ponds, and tee and green complexes.
Partnered with the largely in tact natural surroundings, the result is a visually pleasing course that is really fun to play. The trouble areas from the tee or the fairway are fairly easily assessed, which makes good scoring possible on the first time around the course.
At 6,750 yards from the blue tees, the course has plenty enough length to justify the relatively high course rating of 73.3 and slope of 139.
Additionally, North River Club gave me a complimentary yardage book that gave me insights to yardages and hidden hazards to avoid. I know that GPS devices, laser sights, and smartphones have made yardage books almost a thing of the past, but I always like to have one at a course I’ve never played.
The Bermuda grass fairways were in fantastic shape, given the 23 inches of water the course received from Hurricane Joaquin just a week prior.
The rough, on the other hand, was shaggy and extremely penal because they had not been able to be mowed in quite a while.
North River Course has an abundance of water hazards, to put it mildly. In fact, water is in play on every single hole, usually taking away an entire side of each hole.
The bunkers were pretty rough around the edges and I don’t think they’d been dry long enough to be raked after the deluge of Joaquin. Several had vibrant weed and grass growth occurring in the absence of regular maintenance.
While this would normally be a big put-off, given the wide open and natural surrounding, it actually kind of worked for the course, aesthetically speaking. Coupled with the almost treeless canvas, the ruggedness of the bunkers added authenticity to the links feel.
The course has large elevated or pushed up greens that contain lots on contours that I found fairly easy to putt and chip upon. Good shots into the correct portion of the medium speed greens were rewarded, while some not so obvious slopes punished poor misses.
In addition to the superb conditioning, North River Club has a nice variety of hole types, i.e., a good mix of short, attackable holes and long, difficult holes. There are several holes upon which the scale is tipped in favor of taking a small risk for a big reward, while others call for prudence and caution.
As far as signature, or extremely memorable, holes go, a couple come to mind. The par 5 4th hole is an excellent high risk, high reward hole containing a large pond at the end of the first part of the fairway and bunkers pretty much everywhere else.
The long, narrow par 4 14th hole is an excellent challenge and probably my favorite hole of the course. A demanding tee shot to a narrow fairway with water and bunkers guarding the entire length of the right side.
Even a well struck tee shot leaves a testy long or mid-iron into an enormous two-tiered green that slopes back toward the water. It’s really a great golf hole.
Finally, the par 5 18th hole leading back to the clubhouse is a monster. It’s a long dogleg left with water guarding the entire left side, while a cadre of bunkers guard the landing areas both for the tee shot and a lay-up.
The only glaring fault from my round was the severe mosquito infestation that plagues the areas surrounding the 16th and 17th hole. A trench or ditch lies just 25 yards or so to the right of and below the 16th fairway.
As a result of the tropical storm rains from the week prior, the trench was full of stagnant water that had become a fertile breeding ground for an armada of mosquitoes.
I made the mistake of looking for my wayward tee shot too close to this insect bordello and suffered the wrath of a swarm of hungry mosquitoes. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
I had to pull my spare towel out of my golf bag to aid in my swatting attempts to keep my involuntary blood donation below the quart level.
By the time I finally evaded the last of those little flying devils at the 18th tee, I looked like I’d lost a knife fight….badly. I’m getting itchy all over just writing about it.
Nonetheless, the traumatic insect encounter could not derail an otherwise fantastic golf experience. Simply put, the North River Club’s golf course is a lot of fun to play. Sure, in a few years when the housing development has expanded toward completion, it may be a vastly different experience.
But for now, if you happen to find yourself near the Crystal Coast of North Carolina, do yourself a favor and travel a few miles inland to play the course. You won’t regret it.