Variety and elegance in Outer Banks golf courses

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Sports,Golf,Kevin Dunleavy

Area's golf scene loaded with upscale amenities

When Bryan Sullivan moved with his family to the Outer Banks in 1979, there were only two golf courses in the area, including one operated by his father.

For a 14-year-old with golfing aspirations, Seascape Golf Links was a perfect training ground. In the summer months, when the Outer Banks filled with vacationers, the course got busy. The rest of the year, Sullivan had his run of the place, honing his game enough to earn All-America honors at North Carolina.

Decades later, Sullivan is director of golf at Kilmarlic Golf Club, one of a bounty of stunning courses that now serve the Outer Banks. Just as the resort bears little resemblance to what Sullivan knew as a youth, the local golf scene has changed dramatically, drawing players from March to November, many of them seeking the amenities that have come to define the upscale destination.

Consider a golf massage, followed by dinner, drinks and the sunset at AQUA, an elegant restaurant/spa in Duck that backs up to the Currituck Sound. Another option after a long day of golf: Chefs-on-Call service from Red Sky Caf?. The famed restaurant in Duck will send its chefs on the road for remote preparation of eclectic favorites such as Thai pork spring roll, shrimp n' grits and soft-shell crab.

There is no better example of elegance and convenience than a stay at the plush golf cottage at Kilmarlic, which can accommodate eight or more players. Out the back porch is the 18th hole, which wraps gracefully around a lake. The front porch overlooks the first tee and the lake-guarded fourth green. A right turn off the porch leaves players steps away from fine dining at the exceptionally-appointed clubhouse.

Anyone who visits the area in the summer knows all too well about crowds. But Kilmarlic, located five miles from Wright Memorial Bridge, which connects the Outer Banks to the mainland, is all about wooded solitude. As dusk approached during a blissfully woozy hour on the putting green after dinner and several Carolina Blonde Ales, only one car passed, the lone soundtrack provided by the persistent cicadas.

Eleven-year-old Kilmarlic, set on the Albermarle Sound, is tree-lined and tough. Even at a mere 6,550 yards from the back tees, it is a staunch enough test to have hosted the North Carolina Open twice. Water, wetlands and deep, penal bunkers give vivid definition to Kilmarlic, which includes an island green (No. 11).

Kilmarlic is one of three worthy tracks off Route 158 approaching the Outer Banks. The Pointe Golf Club, across the highway from Kilmarlic, is beautifully-conditioned and player-friendly at 6,343 stress-free yards, with a course rating of 70.0. Further from the beaches, the Carolina Club also is meticulously manicured but places more emphasis on length at 6,952 yards. After six benign holes, the island green at No. 7 is daunting. Water again is the theme at the enticing, parallel par-5 finishing holes, No. 9 and 18.

The top two courses on the beach strip are stellar for completely different reasons. The Currituck Club has several holes that play along the Sound, some surprising elevation change, and boasts the brilliant 11th hole, a par-3 surrounded by luxury dwellings, serving as theater-in-the-round.

Nags Head Golf Links in Kitty Hawk, windswept and Scottish-style, is called by Golf Digest, "the longest 6,126 yards you'll play." Island fairways and greens, cut through dunes, are the dominant theme of the course, where precision is at a premium. Seven holes along the Roanoke Sound are the most scenic stretch of golf on the Outer Banks, a claim that carries weight considering the competition.

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kevin Dunleavy

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner