There are more than 13,000 golf courses across the country, but no state offers the unique variety that North Carolina’s 534 courses have on the coast, the mountains, or the rolling hills of the Piedmont.

Yes, our state has hosted the men’s and women’s U.S. Open, the PGA Championship, the Ryder Cup, and multiple USGA championships, not to mention various PGA, LPGA, and senior tour stops in locations around the state.

But it’s hardly just a spectator sport.
North Carolina’s vibrant golf industry employs some 37,000 people and adds $3.75 billion to the state’s economy through direct, indirect, and induced output, according to a 2016 study. It annually adds equals parts to the state’s manufacturing, real estate, and tourism sectors.

 The Elk River Club in Banner Elk is consistently ranked among the Top 10 golf courses in the state and was the first North Carolina course designed by Jack Nicklaus. In addition to the majestic mountain setting, the private club features a luxury residential community with a private airport, an equestrian center, and a range of amenities.

The Elk River Club in Banner Elk is consistently ranked among the Top 10 golf courses in the state and was the first North Carolina course designed by Jack Nicklaus. In addition to the majestic mountain setting, the private club features a luxury residential community with a private airport, an equestrian center, and a range of amenities.

Yet it’s hard, really, to put in perspective how the best courses in the state stack up with each other.

There’s no way to compare the grandeur of Grandfather Mountain Country Club when the mountain laurel is blooming with Pinehurst No. 2’s history and championship tradition in the Sandhills, or with the stark beauty of watching a sunrise at Bald Head Island Golf Club while standing in a sandtrap bisected by the deep trail left by the tail of a wandering alligator.

Here in the Triangle, golfers have their choice of highly rated courses by famed designers Donald Ross, Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and others. How in the world can you compare Raleigh Country Club’s elevated greens that Ross made as part of the final golf course design in his illustrious career with the downtown Raleigh skyline view Palmer incorporated into N.C. State’s Lonnie Poole Golf Course?

How do you choose between Prestonwood Country Club’s three courses, the Governor Club’s two, or the freestanding excellence of Ross’ design at Hope Valley Country Club in the heart of Durham?

 

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Hensley didn’t just rely on fellow writers, however. He involved businessmen and women who knew North Carolina, and two of the state’s biggest golf legends, Peggy Kirk Bell and Billy Joe Patton. There are scratch golfers and high-handicappers on the panel, with the only membership requirement being a passion for the game.

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First published in North Carolina Magazine, the highly anticipated annual offering has appeared in the April issue of Business North Carolina since 2006 and has been managed by Kevin Brafford since Hensley handed over the reins in 2000. Brafford, who in addition to serving as the golf panel’s executive director is also the growth strategies director for the North Carolina Zoo Society and a member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame selection committee, has grown the invitation-only golf panel to include about 150 active members.

“Our members love the game and its prominent place in the sports landscape, and they have an appreciation for course design,” Brafford says. “We ask panelists to rate courses considering a number of factors, including routing, flow, strategy, fairness, memorability, and the variety
of holes.”

Through various full-panel outings and individual play around the state, members of the panel submit their ratings for best overall course and several subcategories annually. Durham’s Old Chatham Golf Club, designed by Rees Jones in 2001, tops the 2018 list for top courses in the Triangle, followed by the Raleigh Country Club, MacGregor Downs Country Club in Cary, Prestonwood’s Highlands course, and the Governor’s Club in Chapel Hill.

All three of the university courses—North Carolina’s Finley Golf Course, the Duke University Golf Club, and N.C. State’s LPGC—are among the top 12 courses in the area.
While the state’s golf industry suffered a downturn in the recession of 2008—longtime clubs like Cheviot Hills in Raleigh, Wake Forest Golf Club, and Crooked Creek Country Club in Fuquay-Varina all shut down—the sport, and the real estate opportunities it often creates, is on the rebound.

“Like in real estate, there was a market correction,” Brafford says. “But the golf industry has changed, the economy has rebounded, and the future looks good for both.”

Author and writer Tim Peeler lives in Cary and is an original (but currently inactive) member of the North Carolina Golf Panel.

 Lonnie Poole Golf Course, located just two miles from downtown Raleigh on N.C. State’s Centennial Campus, is the only college course built by the Arnold Palmer Design Group, with heavy input from the late legend along with on-site development by N.C. State graduates and noted golf course architects Erik Larsen and Brandon Johnson.

