North Carolina is a golfing mecca with some of the best courses in the world. In fact, there are over 500 courses across the state!
Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, playing and learning golf is great fun in North Carolina. What sets the state apart from many other destinations is how easy it is to access golf courses and how easy it is to book.
Guests can turn up on the day or pre-book, and many of the best courses don’t even require you to be a member or stay at an associated hotel.
Pinehurst: A golfer’s paradise
So where do we start? Pinehurst (left), the Home of American Golf, is one of the most revered courses in the world. It was the venue for the US Open in 1999 and 2005, and is the only course to have held the event twice.
All this acclaim can be put down to one man, Donald Ross. He was born in 1872 in the north Scottish coastal town of Dornoch. While serving as an apprentice at St. Andrews, under the tutelage of a four-time British Open champion, he was approached by an American professor who was on a golf pilgrimage to the sport’s holy land. He invited Ross to the New World to help spread the game’s gospel. A year later, Ross landed an assignment with the Tufts family, who had bought a property in North Carolina’s sandhills called Pinehurst – and so the story began.
Ross designed and rebuilt four courses at the Pinehurst Resort, none with more love and care than the No. 2 layout (right). Drawing upon his extensive background in turf management, he revolutionized southern green-keeping practices when he oversaw the transition of No. 2’s putting surfaces from oiled sand to Bermuda grass.
The work was done just in time for the 1935 PGA Championship. The result was devilishly quick domed greens and a sense of impending doom that accompanied any wayward shots. Golfers travelling to Pinehurst can play the legendary No. 2 course… it’s a golfer’s dream come true! Only an hour’s drive from Raleigh Durham International Airport (American Airlines daily direct service from London Gatwick) Pinehurst really is perfect for a luxury spa and golf break.
The rolling hills of the Piedmont are home to some of the greatest golf courses. The soft sandhills, broken by the small creeks which run along the many pristine courses, make it a picturesque location to improve your handicap.
To the west, The Grandover Resort in Greensboro offers another feared course, with 36 holes and rated second-best in North Carolina, behind Pinehurst’s No. 2. Designed by David Graham and Gary Panks, both world renowned golf architects, the course was built amidst 1500 acres of oak, pine and dogwood covered hills, providing a blaze of colour that assures golfers they are in the Carolinas, America’s heartland of golf!
In the west, the North Carolina mountain range rises to form the Great Smoky Mountains, whose majestic views, towering cliffs and tumbling waterfalls make an impressive backdrop for a round or two. There’s also plenty of history up in the hills. The Golf Course at The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa continues to earn accolades after a complete restoration of its original Donald Ross design in 2001. The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa is one of the south’s most venerable and famous grand resorts. Built in 1913 from granite stones mined from Sunset Mountain, the resort overlooks the skyline of Asheville and provides guests with majestic views of the legendary Blue Ridge Mountains.
Another great spot to explore is Lake Lure Inn. Once called “The Little Waldorf of the South”, the Lake Lure Inn has hosted celebrities such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and more recently Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey during the filming of “Dirty Dancing”. Constructed in 1927, the Inn was built so that guests throughout the world could enjoy the recreational opportunities and unsurpassed beauty of Lake Lure, and it continues to fulfil its function today.
Nearby Apple Valley, designed by Dan Maples, features well-guarded greens and tight fairways. Golf Digest’s “Places to Play” called Apple Valley, “one of the most beautiful mountain courses around.” Well-positioned bunkers and undulating terrain make this course ideal for anyone who likes to make tough shots.
And it’s appropriate that our next hidden gem goes by the name of Sapphire Mountain Golf Resort. The setting and the layout really do sparkle! The course’s second hole is at once one of the most delightful and one of the most visually intimidating par 3 holes ever. Over 200-plus yards it drops significantly, leading down to a small green flanked by a massive boulder and steep cliffs.
The par 4 13th hole drops at least 100 feet, and then demands an accurate middle iron up to an elevated green by a roaring waterfall. This course is simply more sheer fun than you can shake a bag full of sticks at!
The sun-drenched coast is a golfer’s paradise, the perfect place to practice your golden swing in the sun. The southern coast is inundated with beautiful picture-postcard courses.
Take the Sunset Beach area. This quiet, elegant part of the state is loaded with terrific golf courses and resorts. Some think of it as a kind of Pinehurst by the sea. Here you’ll find Sea Trail Resort and Conference Center, featuring three distinctly different golf courses designed by Rees Jones, Dan Maples and William Byrd; a PGA-sanctioned Golf Learning Center; and much more. Classic courses like Oyster Bay (left) and Marsh Harbour are just a pitching wedge away.
A little further south, you’ll discover Brunswick Plantation and Golf Resort (right), a 1,400-acre, plantation-style resort, complete with 27 holes of challenging golf and luxury fairway condominiums.
Take a short ferry ride from Southport to find the magnificent Bald Head Island Resort, where the only mode of transportation for visitors is a golf cart. George Cobb sensitively carved his links-style course out of a maritime forest here.
On the Outer Banks which form the northern coast and protect the mainland from the Atlantic, you’ll find the Currituck Club, Corolla’s only golf resort community. The Rees Jones-designed layout leads through wetlands and maritime forests and finishes spectacularly along the Currituck Sound – a fitting end to our all-too-brief review of some of America’s finest coastal golf resorts.
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All images are courtesy of North Carolina Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development. Bill Russ, Photographer