Tanglewood Park's two courses offer great Carolina golf at bargain rates

By Joel Zuckerman, Contributor

CLEMMONS, N.C., -- Kitty Visintine is one of the busiest women in Clemmons, some 10 minutes from Winston-Salem.

Visintine is the golf tournament coordinator at Tanglewood Park, and books about 180 different events annually, ranging from 20 participants up to 500. A tournament every other day sounds practically nonstop, but the fact is that course traffic slows down appreciably through late fall and winter, so almost all of these scheduled events take place in an eight-month period.

There are 60,000 rounds played annually on these two city-owned courses, slightly more on the more venerable Champions course than on the Reynolds course. But despite its popularity among regulars and walk-up traffic, its appeal as a venue for corporate and charitable events is even greater.

"People love to play golf where the greats of the game have played before them," Visintine said.

Indeed, the championship legacy at Tanglewood has been long established. The bellwether moment was 1974, when Lee Trevino squeaked by Jack Nicklaus in the PGA Championship. Legends Sam Snead and Gary Player tied for third. All four protagonists made repeat visits in the years that followed. Tanglewood was also the site of the Vantage Championship for 16 consecutive years, a senior circuit event that ended in 2002. Trevino, reprising his major moment, was a winner there, as were marquee names such as Player, Hale Irwin and Gil Morgan.

Aura aside, price is the other main ingredient that compels people to tangle with Tanglewood. It's always great to stride in the shadows of the game's greats, but doing so with minimal wallet strain (unlike say, Pebble Beach) is even better. They don't come much better, bargain-wise, than Tanglewood. The Champions course tops out at $45 weekends, cart included, and is $10 cheaper on weekdays. The Reynolds course, which gets less attention and play, though it is a fine test in its own right, is never more than $30, less during the week.

Because it's a city-owned facility and totally public, "members" are actually season pass-holders and the annual rates are as reasonable as are the daily-fee requirements. An outlay of $1,100 purchases an all-access pass, while $750 is the senior citizen, weekday rate. You just know there are dozens and dozens of retirees playing three or four days a week, amortizing their per-round costs down to eight or nine bucks. Who says golf is too expensive?

But fortunately in this case, the old saying, "you get what you pay for" is tossed out the window. You get much more. "We have other regulars, but they aren't necessarily pass-holders," Visintine said. "They are springtime visitors, who come down from Ohio, Canada, New England or wherever, and jump-start their golf season."

Year after year they enjoy the championship parkland track, and its less-heralded sibling. And part of the attraction is staying right on site. Contained within the park's 1,200 acres are a variety of accommodations, including individual cottages that can be rented by the week - perfect for a traveling foursome that wants to confine their driving to the tee box.

Just because a player is comfortable off course doesn't mean they'll be as comfortable on. Ninety-nine bunkers dot -- some might say menace -- the greensward. A wayward player might dull the grooves on their sand wedge, but on the other hand, no one can accuse this Robert Trent Jones gauntlet of being ill-defined. Virtually every fairway is bracketed with a reddish-hued sand cavern (courtesy of the clay-based soils), either on the inside or outside of the dogleg.

Maintenance standards are high, greens are quick, and most of the hole highlights are on the march for home. No. 10 is a short two-shot hole playing severely downhill, while the 14th is probably the most memorable hole on the course, a narrow landing area with water guarding the left side, the fairway funneling towards the hazard.

The home hole is dry, but a beauty regardless. A sweeping, right-bending dogleg up the hill, with a natural amphitheater setting. The backside might be more camera-worthy, but Head Professional Mike Wilcox, on duty at Tanglewood for some 15 years, thinks the front side is a stroke or two harder.

"We have a course with very little out-of-bounds," he said. "You can recover from a stray shot and make a fairly simple bogey. But having birdie putts usually requires a pair of precise shots, the approach in particular, to elevated, well-bunkered greens."

The Reynolds course doesn't have the championship aura. But it does have hills, dales, doglegs, trees, and a paucity of flat lies. The driver is only an intermittent choice, as continuous doglegs serve to shrink the appropriate landing areas. Despite the difficulties, women flock to the Reynolds, as the forward tees mitigate at least some of the trials and tribulations found further back.

Despite its legacy and championship history, the two Trent Jones designs at Tanglewood still fly a bit below the radar. "It's not until our regulars travel elsewhere a little bit and see what we offer here at such value, that they realize how special this facility really is," Visintine said.

The verdict

Despite an extremely busy tee sheet, the courses are in fine condition. Just don't expect to breeze around in three-and-a-half hours. There's an excellent variety of holes on the championship course, although be sure to play from the middle markers at 6,600 yards. The forward tees, barely 6,000 yards in length, excise too much of the inherent challenge (if you're game enough, or have enough game, step to the 7,100 yard tips). These are nice courses by any definition, but the bargain-basement greens fee makes them extra compelling. It's no wonder that North Carolina Magazine voted the course the best value in the state back in 2002.

Stay and play

The Manor House ((919) 766-0591) is a 10-bedroom, upscale bed & breakfast in the park. The aforementioned cottages allow a small golf group to spread out in their own space, though it's not quite the Ritz. There's also a rental house on property with five bedrooms for bigger parties. In Winston-Salem, the Adam's Mark Hotel ((336)725-3500) offers 577 rooms and 26 suites, although the property has just recently split into a Marriott and Embassy Suites. Otherwise, there are the normal selections of Fairfield, Hampton, Holiday and La Quinta Inns around the city.

Dining out

In nearby Winston-Salem, Ryan's (*(336) 724-6132) *is a well-known, upscale steak and seafood place. Paul's Fine Italian ((336) 768-2645) needs no further explanation. For those who can't handle the 10-minute drive to "the city," right in Clemmons is Little Richard's ((336) 760-3457), a fine barbecue spot.

Fast fact

The course was designed as a par 70, and then became a par 72 when the senior tour pros couldn't get into red figures. Several longer par 4s were rechristened as par 5s. Then, as golf technology evolved through the 90s and beyond, players got longer off the tee, and the course reverted back to a par 70 several years ago.

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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