Way Above Par: Golfing in North Carolina
Golf opportunities in North Carolina extend from the coast to the heartland and beyond to the mountains. The state's golf facilities appeal to golf visitors with a range of skill levels -- from beginners and junior golfers to recreational golfers and top-ranked PGA and LPGA tour professionals.*
By Lynn Seldon
Nothing could be finer than to golf in North Carolina, whether you are set for a morning or afternoon tee time.
The state now boasts nearly 600 golf courses, ranging from waterfront fairways along 300 miles of coastline to heartland courses and beyond to the highest mountains east of the Mississippi (with some greens in the clouds).
That translates into many visiting golfers. Thus, the state consistently ranks as one of the top five golf destinations in the nation, according to the National Golf Foundation.
And when it comes to golf travel, there’s always something new in the Old North State for visiting golfers--whether they‘re pro, amateur, female, male, young, or simply young at heart.
The Roots of NC Golf
Historically, North Carolina has been a haven for golfers. Linville Golf Club (800-742-6717 or www.eseeola.com) -- located in the far western part of the state, just south of Boone -- was the state’s first layout in 1895.
Later that same year, James Tufts created Pinehurst and America’s first true golf resort was the result.
Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York’s Central Park, also designed the Village of Pinehurst, now a classic place to play and stay in central North Carolina (south of Raleigh).
At left, guests of Pinehurst Resort enjoy refreshments after a game of golf.*
Famed golf course architect Donald Ross would design Pinehurst No. 2,as well as many other layouts from Wilmington to Asheville.
For example, Ross designed Black Mountain Golf Club (828-669-2710 or www.townofblackmountain.org/golf.htm) and its 17th hole, which remains one of the world’s longest at a par 6,747 yards). The now-legendary Ross layout is located, appropriately enough, on Ross Drive in the quaint mountain town of Black Mountain just east of Asheville.
Along with other great designers, many pro golfers also have links to North Carolina. Curtis Strange, Lanny Wadkins, Davis Love III and Peggy Kirk Bell all attended college in the state, grew up there, or both.
Many famous golfers have honed their game on the state's links -- including this course (shown at left) in the Aberdeen/Pinehurst area.*
In fact, Arnold Palmer started forming his “Army” while attending Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem.
Palmer recently returned to the state to hit the ceremonial first tee shot -- marking the start of construction of a new golf course for N.C. State University.
The $11.4 million course will open in 2009. It will be the first university layout for The Palmer Design Group. (See our separate piece: NC State Building Arnold Palmer-Designed Course).
Ladies Tee Off
The state has also developed a reputation for being very female-friendly as the recent U.S. Women‘s Open proved for both the pros and spectators.
At right, Natalie Gulbis, the 2007 winner of the U.S. Women's Open tournament, tees off.*
LPGA legend Peggy Kirk Bell deserves much of the credit for the growth of women's golf. She founded the nation’s first golf school for women called Golfari (for program information, contact Pine Needles; contact information is below).
Women in the Golfari program are shown practicing their swings and teeing off.*
Bell also was instrumental in luring women’s tournaments and lots of female golfers to the state.
Bell's family operates two golf destinations: Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club and Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club (800-290-2334, 910-692-7111 for Pine Needles, 910-692-2114 for Mid Pines or www.pineneedles-midpines.com).
The picturesque course at Pine Needles is shown at right.*
Of course, North Carolina's great courses and resorts have led to a large number of top-notch tournaments.
The long list includes the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s, PGA Championship, PGA Tour Championship, Ryder Cup, U.S. Senior Open and the PGA Junior Championship.
On the amateur front, North Carolina has hosted the Men’s and Women’s U.S. Amateur and the North and South Amateur, the latter now more than a century old.
Seniors of both sexes love North Carolina for its temperate weather and welcoming atmosphere on and off the links. One senior tournament with small town charm is the Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn (828-459-4000 or www.greaterhickoryclassic.com).
Looking ahead, visitors might make plans to attend the 2008 Men’s U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst. Dates are Aug. 18-24.
