Destinations: The soft side of the Grand Strand

Brunswick Islands has a personality all its own

By Lisa Allen

Not to say that our area isn’t wonderful — it truly is — but sometimes you just want to grab a group of your girlfriends, your golf clubs and get away.

A few hours north is the perfect change of scenery that’s calm and classy: Brunswick Islands, which stretch from Calabash to Wilmington in North Carolina.

The region features nearly two dozen courses, beaches, waterside restaurants and excellent shopping. Do yourself a favor and make sure you stop at Lori’s Golf Shop in Calabash. It’s a treasure trove of the latest golf apparel for women, including the newest golf dresses. Honestly, what is cooler than a dress for golfing? Why didn’t we think of this before?

For accommodations, the choices — and price points — are endless. We visited two locations that are sure to meet your needs. Packagers can tailor a combination of accommodations, golf and dining that cater to women golfers. After all, who wants to play a course where you lose balls to long forced carries and can never hit the greens in regulation?

Where to Stay

The Winds Resort Beach Club, Ocean Isle Beach
The resort resides beachfront and spills across the street to offer a plethora of rooming options from a single room to a six-bedroom house. The resort is well appointed, using every available nook and cranny to offer two pools, a Jacuzzi, tiki bar, reception area, meeting rooms, outdoor event venues and a café serving breakfast. The resort’s houses are perfect for golf groups. Single hotel rooms open into a shared living room and kitchen. There are ample porches, each with brightly painted rocking chairs for those who crave to be outside whenever possible.

Brunswick Plantation Resort and Golf, Calabash
New owners have breathed new life into the resort, adding a restaurant and elevating course conditions. The clubhouse is majestic, offering an enormous pillar-accented front porch that would be perfect for a cocktail party or nuptials.  Inside, a matching pair of soaring circular staircases adds to the regal air. A variety of privately owned condos provide flexible accommodations for one to four people, perfect for a golf group.

Where to Shop

Lori’s Golf Shop
At last, an extensive collection of women’s golf apparel, including the newest golf dresses, a brilliant idea for warm weather golf. What could be cooler? Lori DeSimone, who earned an accounting degree from Boston College, took her career in a different direction, becoming the assistant golf pro at Arcadian Shores Golf Club. She got frustrated with the lack of options for women’s golf attire and fixed it nearly singlehandedly, opening Lori’s Golf Shoppe in 2003. The business has a powerful online order business from around North America that comprises the majority of her sales.

Callahan’s of Calabash
The Callahan family has made Calabash into a destination, starting with Callahan’s of Calabash, a 40,000-square-foot emporium of gifts, including a year round Christmas collection. There is something for everyone, including yourself. You could knock out your holiday list any time in one fell swoop.

Sunset River Marketplace
Its name is a bit misleading. This is a Carolinas’ artists gallery stuffed with the work of nearly 200 artists from paintings to textiles to pottery. The former furniture store provides a vast canvas for a wide range of media, as well as space for art classes. The Watercolor Society of North Carolina’s traveling show will reside there from July 14 through August 14, with an artists’ reception from 5 to 7 p.m., June 21.

Where to Play

Brunswick Plantation Resort and Golf, Calabash
Its three nine-hole Byrd and Johnson-designed courses are in their prime. Each round will be different, depending on whether you start with the open and inviting Magnolia nine, the tighter and more strategic Dogwood nine, or the varied, picturesque Azalea nine. The constant course rotation creates never-boring combinations. The staff is attentive and the course is in perfect condition.

Tiger’s Eye at Ocean Ridge Plantation, Ocean Isle Beach
The Sunset Beach course is stunning.  It’s impeccably manicured and dramatically landscaped. Designer Tim Cate, on Ocean Isle resident, delights in bold landscapes. Without a doubt, he added considerably to the pricetag by hauling in truckload after truckload of boulders to line ponds and create theatrical golf cart entrances. The course is ideal for golfers who don’t strike the long ball. It’s a course that’s fun and challenging for every level of golfer. There is a reason this course resides on “best courses on the Grand Strand” year after year.

Rivers Edge Golf Club, Shallotte (pronounced Sha-LOTE)
The Arnold Palmer-designed course along the Shalotte River is over the top in visual appeal and challenging golf. Each hole requires a plan before you pull your first club. The conditions were perfect and the vistas breathtaking. The ninth hole, Arnie’s Revenge, would be better suited as a finishing hole. You won’t forget the marsh carry into a sharply rising fairway, setting up a third shot to a narrow approach to the green.

Where to Eat

Oyster Rock, Calabash
The brand-new waterside sprawling restaurant includes an oyster house built over the water with seating not just riverside, but over the Calabash River. It’s spectacular in looks, ambiance, food and service execution. Every staff member wears an earpiece and mic, looking quite a bit like the Secret Service. The system enables staff to be in constant contact across the large endeavor. For example, because the oyster house is over water, state rules allow them to prepare only oysters in the facility; no shrimp, no condiments. So to serve the constant stream of steamed oysters, staff has to coordinate the oysters, cocktail sauce, lemon and plates to arrive at the table at the same time. The mics and earpieces come in handy. We feasted on oysters on the half shell, steamed oysters from Virginia at this time of year, and oysters Rockefeller.

The signature dish is the “Deep Treasure,” scallops in a rich ginger cream sauce that surrounds a ricotta cake. You can tell this is a restaurant that draws people who want to celebrate something, whether it be out-of-town guests, a vacation or a Monday, which was our case. The 325-seat restaurant includes indoor seating, a three-season outdoor covered patio and al fresco waterside tables overlooking the Calabash River and its shrimping and fishing fleets.

Boundary House, Calabash
Also part of the Callahan family collection, this large, nautical themed restaurant has a broad menu that highlights local seafood, much of it served Southern style with sides of hushpuppies. The salmon topped with pesto and breadcrumbs was distinctively different.

Calabash Creamery, Calabash
With creamery in its name, you know this spot for daily made homemade ice creams is the real deal. It is. We tried Southern bourbon pecan, toasted coconut, and staples like mint chocolate and cappuccino crunch. You know this place gets busy on a summer night. Its list of 24 flavors changes daily.

Ocean Isle Fish Company, Ocean Isle Beach
For a casual, riverside venue that offers great seafood, check out the Ocean Isle Fish Company. With several tiers of outdoor decks and railing-side seating, it’s a great place to hang out, peel some shrimp, and view the line of boats floating nearby. Try the daily catch OIFC style. For example, a fresh grouper filet came with a crabcake riding atop. At the base were red skin potatoes. All was lined with asparagus spears.

Silver Coast Winery, Ocean Isle Beach
If you haven’t heard of North Carolina wine, you’ve missed out. While many of the grapes don’t come from the immediate area, the brilliance of the wine makers does at Silver Coast. Right inside the door is the impressive collection of award-winning vintages. They produce everything from chardonnay to their holiday red and a half a dozen varieties in between. The winery also includes a local artists gallery, a gift shop and a perfect venue for weddings and special events. Chemistry-teacher-turned-sommelier, Al, told us the room was the winery’s aging room and people asked to stage festive events among the barrels. But large groups of gyrating humans drove up the temperate and imperiled the wine. The wine is now aged in a non-descript warehouse next door.

Brunswick Islands has 23 golf courses between Calabash and Wilmington. They’re perfectly maintained with friendly staff and, most importantly, distances that compliment women’s golf games. Pair that with miles of beaches, great restaurants and eclectic shopping, and you come back, year after year.

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