Kilmarlic Golf Club review

March 17, 2008 4:00:27 PM PDT
Kilmarlic Golf Club is an under-heralded gem on North Carolina's Outer Banks.

Aside from a retooled Sea Scape Golf Links, it is the newest course in the area, having opened in November, 2002. I've played Kilmarlic two times in two summer visits in consecutive years, and still want more of it.

At Kilmarlic, architect Tom Steele has crafted a test that challenges and rewards aggressive play, while still allowing less-accomplished golfers to still have a good time. This semi-private course winds through scenic forest, lakes, and fifteen acres of coastal ponds. You'll challenge water on at least nine holes, including four of five par three's---the 2nd, the 5th, and the 11th. Note Kilmarlic's course ratings, slopes, and lengths, and you'll appreciate the potential for scoring very well, or badly.

We immensely enjoyed the par three's. The course has five of them, four of which require exciting forced carries over water.

You will also deal with water along the left side of the number one handicap, the 371/443/459/487 yard, par four, 6th. This is a Herculean hole---longer from the tips than plenty of par 5's on other courses. Put a good swing on your tee shot, and hope not to hook it into the drink.

The back nine delivers several interesting challenges through the first six holes, and a stern test from the last three, starting with the #2 handicap, 419/507/529/552 yard, par five, 16th. The fairway doglegs slightly left, around wetlands which begin 256 yards from the back tees. Strong players should consider a fairway metal from the tee, or else bunt a driver. The farther left your ball strays, the bigger your challenge for the second shot. You'll hit across the hazard, cutting off as much as you dare for a safe landing in the narrow fairway. I used a mid-iron, followed by a wedge into the green. Great hole.

Any close match demands a strong finishing hole, and you'll find one in Kilmarlic's par five, 369/446/486/514 yard 18th. Yet another lake laps along much of the left side of the fairway to a modified cape-style green. From the tee, favor the right side unless you hope to reach the green in two shots. If that's the case, you'll want to shorten your approach by hugging that water on the left. But be careful. My partner and I hit what we thought would be good, drawing drives to the left-center, only to discover that the fairway kicked our balls farther left than we imagines possible---his into the lake; mine teetering on the edge. He went for broke, and splashed again. I played a five-iron over a bunker guarding the center of the fairway, leaving a routine pitch into the green. How nice to play a finishing hole that offers multiple options.

Both times I've seen Kilmarlic, the greens rolled true, but not particularly fast. Most putts from inside twenty feet featured one or two breaks which usually weren't severe, although if cut closer, the devil would come out in them. I'm a bit partial to the greens at Kilmarlic because the Golf Gods were kind to me. In my first round, there, I made a total of twenty-four putts, scoring five birdies and an eagle on the 279/242/219/192 yard, par four, 8th. The latter came on a Texas wedged bump-and-run.

In my elation, I posted a nine on the next hole. Yes---nine. We found the ambience at Kilmarlic to be low-key, confident, and first class. The staff was friendly, helpful, and not obsequious. The course is designed with privacy in mind. You'll rarely see other golfers. The daily fee, while exceeding $100 in peak season, includes a golf cart, practice green, and all the range balls you can hit from a grass tee. Thankfully, the staff does NOT pile those balls in triangles.

In our first visit, we appreciated how concrete cart paths gave way to pine straw once a golfer left the teeing areas. I've always thought concrete paths to be unnatural. They look bad and they lend worse bounces to already bad shots. Alas, upon returning in June, 2005, we noted additional concrete paths under construction, but hidden in the trees, at least. "We're not happy about having to do it," confided a staff member, "but we were losing too much revenue on rainy days."

Despite this one concession to commercialism, Kilmarlic remains one of my favorite courses, anywhere. It allows a player to be bold or conservative, depending on his game. It offers tantalizing, but treacherous short par four's, and exciting, fun shots all the way around.

Maybe a third time will be the charm.