North Carolina: A Bastion Of Golf Excellence

Ocean Ridge Plantation
Ocean Ridge Plantation

For those of you that have been to North Carolina to golf, you will certainly comprehend the title of this story.  For those who are thinking of making the pilgrimage, think of golf there as almost a religious experience.  With a wealth of historic venues providing an endless array of options, this is no ordinary golf destination.  It is not a matter of choosing between five average courses and an uninviting variety of mundane motels – golf in North Carolina may just be the peak of golf destinations.  It would be easy to make a case for that.  From the coastal region to the sandhills near famed Pinehurst, more than 600 layouts await your attention here.  It is easily a favourite place to tee it up for many.

For some reason, North Carolina actually feels and smells like golf.  Maybe it is the scent of the loblolly pines and the number of people always chatting about the game but within this state you feel that golf is part of the fabric of the culture.  Played here avidly for more than a century, when people think of this state golf is not far from their minds.

While the famed Pinehurst Resort gets a bulk of attention due to having hosted almost every major golf event possible, the spider web of golf courses spreads far beyond the Heartland to every nook and cranny that this centrally located territory covers.

While most people first look to the impressive Carolina coastline, golfers need to pay a little more attention to the western frontier.  Here the mountains rise high (as much as 2,000 metres) and golf courses may not be as plenty but they are unbelievable dramatic.

There is no finer example of this than what can be found in the Asheville area.  Set in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains, this tantalizing town blends the feel of wild lands strewn with hills and trees with a sedate and genteel way of life enjoyed by its inhabitants.

It is in Asheville that you will a delightful stopover in the way of the Grove Park Inn and their carefully restored Donald Ross designed golf course.  The inn came to be in 1913 and was built from massive boulders found in the area.  Originally intended as a retreat for the elite of American society it now welcomes all those who want to come and enjoy its wonderful amenities.  The resort features an enormous 40,000 square foot spa along with three top restaurants, a sports complex with indoor and outdoor tennis, swimming, and a wide range of workout facilities.

For golfers, the Donald Ross designed layout at Grove Park is an intriguing one.  Until a few years ago Grove Park never really pushed themselves as a “golf resort” per se, that is because the golf course was slightly ailing.  Built in 1926, over the years the golf course was transformed from a display of Ross genius to become the product of overzealous greens staff and management all looking to leave their own mark on the property.

That all changed in 2001 when the golf course was closed for what would become a (USD) $2.5 million dollar makeover.  Kris Spence, a Carolina-based architect who had completed other Donald Ross course restorations, took on the big task.

Spence proceeded to determine and restore the original Ross routing (it had been altered a few times through the years) so the course would play as initially intended.  This led to re-establishing lost or modified bunkers and eventually, the recreation of the original green shapes.

The course did get a modern touch with the use of new grasses to enhance play, especially on the greens, which could now be characterized as smooth and slick.

Even more amazing is that all this work was done within the confines of the courses compact 88-acre property.  That is a shockingly small amount of property for a golf course that stretches to 6702 yards from the back tees.

For their efforts the course earned GolfWeek magazines 2002 award for best golf course restoration ion the United Sates.  The ultimate stamp of approval came from Michael Fay, the executive director of the Donald Ross Society and an expert of the work of the Scottish born designer.  “The Ross features have been recaptured in the finest of fashion,” Fay wrote about the layout.  “The course is scenic, strategic and fun to play.  The putting surfaces are uniform, interesting and slick.  The bunker work is faithful to the style of Ross, and the tees really set off the overall effect.  All in all, I give the restoration an A+.”

The Grove Park Inn itself has plenty of character with rooms designed in the Art & Crafts style and rich hues of wood throughout.  With the boulder construction it is a “unique” sight to say the least.  In addition to the regular rooms the resort also features several theme rooms that embrace the various eras.

For additional golf in the area check out the Lake Lure Resort and don’t miss a visit to the nearby historic and mind-numbing Biltmore Estate – the original home of one of the wealthiest families in America.

