St. James Plantation's Players Course - Can You Give Me an Amen!

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

 

Ed Note:  Photos were taken during an overseed period, so the course may appear a bit less green than normal.


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A Tim Cate design trademark is the use of curving wooden cart bridges over marsh areas.

 

SOUTHPORT, NC – There are many recognizable nicknames in golf.  Fans of the game have heard of “the Shark”, “the Walrus”, “the King”, “the Golden Bear” and “the Big Easy.”  Some have heard of “Hell’s Half Acre”, “Alcatraz”, “Hogan’s Alley” and the “Horrible Horseshoe” but may not know that “Alcatraz” is the seventeenth hole at the Stadium Course at PGA West and the Horrible Horseshoe is made up of three holes at Colonial Country Club in Ft. Worth.  There is, however, one golf nickname that all golfers know by heart.  “Amen Corner!”  Holes eleven, twelve and thirteen at Augusta National are very familiar to golfers, even though they are seen about as often as Santa Claus.   The name has come to symbolize a stretch of holes that can bring a player to his knees and must be played respectfully and, perhaps prayerfully, to be played successfully. 

 

The Players Club at St. James Plantation has such a stretch of holes, which highlight this Tim Cate design.  St. James Plantation is 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.  While physically close to Myrtle Beach, Southport and the surrounding area is a world apart.  Words like “quaint”, “casual” and “quiet” are often used to describe this part of coastal NC, not far from Wilmington.


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The tee shot on the par-four fourth hole is the first to require a forced carry. The first carry is not too demanding. Those come later!

 

Tim Cate, a native of North Carolina who lives and works locally, has built a golf course truly entitled to call itself “The Players” club.  The layout is designed to play from the tips, but offers four other sets of tees to accommodate all golfers.  The par-72 layout plays only 6,940 yards from the back, gold tees, which is not long by today’s standards but carries a slope of 150 and a rating of 74.6.  The teeth of this course are off the tees, which require accuracy and length to negotiate several long carries and the narrow fairways often splitting large stands of native forest and marsh.  Many holes favor a player who can work his ball with the driver to leave the best angle for the approach. 

 

“There are a number of forced carries to tighter fairways at The Players Club than at our other two courses,” said Golf Course General Manager Dave Kjome.  “The greens have the undulation much like The Founders Club.”   The areas surrounding the greens generally allow for chipping and tend not to exact such a severe toll on a player that misses the green.  Being the newest of the three courses at St. James Plantation, there are fewer homes built along its fairways.  The course has achieved the designation “Audubon Certified Cooperative Sanctuaries” by Audubon International, as have the other two courses at St. James. 


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The fifth green offers a good opportunity for birdie for those up to the challenge of an approach over water.

 

The course begins with a short par-four and par-three, which give the player no indication of the nature of things to come.  The greens are fairly large and offer chances for good scores right out of the gate.  The third hole narrows and presents one of Cate’s often-used waste bunkers to guard the left side of the fairway and the corner of the dogleg.  This will not be the last.

 

The fourth hole presents the player with his first forced carries, both off the tee and on the approach to the green.  The hole measures just 364 yards from the back, allowing the player a chance to gain the confidence necessary for what lies ahead.  The fifth hole is a reachable par-five of just 500 yards.  A player going for eagle must negotiate a large lake, which runs up the right side of the fairway and fronts the green.  The green is large and receptive to a long iron approach.  Ample space is provided for a lay up to the left.  Most players are probably feeling pretty good about their game upon leaving this green as the first five holes have offered some scoring opportunities.  The nature of things is about to change.


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The approach shot into the sixth green demands accuracy and a long carry. A drop area and the front ladies tee are located on the bridge over the marsh.

 

“It’s funny.  The rangers and starters will always explain the layout of the holes to new players.  Once you get to number six, its like Amen Corner,” said Dave Kjome.  “You have six, seven and eight which are very difficult holes here at The Players Club.”  The sixth hole is a 413-yard par-four, which doglegs severely to the right.  The hole demands a drive played long enough to reach the end of the fairway to allow a view of the green.  There is no opportunity to cut the corner.  A conservative play to the left side of the fairway leaves a very long second shot played over a marsh area to a large green, which diagonals away from the player from front right to back left.  Pay particular attention to the pin placement when selecting a club for the approach shot.  It is no wonder that this hole carries the number one handicap rating.

 

This is the first of two holes on the course that allows women to choose to play the hole as a par four from 313 yards or as a par 3 from 76 yards.  The front women’s tee is built on the bridge crossing the marsh and is played off Astroturf.  “I think it is one of the unique holes out here,” said Kjome. 


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The tee shot on hole number seven offers a significant carry and tricky winds through the pines.