A real coup for Pinehurst is the recent announcement that it will host the 2014 U.S. Open on Pinehurst‘s fabled No. 2 for an unprecedented third time in 15 years.
The second hole on Pinehurst's No. 2 is shown at left.*
What's New and Different?
North Carolina links aren’t just linked to history. The state continues to capture traveling golfers with new possibilities on and off the fairways. Golf enthusiasts will find many new or refurbished course layouts and upgraded accommodations.
Never resting on its laurels, Pinehurst (800-ITS GOLF or 910-235-8507 or www.pinehurst.com) continues to be a premier North Carolina golf destination.
Pinehurst No. 1 is in the midst of a major renovation; the Donald Ross design will re-open on April 1, 2008.
On the Pinehurst accommodations front, the Carolina (shown at left*)is in the midst of major room renovations -- to the tune of $40,000 per room.
New features will include flat-screen televisions, ultra-soft bedding and floor-to-ceiling marble bathrooms. Upgrades will be completed by March 2008.
The 308-suite Embassy Suites (800-EMBASSY or 704-455-8200 or www.embassysuitesconcord.com) opened in early 2007 at Lowes Motor Speedway (704-455-3200 or www.lowesmotorspeedway.com) in Concord, just outside Charlotte. It's a great place to stay before a race (see photo of room decor at right.*) and a lot more.
Golfers have now discovered the Embassy Suites for its location near the 18-hole championship layout at Rocky River Golf Club (704-455-1200 or www.rockyrivergolf.com). The Embassy Suites offers a full-service spa, dining and more.
In fact, the new hotel is being billed as the only place visitors might enjoy a golf course, hotel, convention center, NASCAR speedway and major shopping mall (Concord Mills; 704-979-3000 or www.concordmills.com), all in close proximity.
In the state's mountainous, western region, Maggie Valley Club (866-659-4725 or 828-926-1616 or www.maggievalleyclub.com) in Maggie Valley is welcoming golf enthusiasts with a new driving range and vast improvements to the 1964 course layout.
Visiting golfers can stay in luxury course-side accommodations and dine in the $6-million renovated clubhouse.
Course upgrades include removal of a road that had bisected three holes, new tee boxes, a new fleet of golf carts.
Surrounded by mountains, the scenic Maggie Valley course is shown above.*
Private and Public Courses
Golf travelers in the know have learned that “private” doesn’t always mean visitors can’t play a course. Many golf clubs are linked to accommodations, allowing those overnight to enjoy “membership” privileges.
For instance, golf packages at The Lodge at Jefferson Landing (800-292-6274 or 336-982-4449 or www.jeffersonlandingclub.com) mean great golf at the newly renovated Jefferson Landing layout. The golf course and lodge are in the western mountains, about an hour's drive from Boone.
Another good example is the range of golf packages available at the luxurious new Umstead Hotel & Spa (866-877-4141 or 919-447-4000 or www.theumstead.com) in Cary.
The Umstead's guests have access to Cary’s elite Prestonwood Country Club (919-467-2566 or www.prestenwoodcc.com), which features 54 stunning holes and hosts the SAS Championship (919-531-4653 or www.saschampionship.com). At right, a golfer hits the Prestonwood links.*
Public courses, though, still remain a great value for traveling golfers. Those in North Carolina are no exception.
For instance, Tom Clark recently completed a major renovation of the 1946 Fred Findlay-designed Pines at Elizabeth City (252-335-7245 or www.thepinesatelizabethcity.com). With 18-hole greens fees starting at just $45, this is a true golf bargain at a Carolina classic.
Thus, from legendary resorts and layouts to recently renovated courses, North Carolina golf is way above par -- a good thing, for once.
For More Information
800-VISIT NC or www.visitncgolf.com
Freelance writer Lynn Seldon is based on the coast of North Carolina. He specializes in the Southeast (including cruise travel) and was named "Travel Writer of the Year" by the Southeast Tourism Society in 2006.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of the North Carolina Division of Tourism, Pinehurst and Lynn Seldon. All rights reserved. Do not copy nor link to these photos.