By DAVID DROSCHAK
Timing is often crucial in business. Cam McRae is living proof.
McRae had just turned 30 when he bought the Eastern North Carolina rights for a little-known chicken-and-biscuit franchise. He took a calculated risk, packed up his wife and two young children and left his hometown of Charlotte to open his first Bojangles’ restaurant in Kinston.
Thirty years later, McRae has built a chain of more than 50 Bo’s across the region and southern Virginia. As president of Kinston-based Tands Inc, he’s considered Mr. Bojangles’ of the East, his popular eating establishments a model of taste, service and value.
McRae’s affinity for Eastern North Carolina is well documented. That’s one reason he took over sole ownership of Cutter Creek Golf Club in Snow Hill three years ago, rescuing it from the national recession and bringing stability and capital strength to what many consider the best new golf course to open in that region in a generation.
New home sales in the 650-acre community started out strong when the front nine of the Bob Moore-designed course opened in 2008. Then the recession hit, and sales came to a halt. The survival of the whole project hung in the balance. That’s when McRae stepped up to the plate.
“Some of the investors happened to be in the home building business or related to it, and they got caught up in that recession,” McRae said. “I just ended up being the only one left standing.
“I view the golf business and the restaurant business as being hospitality businesses. Our customers in both businesses have a lot of choices. There are plenty of restaurants out there and there are plenty of golf courses you can play. We have to provide a quality product with a smile and excellent service. That’s what we concentrate on.”
Like McRae’s spicy chicken offerings, Cutter Creek is a golf course that whets your appetite and leaves you thirsting for more golf after you make your way over picturesque Lake Nina to the 18th green.
Cutter Creek was transformed by Moore into what is arguably the best golfing experience east of Interstate 95 to the Outer Banks. Moore’s Triangle-area designs include courses such as Chapel Ridge outside of Pittsboro and Heritage Club in Wake Forest; and what he accomplished in transforming Cutter Creek is nothing short of masterful.
From the tips, it stretches 7,300-yards, but Moore has provided five sets of tees to make it playable for golfers of every skill level, with rolling fairways, significant elevation changes, mounding and stimulating water holes.
“We as golf course architects describe that as tie-ins,” Moore said. “The secret from my perspective is you’re not mounding to create separation from your golf course to your housing, you’re actually lowering your golf course into the land form. That way as the fairways drop and the features drop into the land it is much, much easier to make that tie-in from the golf course back to what is now residential property, which was the old agricultural fields. There’s a bit of an art to that.
“The last thing you really want to do in a real estate development like Cutter Creek is to create elevation change by raising your golf course; and raising the mounding and raising the green complexes because you will begin to obstruct views from the housing.”
“Lowering” the land by moving 600,000 cubic yards of dirt was the first piece of the design puzzle that makes Cutter Creek such an enjoyable and stimulating golfing journey. A few holes at Cutter Creek head back into a pine forest near Rainbow Creek, but a majority of the layout is in open space, which required some extensive planting.
How extensive? Well, for starters, Moore and his crew planted 1,700 trees. Then, 22,000 ornamental grasses were added for a total planting budget of more than $400,000.
“We planted the ornamental grasses to provide the golf course with some enclosure, some scale,” Moore said.
In addition, Moore turned a small creek into beautiful Lake Nina, which borders the entire length of the ninth and 18th, ending each hole with two of the course’s four bulkhead greens. A good drive on the final par-5 will set you up for about a 200-yard plus over water – if you dare.
“Bulkhead is not only beautiful but it really creates that all-or-nothing kind of shot,” Moore said. “When you get right down to it, water is one of the most difficult hazards that any golfer has to face on a course. It can be so intimidating, yet provides a level of beauty and drama that nothing else will do – not waste bunkers, not elevation changes. The water is what has become a signature on a lot of the golf holes at Cutter Creek.”
Yet golfers will find that Cutter Creek’s abundance of water doesn’t overwhelm them or create tension in their backswings in another one of Moore’s creative balancing acts here.
“One of the things a player will notice when they play Cutter Creek, and it is consistent with most of our designs, is when we incorporate hazards like that we always give the golfer an alternative route, a bailout. We don’t believe in island greens and complete forced carries – there is always another way to maneuver your way around the course if you want to play it conservatively.”
McRae has big plans for semi-private Cutter Creek, some of which have already begun to come together.
A new pool house for members is in place, while a clubhouse rendering has been completed, as well as plans for some overnight accommodations for a “destination course” situated between Goldsboro, Kinston, Greenville, Wilson and Rocky Mount. Additional housing is expected soon – perhaps as early as this summer – as the housing market begins to recover.
“The heart and soul of the whole project has always been the golf course,” McRae said. “That’s my philosophy and approach on this business.
“When you play Cutter Creek you feel like you’ve been somewhere, you’ve really gone someplace special. If somebody was blindfolded and put down on this golf course they probably would not guess they were in Eastern North Carolina, the terrain is so great.”
So is the golf. It’s well worth making the drive from the Triangle down East to check out the newest addition to Bob Moore’s North Carolina portfolio.