St. James Plantation's Members Club - You May Even Get a Member Bounce

By William C. Denfeld, Photos By William C. Denfeld


SOUTHPORT, NC – Membership means belonging; being a part of something exclusive to the members.  Many memberships require an individual to pay for the privilege of membership.  While The Members Club at St. James Plantation has many dues-paying members, the general public is invited to enjoy the privileges of membership at the club, if only for a day. 

All three nine-hole courses at The Members Club return to the clubhouse after their ninth hole, which provides players a convenient "At The Turn" snack bar line. The clubhouse also offers a regular snack bar and restaurant for after a round.


“Members utilize approximately sixty percent of the tee times at The Members Club,” General Manager of Golf Operations, Dave Kjome said.  The remaining tee times are available for public play.  These “non-member” players will enjoy a golf experience that feels like membership.


The Members Club is one of three golf courses at St. James Plantation, a gated residential community located five miles from Southport, NC at the northern-most end of the “Grand Strand” that includes the enormously popular golf destination of Myrtle Beach, SC.  The community boasts a varied golf experience that includes The Founders Club, a P.B. Dye design, and The Players Club, designed by local NC course designer Tim Cate.  Each of the three courses in St. James Plantation has a resident membership but offer public play as well.

Stone signs and decorative plantings are found on the teeing grounds at The Members Club.


The Members Club is comprised of the original eighteen-hole layout designed by three-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin and an additional nine holes designed by Tim Cate.  Players are started on all three nines and will end up playing one of the three combinations of nines to make up their eighteen-hole experience.  My observation, confirmed by Dave Kjome, is that the combination of the Irwin back nine with the Cate nine yields the most challenging layout.


“The Members Club is a forgiving golf course with wide fairways,” Kjome said.  “Everyone has been saying that it is golfer friendly, which is not the way I like to describe it because it is not an easy golf course.  It is tough for a low handicap player to score any better on The Members Club than on Players or Founders, but you will find that the higher handicapper will score better at The Members Club.” 

The par-three third hole of the Irwin front is played to a long and narrow green fronted by marsh and a large bunker.


There is plenty of room on most of the longer holes to pull out the driver and let it fly.  The greens tend to be smaller than those on the other two St. James Plantation courses, and have less undulation.


The pace of play is enforced with a timing device mounted on each cart’s steering wheel that gives players the elapsed time of the round along with the suggested course location for that time.  The starter activates the clock at the first tee and loads the cart information into a hand-held device that allows the course marshals to monitor cart movement.  The carts are equipped with a pin position sheet.  The club has a large practice range and chipping green adjacent to the clubhouse. 

The green on the short par-four fourth hole of the Irwin front is one of the smallest greens on the course and requires a precision approach.


The first nine of the Irwin course, known as “Irwin front”, is highlighted by the two par-threes, holes three and eight.  The third hole measures 160 yards.  Club selection is critical as the tee shot is played over a marsh to a green forty-one yards deep, running from front right to back left.  A large bunker guards the left as well as a small pot bunker on the front left of the green.  The tee shot on the eighth hole is played to a large green containing a crown that divides the green into three sections.  A shot to the wrong section of the green will leave a challenging two-putt.


The second nine of the Irwin course, the ”Irwin back”, has a surprising amount of elevation change for a course so close to the ocean.  In fact, the clubhouse at The Members Club is the highest elevation in Brunswick County.  This nine measures only eighty-five yards longer than the Irwin front but plays much longer due to the elevation changes.  The back has two par-threes that play over two hundred yards from the tips and also features an uphill par-four measuring 472 yards.

The rolling, up hill fairway to the fourth green of the Irwin back is typical of this nine.


The second hole on the Irwin back is that brute of a par four.  It plays uphill for the first 375 yards with a narrow fairway that doglegs slightly to the left.  Tee shots missing left will fall down the hill to the left and find a lateral hazard.  A good drive will still leave the player with a blind second shot over the crest of the fairway to a very small green.  A player with a less than perfect drive may choose to lay up to the crest of the hill and leave a wedge to the green.  Hale Irwin positioned the hole’s only bunker left of the fairway just at the crest.  There are no easy pars on this hole and not many easy bogies either!


