River's Edge will keep you on the edge of sanity if you bite off too much
SHALLOTTE, N.C. - River's Edge Golf Club is a salute to Shallotte (pronounced sha-loot), a beautifully laid-out stunner along the banks of the Shallotte River and the surrounding marshes, here at the northern tip of the Grand Strand.
Just don't let your friends coerce you into being Macho Man and play it from the back tees if you're a mid- to high-handicapper. The slope rating is 149 from the tips, one of the highest in the low country, and will throw 10 forced carries at you, either off the tee, to the green, or both.
If you fit the above description and try it from the backs, you'll end up tired and frustrated with a scorecard either bloated or unreliable. You may throw your clubs and so-called friends into the Shallotte River.
However, if you're honest with yourself - tell your friends to go jump in the river - and fit your game to one of the five sets of tee boxes, you will enjoy this course more than most and as much as any along the Strand. It's advertised as an Arnold Palmer design, located as it is along Arnold Palmer Drive, but it is mainly the work of Palmer's assistant, Erik Larsen.
Larsen did his homework, taking an exceptional piece of low country terrain and subtly routing Rivers Edge through and around it. He followed the natural curves and yes, even elevation.
"It's the best, natural piece of land, I would say, since Pebble Beach," head pro Bart Romano said. "We moved no dirt to build the place. It's all natural land, rolling hills and fairways. Obviously, it's the flattest region in the world, here at the beach - and we have a lot of elevation change."
The Pebble Beach analogy may be debatable, but there is no doubt about the authenticity of the scenery, particularly if you're a fan of views of marsh, which seem to change color with the seasons. Seven holes play right along the river and marsh and woe be to the golfer who can't keep his driver in control or in the holster.
"You want to hit accurate tee shots," Romano said. "If you don't hit accurate tee shots, I hope you brought a lot of golf balls."
The other holes venture inland, but don't lose much charm. Like all imaginatively laid-out courses, River's Edge throws contrasts at you like shadows from the oaks.
"It's a little bit of everything," Romano said. "It's got a links-like layout, being on the river, and it's a lot like the older Scottish courses on the ocean. The inland holes are like Pinehurst: a traditional feel, American golf."
The course opened in 1999 and had an ambiguous beginning. It garnered some nice awards: Golf Digest named it in its list of "America's Top-10 Best New Upscale Courses for 2000," Golf Magazine put it in the Top 20 on a similar list and GolfCarolina.com called it the best new course on the Grand Strand for 2000.
But, the course also ran into some conditioning problems with the greens that brought it some bad publicity. The bent grass greens, being susceptible to heat, ran afoul of the hot, North Carolina summers. So officials cut some trees, increasing air flow and eliminating shade and brought in some fans of their own.
"Plus, the budget is a little better now," Romano said. "The greens have been in unbelievable shape the last three years."
Indeed, the greens were in fine condition on a recent outing in February, notwithstanding winter's toll, making this a must-play if you're in the northern reaches of the Strand.
"This is definitely one of the best courses I've played in the area," said Dennis Boulanger, a Canadian who said he makes regular trips to the area. "I like the way it plays along the marsh."
A description of River's Edge wouldn't be complete without mentioning No. 9, a 570-yard par-5. You can get in trouble if you're long off the tee, in that the second half of the fairway rolls downhill to the marsh.
However, if you're short off the tee, you'll be looking at either laying up well to the right of the green. From there, you will still be in marsh-danger if you venture too far left or are short, or trying to carry a broad expanse of marsh to reach the green, which juts out precariously into the marsh.
"The only real forced carry for everyone is on No. 9," Romano said. "Depending on where you laid up, you could have a carry of only 50 yards over the marsh or 200 yards. It depends on what line you take."
Green fees range from $65-$120, including the required cart.
Places to Stay
The Islander Resort, a short drive away in Sunset Beach, is a planned beach community that spans the width of Ocean Isle Beach, over the causeway from Sunset. The community has large, oceanfront lots, a beach club and restaurant, as well as villas and lots overlooking the Intracoastal.
Places to Eat
The Isles Restaurant has a host of seafood from catfish fingers and oysters on the half shell to panko-crusted fried calamari served with Siracha cream sauce. Start with a poached pear salad with pecans and gorgonzola and move on, for a more traditional meal, to the roast pork tenderloin with apple raisin chutney.
Also, the town of Calabash - home of "Calabash-style seafood" - is about a 10-minute drive away and has a number of restaurants specializing in seafood. In the offseason, be sure to check to see if your restaurant is open.
Larsen should know the area well. He received his degree in landscape/horticulture from North Carolina State University.
March 9, 2005