This bustling North Carolina city is a prime example of when golf courses (and ranges) are gobbled up for development

WILMINGTON, N.C.  — As this seaside city continues to grow, some of the area’s golf courses, driving ranges and other open spaces are being tapped for new subdivisions and apartment complexes.

This trend isn’t unique to Wilmington. Across the U.S., open spaces like golf courses have become a flashpoint between developers who see the land as a prime spot for infill construction and neighboring property owners who often fight for preservation of nearby open spaces.

But as land becomes increasingly scarce in the city of Wilmington and New Hanover County, local leaders and developers continue to highlight the important role infill development. Building on unused or underutilized land within existing development, they say, could play a major role in keeping up with population growth.

From Florida and Cape Cod to New Hanover County, these often-competing interests have clashed as plans for infill development move forward.

Here’s how those debates have played out on a local level in Wilmington:

Echo Farms

One of the biggest examples of a golf-course-turned-subdivision in New Hanover County is in the neighborhood of Echo Farms. A golf course, country club and residential community were developed in the area in the early 1970s.

The golf course no longer exists. In 2016, owner Matrix Development Group announced its plans to close the golf course and build new homes on the site. A collection of Echo Farms residents, many of whom had moved to the neighborhood specifically for the golf course, organized to push back against development plans.

Echo Farms homeowner John Hirchak holds a “Save Echo Farms” in his front yard in Wilmington, N.C., Monday, September 12, 2016.
The residents, in part, saw success as they negotiated the number of townhomes planned for the site from 92 down to 62. Later, Wilmington and New Hanover County joined forces to buy 14 acres of the former course land for $1.7 million, turning the land into Echo Farms Park and Gardens.

The property at 5026 Oleander Drive is the former site of the Oleander Golf Center in Wilmington, N.C., Friday, October 8, 2021.  (Photo by Matt Born/Star-News)

Driving ranges transformed

Two former driving ranges in the Wilmington area have also seen new development.

Developer East West Partners is proposing nearly 400 new apartments on the site of a former driving range off of Oleander Drive in Wilmington. The site borders Wilmington Municipal Golf Course and was rezoned for multifamily residential development by the Wilmington City Council in January 2022.

The property at 5026 Oleander Drive is the former site of the Oleander Golf Center in Wilmington, N.C., Friday, October 8, 2021. East West Partners has submitted plans to the city of Wilmington for an apartment complex to be built on the site. The complex would have nearly 340 units and would also include commercial space.
Across town, the ongoing construction of the Military Cutoff Road extension is putting new infrastructure on the site of another former private driving range.

The Cape

In southern New Hanover County, the potential for the development of the golf course at The Cape led to a lawsuit from neighboring property owners and the homeowner’s association.

The course, which was shut down following damage from Hurricane Florence, was being considered for a new townhome development and neighbors wanted a say in how the former course was developed, according to the lawsuit.

The suit eventually reached the North Carolina Court of Appeals where a ruling found a New Hanover County judge was wrong to give a summary judgment to the golf course owner. The ruling, which came down this summer, sent the decision back to court in New Hanover County.

A rendering of the pool and clubhouse area at Starway Village, a 278-unit workforce housing development proposed off Carolina Beach Road.

Starway Village

Although not a golf course or driving range, the proposed development of the former drive-in theater and current flea market along Carolina Beach Road illustrates the squeeze for space in New Hanover County.

The proposed Starway Village complex is set to bring 278 apartments at 60% area median income to 2346 Carolina Beach Road. The project recently secured $9 million in gap financing and developers hope to break ground on the project next spring.

Reporter Emma Dill can be reached at