Golf As It Should Be

by Nov 1, 2023South Brunswick, Tee Time with Larry

Thistle Golf Club, the Scottish-style links course in Sunset Beach, checks all the right boxes.

Thistle Golf Club in Sunset Beach nearing its 25th anniversary, and the rave reviews of this Tim Cate gem are continuing. Among its many awards is a Golf Week 2023 Best Places You Can Play citation.

From the moment you turn off Georgetown Road and drive through the gated entrance, you know you are in for a memorable golf experience. I met with General Manager Kevan Moore on a steamy August afternoon, and Thistle was alive with play.

With three separate nine-hole layouts, and six sets of tees, plus a combo tee for white/gold players, Thistle delivers a private golf club experience to the public for a very reasonable price. There is no question you can play elsewhere for less, but do not let your golf visit to Brunswick County end without playing 18 or 27 at Thistle. Whether you seek the 7000 yard Thistle tees or the 4000 yard Teals, you will thoroughly enjoy the excellence, pride and tradition of this golf course experience.

Thistle Golf Course Brunswick NC

Moore is justifiably proud of the spacious, inviting old world–style clubhouse and the friendly staff that greets you and treats you there. The fully stocked pro shop is another clue that you are in a special place. Do not be surprised if the parking lot is packed and the bag drop is abuzz because the place runs like a Swiss watch. Once you settle in to the bucket seat golf cart, replete with state-of-the-art GPS and graphics, the ride is just beginning.

Thistle’s history goes back to its 1815 Scottish namesake, and the local Thistle’s nines are named Cameron, Stewart and Mackay, after three Scottish clans whose mottoes are respectively Unite, Courage and Strong Hand. Each track has holes that look inviting but will still challenge you, and a few of the go-no-go decisions will test your mettle.

You will find the TifEagle Bermuda greens are neatly manicured by Superintendent John Pridgen and typically Stimp 9 to 11 — so spend some time on the practice green to get ready. Pridgen has been at the course since it was under construction and takes great pride in its consistent quality. Thistle received inclusion in the Golfers Choice: Top 25 Best-Conditioned Courses in the United States list for 2023. The overall practice facility is top-notch, so come early to warm up.

Thistle Golf Club and Estates initially was conceived as a luxury private club with only 147 homes behind the gates, but the 2008 recession did it in, and the current owners bought it out of bankruptcy in 2013. The bank’s loss is your gain, as you get to enjoy it all, since the new owners are committed to maintaining the private course aspects at a public course price. Thistle does sell a limited number of Hickory Stick loyalty card packages that get you a bargain rate after paying an upfront fee. And note that Thistle also supports the local First Tee of Brunswick County. A First Tee card affords players a one-time, post-1 pm round for only $49.

Thistle Golf Club

Speaking of the homes, many are spectacular with amazing views, and the balance is being built out by Classic Homes of Myrtle Beach and other select custom home builders. About 70 homes are completed now, but Thistle will never be overwhelmed by the housing — it is all about GOLF!

After your 18 holes — or after 9, if you choose — Pot Bunker Pub serves delicious snacks and meals at reasonable prices.

They also have monthly Thursday theme dinners, a Nine and Dine program and assorted Tuesday night competitions. They host many a charity tournament and outside catered event as well. I know this is a golf article, but please do not forget the restaurant is open to the public, and even the breakfast fare gets public acclaim!

But back to the golf. I toured the layout with Head Golf Professional Brian Eckley PGA and reminisced over some of my historic — and occasionally hysterical — shots. The fairways are generous and well-manicured; traps abound and feature revetted facing (“stacked sod”) that does not wash out like so many other courses. This is an expensive process, but I think you will feel like you are in Scotland when you play them.

My personal favorite is Cameron, where you start with a straightforward par 4, and then must figure out on number 2 how much of the water hazard you want to risk going over. On number 4 it is a beautiful island green with two Tim Cate signature bunkers into the water’s edge! And the seventh hole requires a carefully calibrated drive to avoid the water off the tee, followed by a deft shot over it to the green. You end on a narrow par 5 with an enormous green, ready to face even greater challenges.

Stewart epitomizes risk/reward, starting with a short par 4 where you just cannot believe how far left the tee shot needs to be, and then a forced carry over the water on number 2. There are more tough decisions when you get to 4, a reachable par 5, IF you can bomb the tee shot over the water! Once you get to number seven you are facing three tough (but fair) challenges — number 7 requires two tremendous shots to get to the green. Number 8 requires precision off the tee to stay dry and a deft high shot to carry the bunker onto the green. Stewart 9 might be the toughest par three you play—a long shot over water to a severely crowned green—a fitting end to any match but a hole you would like to be 2 up going into!

Thistle Golf Club Putting

Mackay seems straightforward enough till you reach the challenging par 5 7th, where you have a water hazard to negotiate on your tee shot and a marsh to navigate for your third shot — only the bold try to reach this one in two. You finish on the par 5 9th where the third shot is over water to a large green, and par is not assured.

If these courses sound like fun, you are right. You must bring some courage and your thinking cap to shoot well, and there is a rewarding stop at the Pot Bunker Pub, no matter how your golf day goes.

The Thistle checks all the boxes: great holes, a great watering hole and slick greens — it’s golf as it should be.

Want to play?
Thistle Golf Club
1815 Old Thistle Downs Drive SW, Sunset Beach
(910) 444-2500
Thistle’s Pot Bunker Pub is open to the public.