Mystical and Mystifying Ocean Forest

Mystical and Mystifying Ocean Forest

The Hampton River is a gorgeous backdrop to the par-3 fifth. (photo: reesjones.com)

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

The setting is mystical and the clubhouse, with one of the game’s great locker rooms, elevates the club to elite status and often lofty course rankings. 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 oaks and loblollies of a triangular-shaped property, working methodically to the banks of the Hampton River on the north side, back inland, and finally out the dunes and the sea shore at the final two holes.

The biggest criticism is the monotony of the holes — there’s too little to distinguish them as they run in either northeast or the southwest directions. 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 hole files. The greens are severely built up, the fairway bunkering comes in a few basic styles, the greens are protected by deep patented squiggle bunkers and only about three holes the bend with any real strategic meaning.

Occasionally there’s something surprising: the low waves of green contour that roll into the fairway 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 play unnervingly close to a wetland canal to create ticklish approach shots. The par-3 17th, it must be said, placed out on a point near the ocean, is magnificent in the way the green’s 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, running straightaway into a predictably elevated green flanked with deep bunkers at the opening, happens to achieve it.

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 — and should be — a Top 100 golf course. As spectacular as the setting and scenery are, I’d prefer to play Tom Fazio’s nearby Seaside Course 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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