Tired of Myrtle Beach madness? Take it slower and easier at Sea Trail Golf Resort in Sunset Beach, N.C.

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

SUNSET BEACH, N.C. - You say you're getting a little older now? Still like to take golf vacations but no longer have the energy or appetite for those wild buddy-trips to Myrtle Beach?

Sea Trail Golf Resort and Convention Center - Jones Course
The Rees Jones course is the longest and hardest of Sea Trail Golf Resort and Convention Center's three tracks.
Sea Trail Golf Resort and Convention Center - Jones CourseSea Trail Golf Resort and Convention Center - gatorSea Trail Golf Resort and Convention Center - Maples course
If you go

Well, my friend, there is sanctuary for you, a place where you can still play golf and keep the wife and kids happy as clams. In fact, it's close enough to the main action that you can still play your favorite Grand Strand courses if you feel the need to venture off the property.

Sea Trail Golf Resort and Convention Center is way up there in placid Sunset Beach, at the southernmost seashore of North Carolina and northernmost end of the Grand Strand. From the mainland you drive slowly over a one-lane bridge, salt marsh surrounding you, to a three-mile-long island blessedly lacking in neon-lit strip malls. Take off your watch. Take out your clubs.

Sea Trail is an informal, ambling resort, dipping and winding among the easy hills of the northernmost Brunswick isles. The stars here are the three golf courses, designed by Willard Byrd, Rees Jones and Dan Maples. You can schedule a tee time while resting assured the wife and kids will have plenty to do. First, the golf:

Golf at Sea Trail

Sea Trail Golf Resort and Convention Center's Maples course: Your average tourist doesn't want to get beat up by a golf course, and the Maples comes through. At 6,751 yards and with a respectable slope rating of 135 from the blue tees, the course isn't overly long, and it offers a combination of fairly easy holes balanced by some moderately tough ones, especially the longer par 4s. Women request the course often: The ladies' tees, one of four sets, are 5,090 yards.

Five holes wind along Calabash Creek, and the terrain is nicely wooded, with old oaks and tall Carolina pines. Many of the fairways have good movement, rolling and twisting through the green land. The waste areas, one of which runs almost the entire length of the par 5 15th, are a nice touch, decorated with twisted dead trees. It's a parkland-style course, tighter than the Byrd course, and the greens are nicely framed by trees.

Northern visitors love it. "I would say it's more forgiving than the Byrd," Golf Director Eddie Pratt said. "It's a traditional-style golf course with a resort/tourist atmosphere."

Sea Trail Golf Resort and Convention Center's Byrd course: This one's a bit of a hybrid. "I'd say you're looking at a parkland-style golf course with a little target golf," said Pratt. "You hate to tell people to keep it in the fairway - that's pretty much true everywhere - but it's really true here. If you're playing from the member tees and your short-iron game is good, play to the 150-marker and you'll play all day."

The fairways at the Byrd course are narrower than at many Myrtle Beach golf courses, but not so much that it's a huge problem if you're reasonably accurate. You do have to hit to certain spots to gain an advantage into the greens.

Sea Trail Golf Resort and Convention Center's Jones course: The Jones is the longest of the resort's three courses, and most say the hardest. That isn't to say you should steel your nerves and gird your loins; all three are resort courses geared to the northern tourist hordes looking for a few birdies and some southern scenery.

The Jones course delivers on both counts. It's 6,761 yards from the back tees, and easily played from back there. With a slope of 132 from the tips, mid-handicappers can brag about playing the back tees like the pros without being knocked around. There aren't many forced carries and not that much difference from the back blue tees and the middle whites. There's water on 11 holes, but most of it comes in the form of small ponds and lakes, though a handful of holes have serious water the length of the fairway. Bigger obstacles are the pot and large expanse bunkers Jones placed cagily through the layout.

Jones' differs from the Byrd and Maples courses with its length and the mounding this designer is known for, which both holds in mildly wayward tee shots or throws up obstacles for seriously wayward ones.

Also on-site is the Sea Trail Golf School, offering two-, three- and five-day packages, private instruction, video analysis and training aids as well as nine-hole playing lessons.

Sea Trail Golf Resort and Convention Center: Activities

There is plenty to do aside from golf. The resort has lighted tennis courts plus swim and fitness centers. The Village Activity Center is a mixed-use development of shops and restaurants with indoor and outdoor pools, sauna, exercise room and a licensed massage therapist to help with all those pulled muscles from such strenuous activities. For the kids, there's board games, volleyball, badminton and croquet. In summer, children's activities include tie-dying, face-painting and pizza parties.

There are also miles of private roads for walking, jogging or biking (rentals on-site). Nearby is the Museum of Coastal Carolina's Ingram Planetarium, with its 90-seat theater and 40-foot projection dome. Both Myrtle Beach and Wilmington are relatively short drives away. If all that is too much, there is always lounging on the beach.

Sea Trail Golf Resort and Convention Center: Business

Plenty of room for commerce here. The resort has more than 70,000 square feet of meeting space and can handle groups of up to 700 people for anything from a golf outing to a corporate convention.

Services include private dining rooms, two on-site restaurants, lounges, break areas, decks, patios and atrium space. You can choose a sit-down or buffet dinner, and special events ranging from Polynesian luaus to low-country oyster roasts and steak cookouts can be arranged.

Sea Trail Golf Resort and Convention Center: Accommodations

The resort has everything from guest rooms to four-bedroom villas, some along the golf courses. There are mini-suite efficiencies with kitchenettes, microwaves, and mini-refrigerators and deluxe mini-suites that add a small sitting area. All villas have fully equipped kitchens with range, microwave, coffee-maker, refrigerator, ice-maker, dishwasher, washer and dryer, dining area, living room and screened or open porch.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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