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  4. Lion's Paw Golf Links

OCEAN ISLE BEACH, NC – Some say that Lion’s Paw might just be Willard Byrd’s best work. I tend to agree, especially since fellow architect Tim Cate had a place in the design.

From the Blue Tees the course measures a challenging 7003 yards and is rated 74.0/132. The White Tees play to a healthy 6457 yards and are rated 71.3/128. The Gold Tees show 5872 yards and are rated 67.5/118 for the men and 71.0/126 for the ladies. The Red Tees are 5363 yards at 69.0/121. The course is a great mixture of distance and strategy.

Whether you start on No. 1, or No.10 you’ll face a challenge. Each hole is a Par 4 and handicapped #1 and #2 respectfully. Hole 1 is a slight dogleg left measuring 387 yards from the White Tees. Fairway traps at the top of the turn will catch an errant push, while even the slightest pull drops you in the rough. Sand bunkers on the right front protect the green.

The Par 4 Hole 10 is every bit as challenging, but with a strikingly different look. A narrow berm passes in front of the tee box cutting through the right edge of the fairway. Be certain not to overplay to the left and find the well-placed fairway trap. The berm again crosses the fairway in front of the green, which is well protected by sand bunkers on the left and right. Both holes are well deserving of their low handicap rating.

While the Par 4s present some distant challenges, the Par 3s certainly contribute. Averaging almost 174 yards in length, each has a distinct characteristic. Hole 3 has a low handicap (3) for a Par 3. You can bailout left and short, but right and long are dreadful. Par here is a good score. Hole 6 is particularly interesting. A large pond faces you from the tee, but it’s the two large sand hazards front and right of the green that catch the most shots.

With the Par 4s and Par 3s quite challenging, the Par 5s offer an opportunity to score. Be aware that they will punish you for poor shots. The Par 5 handicaps rate fairly high. Each is reachable in regulation for the average golfer. Get it close and drain a putt and you’ll make up for some earlier miscues.

Hole 8 challenges you with a clear line over the bunkers that guard the slight dogleg right. Clear those hazards and the bangers can have a run at the green. Those of us that are distance challenged will lay-up within 100-yards while avoiding the second set of sand hazards.

The only water coming into play on the Par 5s is found on Hole 13. It follows you up the right side and can certainly catch an errant push or slice. However, it protects the landing area forcing the player to either carry the water to the green, or lay-up short of the water or be forced to add a club length to the approach. Sand hazards protect the left and right sides of the green.

The new MiniVerde Greens have been installed this summer and are in great shape. Nice undulation and a true roll make putting a pleasure. The fairways are not particularly wide and the rough can be treacherous. The popular fine-grained sugar sand fills the hazards. They can be a real challenge. Arrive in plenty of time to check-in and get to the driving range.

Although not the most difficult of the Big Cats at Ocean Ridge Plantation, Lion’s Paw offers all that you’ll want in a great golf course. If you can handle two in a day, make sure your add Lion’s Paw to your Big Cats list.