 

The second hole in “Amen Corner” is the seventh hole, a par three of 219 yards. The tee shot is played over a large marsh area to a large, multi-tiered green.  Club selection is key to have your tee shot end up on the proper level.  A large, deep bunker is located on the front left of the green while a large bunker and mounding frame the rear of the green.  Completely surrounded by trees, the wind can be tricky on this hole.

 

The final hole in “Amen Corner” is a number eight, a par four of 418 yards. The tee shot on this dogleg left should favor the left side and must be hit up hill and long enough to be able to see the green around the corner.  The approach shot is played over a grass bunker area running left of a narrow fairway from 130 yards into the green.  There are no bunkers on this hole but a four is a very good score.


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The tee shot from the back tees at number twelve must carry this multi-colored marsh area.

 

The back nine opens with a narrow par four demanding precision off the tee.  The eleventh hole, a par three, plays from 89 yards to 192 yards, depending on the tee boxes used by the player.  The farther back the player tees, the more marsh and trees the player must carry.

 

The par-four twelfth hole plays 406 yards. The tee shot from the gold and black tees must be played over a large marsh area to a wide fairway, which doglegs slightly to the left. The remaining tees are situated to the right and eliminate the marsh off the tee and straighten the dogleg on this hole.  A large bunker defines the right of the landing area and a lake guards the left side.  A properly played drive will catch a down slope and leave the player with a short approach shot to an elevated green guarded by bunkers front right and back left.


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The fourteenth hole is one of the best views on the course.

 

The thirteenth hole, a par four of 440 yards, presents a blind tee shot over a rise and back down a hill to a wide landing area.  The second shot is played over a hazard that fronts the green.  The fourteenth hole is one of the most photographed holes at The Players Club.  The 173-yard, par-three features a beautiful, tree-lined setting and a quiet pond to the right of the green.  A large bunker contained by a bulkhead also guards the right.  Pin placement can greatly affect a player’s success on this hole as the difficulty increases the further back and to the right the pin is cut.  Take a moment on this tee to appreciate the beauty of this part of NC. 

 

The fifteenth hole is a fairly straight par five which again demands length and strength off the tee.  The green is slightly raised and is guarded by several deep bunkers.   The sixteenth hole is played over a marsh off the tee and favors a slight fade to avoid running through the fairway.  Closely mown collection areas, and subtle swales, surround this green.  The seventeenth hole features the last forced carry on the course.  The drive is played over a marsh through trees to an elevated landing area leaving a mid-iron to a two-tiered green with a deep bunker front right and a bunker back left.  This hole also offers a front tee for women at 100 yards and allows the hole to be played as a par 3.  The course plays to a par of 70 for the ladies who utilize the front tees on number six and seventeen.


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The narrow, tree-lined fairway of number eighteen with the clubhouse in the distance.

 

The final hole is a par five of 559 yards.  The narrow driving hole favors a fade off the tee that avoids a fairway bunker down the right.  A large waste bunker runs nearly 200 yards down the left side of the fairway and narrows the player’s options for the second shot.  A pair of bunkers on the right will also affect the second shot selection. The approach is to an elevated green with a large bunker front left.

 

The new clubhouse, scheduled to open in February 2005, stands behind the final green and will provide all players a place to assess their performance on the course and share stories of their experiences in “Amen Corner.”

 

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


Details:

The Players Club at St. James Plantation

3684 Players Club Drive

Southport, NC  28461

 

Phone:  (800) 281-6626

 

Website:  www.stjamesplantation.com

 

Course Architect:  Tim Cate

Golf Course General Manager:  Dave Kjome

Head Golf Professional:  Steve Isley

 

Tees              Yardage/Slope     Rating

Par 72:

Gold                   6940/150           74.6

Black                 6402/143           71.9

White                 6000/134           70.1

Green                 5447/122           67.4

Teal                   4902/121           69.6

Par 70:

Teal (Front)        4463/113           66.6

 

Rates:

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 is scheduled to open a new 8,500 square foot clubhouse in February 2005.  The Players 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. 

 

Pace of play is enforced with a timing device mounted on the cart 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.  Player’s assistants and a drink cart were available throughout the round.  Players are encouraged to fill divots with sand and fresh bottles are available at several locations on the course.  Sprinkler heads are marked for yardage and are outlined by orange paint to assist the player in locating them.  There are also stone yardage plaques in the fairway at 200, 150 and 100 yards.  All fairways have a black and white pole in the center at 150 yards that assists the player off the tee in lining up the drive.  The carts are equipped with a pin position sheet with the greens divided into five zones.  I would suggest purchasing a yardage book to play this course successfully.  Wind can play a factor on this course due to its proximity to the Intracoastal Waterway and the ocean.  A driving range is available and range balls may be purchased in the pro shop.

 

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


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E-mail Jeff Rendall, Editor:
jrendall@golftheunitedstates.com