Mystical–and Mystifying–Ocean Forest

The Hampton River is a gorgeous backdrop to the par-3 fifth.

There’s no denying there’s an enchanting quality about Ocean Forest, the ultra-private club on the north tip of Sea Island off the coast of Brunswick, GA. The feeling is that you’re playing golf in a hideaway on one of the last undeveloped tracts in the coastal south, the final remaining barrier between ocean and civilization.

The setting is mystical and the clubhouse, with one of the grandest locker rooms in the game, elevates the club to an elite status and ranking. But we don’t dwell on locker rooms, clubhouses or auras here. We talk about the golf, and frankly it’s underwhelming considering what a rare piece of land it is.

The routing switches back and forth through the ancient oak and loblollies of a triangular-shaped property, working methodically first to the banks of the Hampton River on the north side and finally out the dunes and the sea shore at the final two holes.

The biggest criticism I have is the monotony of the holes—there’s little true variety among them, almost all of which run either toward the northeast or the southwest. The property is tight but such a rudimentary parallel routing devalues the setting.

The swales of Ocean Forest’s par-4 4th continue all the way through the green.

From a design perspective, it’s like Jones simply grabbed his A, B and C files. There are about four basic green patterns here, two types of fairway bunker, a lot of his patented squiggle bunkers around the greens and only about three holes that bend with any strategic meaning.

Occasionally there’s something surprising: the low waves of green contour at the long par-4 4th; the textbook left-to-right/right-to-left play at the par-4 8th into an angled, elevated green; and the way the two second nine par-5’s run unnervingly close to a wetland canal creating ticklish approach shots. The par-3 17th, it must be said, out on a point near the ocean, is magnificent and indescribable in the way the green site contours flow and blend ethereally into the surrounds.

But much of Ocean Forest could belong to any quality course in the southeast, and too many undistinguished holes have to be plowed through to get to the good ones. I never thought a hole that runs entirely along the Atlantic Ocean could be anticlimactic, but Ocean Forest’s 18th is, running straightaway into a predictably elevated green flanked with deep bunkers at the opening.

The scenic if not quite thrilling 18th.

Perhaps it’s a victim of its own elevated expectation, but you leave Ocean Forest wanting more and wondering why you weren’t totally blown away by what’s supposed to be a Top 100 golf course. As spectacular as the setting and scenery are, I’d prefer to play Tom Fazio’s Seaside Course down the street four out of every five times I visit Sea Island (that may become five out of five if certain people I know read this review.) (89)

Ocean Forest Golf Club

Sea Island

Architect: Rees Jones

Year: 1995

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