POWELLS POINT, N.C. – Golf has been played around the Outer Banks of North Carolina since 1988 but its development was a slow one. Nags Head Links was the first to open, and The Sound Links, The Pointe, Currituck, Carolina Club, Kilmarlic, The Pines and Scotch Hall Preserve all were taking players by 2008.
Those courses all had their followings among residents and visitors to the area, which divides the Atlantic Ocean from the Currituck Sound. The problem was keeping those players there. There wasn’t enough lodging geared to golfers.
That shortcoming was alleviated only recently when the Kilmarlic Club Cottages were built. There’s 18 of them, all named after former Masters champions. Each has two bedrooms and two baths plus a full kitchen, living room and back deck that includes a gas grill. Thirteen surround a lighted 5,000 square foot putting green and five are set near a small pond.
There’s also a four-hole short course, called The Killie. Its holes range from 27 to 40 yards.
Bryan Sullivan, co-owner of Kilmarlic Resort and Club, saw a definite uptick in play after the cottages were completed in April of 2019. The construction of all of them took 14 months. The pandemic forced a slow start to the 2020 season, but Sullivan reports “our best June, July, August and September we’ve ever had’’ since then.
“(The cottages) were a big investment,’’ said Sullivan, “but I always felt fairly confident we could get the golf rentals. The big question was whether we could get the summertime family rentals. As it’s turned out, those rentals have been a big hit and a big surprise.’’
It wasn’t just the golf that made them work. Other attractions – notably a water park within walking distance and the always popular Wright Brothers historic air flight museum and monument in Kitty Hawk – brought in families, too. So did the availability of watersports.
“As I like to tell guests, you can have your toes in the ocean in 10 minutes from here,’’ said Sullivan. “After the first six cottages were completed and we saw the reaction to them, we knew we had it. It was a home run for us.’’
The Kilmarlic course, recognized as one of the best in not only the Outer Banks but state-wide as well, is certainly an attraction. As site of the North Carolina Open in 2004 and 2009, it’s no secret to golfers. It’s also been the annual site of the OBX Intercollegiate, hosted by Old Dominion. At the 2019 staging of that event Michael O’Brien, of St. Joseph’s of Pennsylvania, shot a course record 61.
Sullivan, who played on both the PGA and Canadian pro tours, had shared the old record of 63, his hot round coming in the North Carolina Open. He’s been at Kilmarlic from its beginning, when Tom Steele designed the course. Steele, a landscape architect from Virginia, designed only one other course – Nansemond River in Suffolk, VA. It opened in 1999.
Though not well known in golf architecture, Steele created a course that’s not long (6,615 yards from the back tees) and has no real signature hole.
He had 605 acres have maritime forests and wetlands wo work with and Sullivan likes the par-5 ninth as his favorite hole.
High grass in front of most of the tees creates the illusion that the holes are longer than they really area. The par-3s are all easy on the eye and present a variety of challenges. The par-5s all have a risk-reward look.
The course’s name came from a ship from Kilmarnock, Scotland, that sank off the shores of the Outer Banks in the mid-1600s. Apparently the ship was filled with whiskey and the area residents enjoyed a big celebration after confiscating it.