Oak Island Par Three Golf Course
Oak Island Par Three at South Harbour offers a great game of golf for a fraction of the time and cost.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Kristin Goode
Even in a coastal town where outdoor attractions rule, not everyone can spend half a day and the equivalent of a week’s grocery bill to chase a small ball around on manicured grass. That’s why God invented Par 3 courses, and Oak Island is blessed to have one. (Well, some taxpayers disagree, but that comes later.)
Most players finish 18 holes at Oak Island Par Three at South Harbour in about two hours, less time and for less money than players on fancy courses spend on the 19th hole. It’s challenging terrain, so beginners, serious golfers, young and old, everyone gets something out of it. At least that’s the pitch of the marketing team, an ad hoc committee of residents appointed by town council, who want to increase participation and enhance the experience at the public Par 3.
John Falk stops the cart on the path to show me the putter he uses. It belonged to his father, who died years ago. It’s vintage with a straight shaft and a reversible, flat-face, well-worn head, a far-distant cousin to contemporary models. He points to the attached tag he had engraved with his dad’s name, a tribute to the man who taught him to love the game. As fate would have it, Falk, now retired, leads the small band of volunteers whose task is to ensure that this Par 3 course stays around for future generations.
“This is good value for everyone,” Falk says. A vacationer “can sneak in a short round of golf and be back with the family in two or two and half hours.” Or bring the kids. Children pay half-price and their rental clubs are free. In summer, people come from all over, and intergenerational play is popular, he says.
One family holds a two-day tournament with about 16 family members competing. What they’ll notice this summer is much better greens. Reseeding, which started in late summer 2015, is coming in beautifully, Falk says. New tee signs — most bearing a sponsor’s name — are on order. Improvements to approaches, fairways, sand traps and water hazards remain on the to-do list, as well as updates inside the pro shop.
“Because of budget, we can’t do it all in one year,” Falk says. Still, he dreams big and small. He hopes to see a donated memorial fountain in the pond at the 18th hole, and he’s investigating bat houses to keep the bugs at bay.
“What we have is not a typical Par 3, but a miniature full-size course,” he says. “We have some great holes, including seven with water.”
Rolling topography and tricky hazards keep the course interesting, and by moving pins and tee boxes around, challenges can change. Because 65 percent of shots in an average game are short shots, serious golfers can bring their score down just by coming out here and practicing their short game, Falk adds.
Back in the pro shop, a threesome has finished play. “This is a great little course. Very scenic. Beautiful greens,” says George Phillips, a visitor from Chapel Hill. He and his two friends, both local residents, often play at Oak Island Golf Club. “The beauty of this is being able to walk. We will definitely play it again,” he adds. Before leaving, each fills out a short survey that the marketing committee created to find out who plays and what they thought of the experience.
Golf course ownership is expensive. It rarely appears on a town’s wish list. Yet Oak Island received the Par Three at South Harbour in 2008 as a gift when the developer of the course and a 42-acre housing development around it was facing foreclosure. Many condominiums had been sold already or were partially finished. When the town agreed to accept and maintain the course, there was no public objection, according to news accounts at the time. South Harbour Village has grown up since then, and many homes hug the fairways.
When course revenues severely missed budget projections in 2013, town officials decided to take a closer look, appointing a citizens’ committee to come up with corrective actions to turn it around. A year earlier, officials discussed selling it or “regifting” the course to an interested developer. Property owners in South Harbour objected. Though not many play the course, they want to protect their investment. Fans of the course protested, too. Falk, who is in the latter camp, knew the course was a neglected gem and needed some attention.
Revenues over the past year are up, and this winter was unusually busy because of mild temperatures, says Rebecca Squires, director of Oak Island Parks and Recreation, the department that oversees Par 3 operations and maintenance. “We’re really in the business of growing a love for the game,” she says. First Tee of Brunswick County, for example, uses the venue for children’s lessons. At the other end of the spectrum, she was pleased that a group of seasoned golfers from Brunswick County Parks and Recreation, ages 50-plus, came for the first time in January.
Normally the group plays a regulation-size course each month, said Khrystye Haselden, who organizes outings for Brunswick County seniors. Good weather prompted her to add South Harbour to the itinerary. Of the 20 golfers who attended, only two had played the course before. “I got nothing but good feedback, and all expressed an interest in coming back,” she says. Three of the four octogenarians opted to walk.
Walking a Par 3 offers good cardiovascular exercise, even more so for those who shoot wildly, into the trees, into the hazards, says Falk. A one-time 6 handicap golfer, Falk is recovering from recent back surgery, so he’s riding a cart today, but insists on stopping at his favorite hole. “This helps my game,” he says, after knocking the ball with a gentle half-swing from the tee box.
Low pressure and high personal reward uniquely co-exist on a Par 3. On most courses, when golfers head out of the pro shop toward the first tee, they typically hear, “’Good luck,’” Falk says. “Here, we say, ‘Have fun.’”
Want to go?
Oak Island Par Three at South Harbour is open to the public seven days a week.
Call them at (910) 454-0905 or visit the website at oakislandparthreesouthharbour.com