Lonnie Poole Golf Course, located just two miles from downtown Raleigh on N.C. State’s Centennial Campus, is the only college course built by the Arnold Palmer Design Group, with heavy input from the late legend along with on-site development by N.C. State graduates and noted golf course architects Erik Larsen and Brandon Johnson.

 Last year, MacGregor Downs Country Club celebrated its 50th anniversary as Cary’s first private country club. With a Willard Byrd–designed championship course, it remains the town’s oldest home for golf and is a favorite of the North Carolina Golf Panel, which regularly rates it as one of the best golf experiences in the Triangle.

Last year, MacGregor Downs Country Club celebrated its 50th anniversary as Cary’s first private country club. With a Willard Byrd–designed championship course, it remains the town’s oldest home for golf and is a favorite of the North Carolina Golf Panel, which regularly rates it as one of the best golf experiences in the Triangle.

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 On Bald Head Island, the only way to travel is by golf cart—literally. The resort community, accessible by ferry boat, doesn’t allow cars, so guests might as well strap on a set of clubs and play a round on the George Cobb–designed, Tim Cate–renovated course, most of which includes views of the island’s 14 miles of pristine beaches.

On Bald Head Island, the only way to travel is by golf cart—literally. The resort community, accessible by ferry boat, doesn’t allow cars, so guests might as well strap on a set of clubs and play a round on the George Cobb–designed, Tim Cate–renovated course, most of which includes views of the island’s 14 miles of pristine beaches.

 St. James golf communities offer 81 holes of sheer golf perfection. Four championship golf courses spread across our coastal landscape. Designed by golf legends Nicklaus Design, P.B. Dye, Hale Irwin, and Tim Cate, our elite private courses are highly acclaimed.

St. James golf communities offer 81 holes of sheer golf perfection. Four championship golf courses spread across our coastal landscape. Designed by golf legends Nicklaus Design, P.B. Dye, Hale Irwin, and Tim Cate, our elite private courses are highly acclaimed.


Best Golf Getaways

by TIM PEELER

Golf is good in the Triangle, but where would you go for a quick golfing getaway? North Carolina’s varied topography makes any landscape an easy three- or four-hour drive. And there’s always a trio of places to play on your trip.

 Compass Pointe Golf Club, just outside of Wilmington, is North Carolina’s newest public golf club, designed by noted golf course architect and past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects Rick Robbins, whose company has built dozens of courses in the U.S. and the Far East. photo by Dave Sansom Photography

Compass Pointe Golf Club, just outside of Wilmington, is North Carolina’s newest public golf club, designed by noted golf course architect and past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects Rick Robbins, whose company has built dozens of courses in the U.S. and the Far East. photo by Dave Sansom Photography

Pinehurst bills itself as the home of American golf, and certainly deserves its spot at the top of the North Carolina Golf Panel’s list of Best Golf Getaways if you are looking to embrace the state’s links legacy. You can even do a taste of the Sandhills on a budget (No. 6).

Each of the courses here are open to the public for daily play, whether you are on the Outer Banks (No. 2), on the Crystal Coast (Nos. 3, 4, and 7), in the Triangle (No. 8), the Triad (No. 9) or in any part of the mountains or foothills (Nos. 5 and 10).

The Top 10 Golf Getaways in North Carolina

1. Pinehurst No. 2, Pinehurst No. 8, Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club (Sandhills)

2. Currituck Club, Kilmarlic Golf Club, Nags Head Golf Links (Coastal)

3. Crow Creek Golf Club, Leopard’s Chase, Thistle Golf Club (Coastal)

4. Cape Fear National Golf Club, Compass Pointe Golf Club, Magnolia Greens Golf Plantation (Coastal)

5. Boone Golf Club, Linville Golf Club, Mountain Glen Golf Club (Mountains)  

6. Legacy Golf Links, The New Course at Talamore, Southern Pines Golf Club (Sandhills)

7. Beaufort Club, Carolina Colours Golf Club, Cutter Creek Golf Club (Eastern)

8. Duke University Golf Club, Finley Golf Course, Lonnie Poole Golf Course (Triangle)

9. Bryan Park Champions, Oak Hollow Golf Course, Tanglewood Park
Championship (Triad)

10. The Golf Club at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge, Highland Creek Golf Club, Olde Sycamore Golf Plantation (Charlotte)


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