Never mind the eight courses at Pinehurst resort, including famed #2, a three-time U.S. Open host venue. Disregard that there are dozens of additional courses within a short drive of Pinehurst, colloquially referred to as “the birthplace of American Golf.” The fact is that there is fine golf throughout the central, heartland, and Piedmont region of North Carolina. This is the big block in the middle of the richly varied topography of the state, separating the mountain region to the west from the coastal region to the east.
In and around Durham and Chapel Hill, in Greensboro, near Winston-Salem, outside of Fayetteville, there’s plenty to recommend. Good golf in Raleigh? Really.
The Duke Golf Club in Durham, near the campus of the esteemed university of the same name, stands shoulder to shoulder with any of the nation’s best collegiate courses, the infamous Course at Yale included. Robert Trent Jones designed the course in 1957. Five years later, his son Rees took part in the NCAA Championships contested there, ironically, playing for Yale. Some thirty years later Rees returned again, to refurbish his father’s work, and make improvements on a course that had frayed badly in the interim.
Restored to its original grandeur, this parkland beauty is once again one of the premiere golf venues in the south. It’s tree-lined but not tree-choked, with elevated greens, yawning greenside bunkers and a palpable sense of remove. Several par-5 holes are bisected by streams, requiring careful decision making. Many of the par-4 holes feature both length and bend of fairway. It’s a worthy complement to the nearby university.
Bryan Park is a muscular 36-hole public facility in the town of Greensboro. Bryan Park features a Rees Jones original effort called Champions, and a George Cobb designed, Rees Jones-renovated course called Players. Now more than forty years old, the original Cobb is a side salad to the main course. Champions is a true championship track. 7,150 from the tips and 6,650 from the middle markers, there is plenty of perimeter mounding to help propel would-be errant tee shots back into play. Bunkers are many and massive, but this parkland beauty really scores points because of its proximity to Lake Townsend. Seven holes border the water, including the all-world thirteenth, a par-4 dogleg stretching 435 yards from the penultimate markers, where the lake comes into play on both drive and approach.
Long-time PGA Tour star Davis Love III was born in Charlotte, and more than three decades ago was a Big Man on Campus at UNC-Chapel Hill, before heading off onto a big-time career as a professional. So it only makes sense that as a golf course architect, he’s come home and delivered a couple of big, bold routings in his home state. Anderson Creek is just outside of Fayetteville, little more than forty miles from Pinehurst. It reflects the Sandhills sensibility, with fairways limned with longleaf pines, and generous greens with large roll-off areas and swales. The course, set amidst a housing development, is a straightforward routing, nothing overly tricky, interspersed with a couple of wetland carries and waste areas.
The Preserve at Jordan Lake is another housing development outside of Chapel Hill. This Love design is equally big and even bolder than Anderson Creek, but offers the type of up-and-down golf experience normally found in the mountainous western reaches of the state. Major elevation changes, encroaching wetlands and forest that put a premium on tee shot accuracy, and occasional rocky outcroppings and deep ravines make this course seem better suited for an Asheville or Hendersonville address. Most of the houses surrounding the course are show-stoppers, large and dramatic. They fit in nicely with this exhilarating test of golf, with a daunting slope rating of 140 from the 6,600 yard penultimate markers, (the back tees are 7,100) which is certainly one of the finest in the triangle region.
Finally, the Championship Course at Tanglewood Park’s moment in the sun was more than forty years ago, when Lee Trevino held off Jack Nicklaus by a single shot in the PGA Championship. But this estimable parkland outside of Winston-Salem has aged well since 1974, and gives daily fee players all they can handle. The clubhouse is located at the apex of the property, and the tee shots at the first and tenth plummet downhill, the approaches to the ninth and eighteenth greens are well elevated. In between are numerous water hazards, well placed, reddish-hued bunkering, and doglegs both gentle and severe. Tanglewood, unprepossessing, modestly priced, is one of some five hundred courses in this golf-centric state. Pinehurst may be the pinnacle in terms of recognition, but hundreds and hundreds of other courses are well worthy of visitor’s attention, too.