Coastal Carolina – Hear The Waves Crashing

When many people think of Coastal Carolina golf most will think of South Carolina and the Myrtle Beach region.  In reality the upper reaches of the Grand Strand courses are in North Carolina and if you choose to explore even further north, you would be delighted at the golf facilities you would encounter.

Among the best of them that embraces golf in a grand way is Ocean Ridge Plantation in Sunset Beach.  This two thousand acre gated residential community is home to the Big Cats, three superb golf courses.  A panther, a lion and tiger quietly await your arrival.  Through the gate, a twenty three thousand square foot ‘safari style’ structure stands stately, the clubhouse shared by Lion’s Paw and Panther’s Run.  Backed by a blue sky and sculptured by rays of sunlight; a first impression is created as memorable as those allusive eagles and just as exciting, only different.  Panther’s Run is perfect for all golfers with five multiple tee areas, giving golfers of all skill levels a fair shot at making par.  The fairways are wide with generous landing areas, giving some relief from the dangers lurking in the bordering oaks and pines.  It is a beautiful piece of property and provides a wonderful backdrop to a collection of naturally carved holes that run through virtually undisturbed rolling, wooded terrain with rambling brooks.  The scene’s serenity lulls you into a peaceful euphoria but the well positioned grass and sand bunkers, the numerous environmentally sensitive areas and the water hazards that come into play on all but two holes will have you scratching and clawing in order to post a decent score.

Over at the Tiger’s Eye course it takes just a few holes for the character of the layout to unfold, distinguishing itself as the pick of the litter at Ocean Ridge Plantation.  Patterned loosely after the Pinehurst courses, this track features numerous elevation changes, meticulous mounding and extensive sand bunkered complexes that are in direct contrast to that of Panther’s Run.  As impressively as Panther’s Run was maintained, Tiger’s Eye is at an even higher level of conditioning.  The landscaping is impeccably manicured, accented by the magnificent, native coquina boulders that are used to frame several holes and lakes and to create bulkheads throughout the course.  Every hole is unique, presenting a visually stimulating experience and an exhilarating challenge.  A stunning combination of natural waste areas, native grasses, wild flowers and over forty acres of water make this, not-so-friendly feline, a thinking-person’s course, requiring precise shot making and a creative short game.

Two new courses will soon join the already impressive grouping at Ocean Ridge.  Leopard’s Chase opens this fall while Jaguar’s Lair debuts in 2007.  With 90 holes soon to be on the slate, Ocean Ridge Plantation is becoming a must-see golfing attraction in Coastal Carolina.

Clearly, for anyone who has had the pleasure, golf along the North Carolina coast can be spectacular.  The Outer Banks is a popular area for tourists and these coastal barrier islands are also home to unique golf as well.  With the windswept beaches, dunes, and sandy soil, the look is somewhat like the home of golf, Scotland, and one course makes it feel even more that way.

Nags Head Golf Links is just that, a links course set on the shoreline, in the tradition of those found in the United Kingdom.  Each time you golf at Nags Head a new golf test awaits with a golf course and weather conditions that bring variance with every sunrise.  It is hard for even the best players in your group to get bored by the challenge.

The Links may not be long on the scorecard at just over 6100 yards but every hole will seem to exceed that length when the wind is up – and that is just about everyday!  The golf holes located along Roanoke sound have often been revered as the most beautiful in the Eastern United States.

Bob Moore crafted a fun design here with wild rolling dunes sea grass accenting the entire layout.  You will even get more delight if you visit in the summer when the club run’s a nine-hole scramble event every Sunday; it is open to all visitors.

Enjoy the Beach in the Outer banks, but don’t forget your clubs.  You will regret it if you do.

That is just a very small sampling of the variety of golf you will find in North Carolina but it should tease your curiosity nonetheless.  Next time you think of a “Carolina Golf Vacation” you may just need to look a little higher on the map!

Mountainside fairways, heavily treed sand based courses, and emerald green layouts with an ocean view – North Carolina has it all.