The old Donald Ross design at Wilmington Municipal Golf Course has been stretched down the years to 6,784 yards from the back tees, playing to a par of 71. John Fought rejuvenated Wilmington’s greensites and drainage in 2014.
The four-month $1.5 million-renovation project focused on doubling green sizes which had shrunk over the years, rebuilding bunkers to their original size and shape, extending closely mown green surrounds to offer more recovery options, and upgrading golf cart paths and tee boxes.
John Fought returned three years later to fashion a new three-hole short course, featuring multiple sets of tees, a short driving range and a practice green. One of the main beneficiaries of this new facility is the First Tee of Greater Wilmington Youth Program, which gives younger players the chance to get into the game.
Wilmington Golf Course is a Donald Ross design from 1926. This is a true asset for the City of Wilmington and residents. Great value.
Wilmington’s start is not welcoming. The first hole is a long, albeit, straight away par four. OB right and the right and left bunkers are about 70 yards in front of the green. The second is a reachable par 5. Couple of random fairway bunkers and one greenside left. The challenge is a ditch that crosses the fairway about 150 yards out. Basic rule of thumb, good drive, good lie, go for it, otherwise lay up. The third is a long slight dogleg right. It is the number one handicap hole. Off the tee favor the left to ensure that you are not blocked out. Couple of greenside bunkers, but its teeth is its length. The first par three is long and forgettable. The 5th leans left and there is plenty of room right. The bunker on the left is about 50 yards short of the green. Now come the birdie oppties. The only real challenge on 6 is the left fairway bunker. Ideal tee shot is just to the right of it, there is OB right. There is a greenside bunker left and two random fairway bunkers right and left. The 7th is a short par four. The only real challenge are the four greenside bunkers. The 8th is the shortest hole with a front, right and left bunkers. The par five 9th is reachable the key is avoiding the fairway bunker right and the three on the left. There is also a front greenside bunker.
The back starts off with a long par that parallels the first hole. There are two fairway bunkers, middle and left about 60 yards in front of the green. The 11th is rated the easiest golf hole on the course. A mid-length par three with a bunker short of the green and one front right and front left. The 12th is the longest par 5 that bends right. There are fairway bunkers left in the landing zone. Also, a creek cuts across the fairway about 200 yards out. The green sits on a perch with 3 greenside bunkers. The13th is straightaway with no real difficulty other than its length. The 14th is parallel to 13, about 50 yards shorter with a green surrounded by 4 bunkers. The 15th parallels 14 and has 3 greenside bunkers. The 16th is a long par 3, do not be ashamed to hit driver. The 17th is short par four that leans a wee bit left. There are right and left fairway bunkers in the landing area and three bunkers in front of the green. The 18th runs straight back to the clubhouse. Downhill drive with an uphill approach.
Not one of his more imaganitive designs, but the layout has certainly withstood the hands of time.
Course condition can be suspect, but take the chance to play this Ross design.
Local residents are blessed to have such an affordable Ross gem sitting right in the middle of town at the Wilmington Municipal Golf Club.
In fact, for its size, Wilmington is fortunate to have two great historical Ross courses in Wilmington Municipal and Cape Fear Country Club. Most literature I have reviewed suggests that ‘experts’ feel WMGC is stronger than CFCC. Personally, I feel each has individual strengths and that in both cases, Ross’ routing expertise shines through.
The topography of the WMGC site is hillier and far more compelling than the land at CFCC, and for that reason, I think the best holes at WMGC are stronger than the best holes at CFCC, though I slightly prefer the overall package at CFCC.
For me, the most memorable stretch at WMGC is early in the round from holes 2 – 4. The 2nd is a stout par five with a natural creek bisecting the fairway; even with a great drive, going for two is challenging with woods left and OB right. The 3rd is a wild, dog leg par four with massive fairway tilt and a blind tee shot into a valley, and back up to the crest where a perched green awaits. The standout hat-trick ends on a truly excellent, intimidating Ross Volcano on the 4th. Ross’ genius to fit such compelling holes into the edge/corner of this property is marvelous.
Even without playing the course, you can tell you are in for a diverse round when looking at an aerial of WMGC. The holes run in pretty much every direction imaginable, which is important given the breezy coastal conditions. There are greens and tee shots with such fascinating cross bunkering (or no bunkering!) that call for draws, fades, run-ups, aerial shots, and more. Hole lengths vary considerably, and while I did not especially appreciate the 16th’s 260 yard par three tee shot, I was glad to hit every single club in my bag (probably twice!) throughout my round.
The conditions at WMGC are just as they should be – fitting to the natural, sandy environs of this coastal city. Personally, I think the club should adopt even more of the Pinehurst like sandscape and eliminate all rough, since the least well-maintained parts of the course were the last remaining Bermuda rough patches.
I found my greens fee as an out-of-towner to be a little steep for the overall experience. That said, WMGC is worth the stop for a relatively inexpensive Ross gem, and a fun round in an already wonderful seaside community.