Davis Love III produces two beauties in N.C.

By Joel Zuckerman, Contributor

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- He was born in Charlotte and attended UNC-Chapel Hill before heading out on the PGA Tour. So it only makes sense that Davis Love III, one of the biggest names and biggest hitters in the pro game, has returned to his home state as a golf-course architect. He's delivered a pair of big, bold routings at the Preserve at Jordan Lake, near Chapel Hill, and Anderson Creek, outside of Fayetteville.

The Preserve

The Preserve at Jordan Lake is the more notable of these two North Carolina offerings. This rugged gem 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 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 yards with a 145 slope), which is certainly one of the finest in the Triangle Region.

"The Preserve at Jordan Lake was a wonderful project," said Mark Love, younger brother of Davis and president of Love Course Design. "The course turned out beautifully, and Davis and I got to return to the Chapel Hill area, where we had enjoyed many good times previously."

Love the younger, who was also a collegiate golf standout at UNC, explains that even in the modern era, where new golf-course construction often pose myriad environmental and wetlands issues, the Jordan Lake project was particularly sensitive due to the proximity of the lake.

Though a player can barely catch a glimpse of the water, and then only when the autumn leaves are down, preserving the quality of this pristine, natural lake just a mile away was paramount to both developer and architect. "We were careful that the runoff from the course didn't impact the various streams and tributaries on the site."

Though there are few better examples of the aerial power game that's come to dominate golf in the last two decades then Davis Love III, both he and his brother have an old-fashioned sensibility when it comes to their design philosophy. They like to see the ball bounding along the ground as much as possible. But this wasn't an option at the Preserve at Jordan Lake.

The golf course requires an almost continuous airborne assault, with lots of hills, wetlands, chasms and ravines. It makes for a challenging day of golf, and made for an ultra-challenging construction.

"It might not be our standard style, but the end result is a visually dramatic and difficult test of the game," said Mark Love. "The topography also lends itself to some beautiful home sites, and there are dozens of impressive residences lining the course in what's become a very prestigious address, about 20 minutes from Chapel Hill."

Not just prestigious, but very successful. Whether it was the attraction of the course, the community or the undisturbed natural environment, most of the lots were sold by the time the course opened in 2002, and 440 lots were sold in less than two years time.

The Love brothers were concerned that the bedrock they encountered early in construction was an ominous sign of things to come, and that they'd be making frequent forays to Dynamite Mart to obtain the ordnance necessary to tame the landscape.

Luckily their rock woes began and ended on the par-3 sixth, and they left a striking boulder remnant to the left of this one-shot beauty. They may have breathed a sigh of relief as they found the terrain malleable after all. But players will alternate gasping at the views and holding their breath as they launch do-or-die golf shots all over the course.

Anderson Creek

Anderson Creek wasn't just the first course Davis designed in his home state. This nature-track outside of Fayetteville, featuring 175 acres of Carolina pines on the property, was the Love brothers' first foray into course ownership. They previously had a 75 percent stake in the proceedings. That ownership involvement has terminated, but the finished product continues to intrigue players willing to trek to quiet Spring Lake, some 10 miles from Fayetteville and less than an hour from Pinehurst.

"Of all the sites we've worked with to this point, Anderson Creek probably has some of the best natural, rolling terrain," said Mark Love. "It was easy to visualize and then implement the routing, with holes rising, falling, turning left and then right. Because the course is within the Sandhills region of the state, some of the bunkering and waste areas have a Pinehurst feel."

Nearly every hole on this nearly-7,200 yard funhouse plays uphill, downhill, or often a bit of both. Driving corridors are generous. But false fronts, swales and roll-offs near the greens make the approach game and subsequent chipping and putting exercises demanding, much like what's found at the "Cradle of American Golf," in Pinehurst, some 40 miles away. It's these delicate shots that explain the course and slope rating of 75.0 and 140 from the tips, 72.3 and 136 from the 6,70-yard penultimate markers.

The housing presence remains incidental at Anderson Creek, in direct contrast to the Preserve at Jordan Lake. Not hard to understand, as the Triangle Region is densely inhabited, while the population base of greater Fayetteville is significantly thinner.

"Perhaps the housing element envisioned at Anderson Creek was ahead of its time," Mark Love said. "Eventually the gaps will probably fill in, but right now there's no great demand to put in high-end housing this far from the town."

The housing may be limited. But there's no shortage of quietude and pastoral beauty on this golf course, thankfully bereft of a significant real estate component, at least for the time being.

The verdicts

Both courses are highly recommendable, but the better of the two is the Preserve at Jordan Lake. Surrounding real estate often compromises a golf experience, but even though houses encircle the Jordan Lake property, the thrill factor of the exciting terrain mitigates the infringement of the adjacent dwellings. Besides, since almost all the homes are gawk-worthy anyway, they add a memorable component to the visit.

Anderson Creek is no yawner, by any means. North Carolina Magazine named it as the state's best new course back in 2001. Here the elevation changes are more subtle, there's less angst on both tee shots and approaches. Spray shots aren't necessarily permanently stray shots, and overall there's less chance of depleting your ball supply.

Both courses are fairly and similarly priced, Anderson a bit higher at around $65 -$70 weekends and $55-$60 Mon. through Thurs. Jordan Lake is in the high $60s weekends and a shade over $50 on weekdays. They are an equally fine value for the greens fees expended.

Stay and play

There are plenty of lodging options around Chapel Hill, pickings are slimmer but still viable in greater Fayetteville. The Carolina Inn is an AAA Four-Diamond property, and centrally located in downtown Chapel Hill. Another Four-Diamond property is the Siena Hotel, a boutique property with less than half the rooms available than the 184-room Carolina Inn. Besides these marquee properties, there are the usual selection of Hampton, Holiday and Days Inns.

Fayetteville offers mostly chains, including several Ramada Inns, Fairfield Inns and Quality Inns.

Dining out

Top of the Hill and the Carolina Brewery are good pub choices in Chapel Hill. Allen & Son Bar-B-Q and Jim's Famous BBQ offer authentic regional cuisine, and 411 West and the Angus Barn are a bit more upscale.

Luigi's is one of Fayetteville's most popular upscale restaurants. The Mash House Brewery and Restaurant has won awards for their home-brewed Pale Ale, and offers excellent pub food. Chris's Steakhouse features both aged beef and fresh seafood.

Fast Fact

When North Carolina Magazine's 130-member golf panel rated Anderson Creek as the best new course in the state back in 2001, the voting was the closest ever. Anderson Creek edged out the Arnold Palmer-designed Brier Creek Country Club in Raleigh by just 12 points.

Joel ZuckermanJoel Zuckerman, Contributor

Joel Zuckerman is based in Savannah, Georgia and Park City, Utah. He is the author of five books, and his golf and travel stories have appeared in more than 100 publications around the world, including Sports Illustrated, Golfweek, Travel+Leisure Golf, Continental and Golf International.

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