The sixth hole of the back is the signature hole on the Irwin course.  Players are challenged by each of their first two shots on this 531-yard par five by abundant water and a very narrow section of fairway.  If the many hazards are avoided, the player is left with a short iron approach to an elevated green fronted by a steep slope falling down to more water.  Players bailing out left or long will have to deal with three bunkers over the green.  A pin position on the back right will test even the best player. 

The seventh hole on the Irwin back is the most scenic on the entire course.


Hale Irwin originally designed the course with the back nine to be played first, leading to the front nine.  “The back nine is definitely the best nine out of the three,” said Dave Kjome.  “After Hale played the course, he recommended reversing the nines because he wanted the last nine to be the most challenging.”  The Irwin back is a gem.


The Cate nine is the final nine holes at The Members Club.  Tim Cate has incorporated many of the design elements of The Players Club into this nine while allowing it to feel like it belongs to The Members Club.  Cate has included a trademark curving wooden cart bridge through a lowland forest that divides this nine.  He has also included the large bunkering, closely mown slopes around greens, and decorative pampas grass that is used in many of his designs in the Myrtle Beach area.

This woodland divides the Cate nine.


The first hole of the Cate nine introduces the player to these design elements.  A large bunker filled with decorative grasses fronts the first tee.  After an uphill tee shot to a hidden landing area, the player is left with a short approach to a narrow green bordered by a menacing pond well below green level.  A shaved slope insures that errant shots will find their way to the water.  


The seventh hole also includes many Cate design elements.  This dogleg-right par four uses water, bunkering and many decorative plantings to frame the hole.  Only with two well-placed shots will a player be rewarded with a chance at birdie.  It is just as likely that the ball you hole out with will not be the one you played off the tee.

The Cate nine seventh hole is eye candy for the golfer that enjoys water, sand and plantings around a golf hole.


The uphill par-three eighth hole measures from 98-yards to 192-yards depending on the tees used.  This sloping plateau, with deep bunkering, makes a precise iron shot essential for success. 


The Members Club is routed through rapidly growing St. James Plantation.  While many homes surround the course, most are set back and do not intrude upon the experience.  The residential property bordering the course is staked as “out of bounds," so be prepared to hit some provisional balls if you stray too far off the fairways.  There are also many areas that have yet to be developed where you will enjoy native Carolina woodlands.  I spotted several deer during my round.  The course, along with the two others at St. James Plantation, has achieved the designation “Audubon Certified Cooperative Sanctuaries” by Audubon International.  Only six other courses in NC carry such a designation.


A day of play at The Members Club will provide many thrills, a few chills and an opportunity to play a lot of shots from the short grass.  You may even get a few of those elusive “member bounces” that always seem to happen for the other guys. 


Note:  Check the links below for other stories on St. James Plantation, as well as other North Carolina destination reviews.


The Members Club at St. James Plantation

3779 Members Club Blvd.

Southport, NC  28461


Phone:  (800) 474-9277




Course Architect:  Hale Irwin/Tim Cate

Golf Course General Manager:  Dave Kjome

Head Golf Professional:  Alvin Martin


Tees             Yardage/Slope    Rating

Irwin Front/Irwin Back:

Gold                   6887/138           73.5

Black                 6463/126           70.9

White                 5948/121           68.2

Teal                   5113/122           69.8


Irwin Front/Cate Nine:

Gold                   6816/133           72.8

Black                 6319/122           69.8

White                 5724/116           67.0

Teal                   5083/121           68.8


Irwin Back/Cate Nine:

Gold                   6901/142           73.3

Black                 6342/125           69.9

White                 5712/117           67.2

Teal                   4984/118           68.0



The rates vary by time of year and range from $55 to $72 in the morning and from $45 to $55 after 12PM.  All rates include your cart.


Other Information:

The course features an 8,000 square foot clubhouse, which includes a restaurant and snack bar as well as a fully stocked pro shop.  The Members Club, along with the other two courses at St. James Plantation, is a semi-private club and receives substantial play from the members.  The public is welcome but early tee times are at a premium.


St. James Plantation is the number one selling community in coastal Carolina.  For more information, visit

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