From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten:
The afternoon after I played Tom Fazio's Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington, N.C., I literally crossed the street and played Porters Neck Country Club, another Fazio layout. At the time, it came highly recommended by one of my fellow writers at Golf Digest, which is why I sought it out. Turns out Porters Neck was also the reason Eagle Point even exists. A member named Bobby Long got tired of never being able to get a decent tee time, so along with three other Porters Neck members, he went south of Porters Neck Road and built his own golf course.
I played Porters Neck with its longtime head pro Robert Loper, and no sooner had we teed it up than a bolt of lightning struck a tree just a few hundred yards away, so we hustled back to the clubhouse. Following an hour-long monsoon, we were able to get back out and ahead of the crowd by playing the back nine first. But the heat, humidity and threatening skies were too much, so at the turn we simply toured the front nine in a cart before I packed it in and left.
At the time, I left unimpressed. Porters Neck looked old and tired and rather unexciting. Of course, I was comparing it to Eagle Point, a spectacular production that cost probably $25 million more that was spent in creating Porters Neck. Still, my verdict was that Porters Neck was a housing development course with homes too close, bunkers too bland and greens too dull. It reminded me very much of Pinehurst No. 6, which I've always thought was the most ordinary Tom Fazio design I’ve ever seen.
In retrospect, I was too harsh. After all, Porters Neck was ranked among the top 25 in North Carolina for a time, and having been built in 1991, was representative of Fazio's architecture at that time, when he was at the cusp of his create-an-environment philosophy, still massaging the land instead of totally churning it up as he would do across the street at Eagle Point.
I recently found my old notes on my round at Porters Neck, and I found some pluses. I liked how Fazio had saddled most fairways between tree-lines to collect tee shots and how he framed nearly every hole with something directly in front of the tee box—a grassy swale, a wetlands, a pond, even an elaborate sandy waste area.
I also unearthed a 1991 photo of the par-5 15th. It had been built in an open field back then, with no homes yet built. The 15th green was a punchbowl, tucked behind a large bunker that was shaped and vegetated like an ocean dune. (The Atlantic is just a quarter mile east, so it wouldn't have looked out of place.) A long ridge had been created behind the green (to hide a proposed residential street), and the ridge, too, was shaped and landscaped like a sand dune. Over time, developers came in, planted trees, paved roads, built homes and the links-like appearance of the hole morphed into a conventional residential development corridor.
In 2020, McConnell Golf purchased Porters Neck and has already renovated the bunkers. In the process, someone (I don't yet know who) reestablished the sand-dune look of the ridge behind the punchbowl 15th green. That's an encouraging start. Porters Neck had more character and personality in the beginning than I had remembered, and I'm guessing a lot of it could still be reclaimed.