North Carolina travel special: Golf in the North Carolina mountains

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

Boone Golf ClubCHARLOTTE, N.C. - Ask any Charlottean why they enjoy living in the “Queen City”, and proximity to the beach and mountains is bound to come up as a reason. Charlotte is situated in the southwestern part of North Carolina Piedmont, and you can be teeing it up at altitude, or at sea level within a matter of hours.

And while the beach - as in Myrtle Beach - may be the first golf excursion that pops into the minds of most Charlotte residents, the rolling hills and dramatic mountainsides of the North Carolina Mountains form the backdrop for an incredibly rich golfing region.

A golf trip to the mountains in the fall may sound like borderline insanity.

But remember, there is really nothing “north” about North Carolina. The state’s southern latitude keeps courses from Linville to Blowing Rock open through October and even well into November in Asheville and Hendersonville.

And according to local golf officials, the lure of mountain golf in the autumn isn’t lost on the “lowlanders” of Charlotte, Raleigh and Winston-Salem. Thomas Dale, head golf professional at the Linville Golf Club, estimates that between 70 and 75 percent of his course’s October play comes from the Piedmont.

“They all come up to see the leaves and golf,” Dale says. “We keep the course open here until the end of October, and the fairways are full up until then. Golfers come from as far away as Atlanta to experience the type of golf we have here.”

The type of golf that Dale is referring to is both traditional in its roots and jaw dropping in its beauty. With numerous designs from Donald Ross, Ellis Maples and George Cobb, the old school of golf course design is well represented throughout the mountain landscape.

But the sheer beauty of the land and the dramatic golf layouts its capable of producing are not lost on the new school of designers. Tom Fazio, perhaps the most decorated golf course architect of the past decade, makes his home in Hendersonville on a course designed by … well … who else?

Boone Golf ClubDale, for one, doesn’t hesitate to describe the North Carolina Mountains as a golfing destination.

“When you get down to it, what else is there to do up here really?” he deadpans. “You’d be amazed at how much this region’s economy depends on golf.”

Yet, the extreme topography ensures that the region will never be inundated with courses a la Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head. Also, many of the great mountain courses are private, and are off limits to visitors who don’t have a connection to a member.

“The only problem with golf up here is access,” Dale says. “Tee times are hard to come by in October because it’s our peak season because of the leaves. There are a lot of courses up here, but many of them are old, private clubs.

Exclusivity aside, there are dozens of daily fee and semiprivate layouts to explore this October. Here is a breakdown of where to stay and play.

Asheville

Asheville, home of famous American novelist Thomas Wolfe, is the largest city in the North Carolina Mountains. This quaint dale of over 60,000 residents is home to the University of North Carolina Asheville, the Grove Park Inn, and the Biltmore Estate – not too shabby in the way of cultural offerings.

Pound for pound, it also sports the most festive downtown of any North Carolina city.

Boone Golf ClubOpt for a room at the Groove Park Inn, or at one of the area’s many Bed and Breakfasts, and then make your way to out for some pure mountain golf.

Asheville golf courses:

Apple Valley Golf Club: Located in Lake Lure, Apple Valley is part of the Fairfield Mountain Golf Resort. The course at Apple Valley was designed by Dan Maples, features a nice mix of flat holes and rolling terrain. Apple Valley is fashioned in the resort course tradition, and will wreak havoc on only the highest of handicappers.

Bald Mountain Golf Club: Remember the movie “Dirty Dancing”? Well for you cinema buffs, one of the steamy scenes between Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray was filmed on Bald Mountain’s 16th green. Bald Mountain is also part of the Fairfield Mountain Golf Resort, but having opened back in 1974, the course has an older feel to it.

Like many mountain courses, Bald Mountain is a shotmakers course that places an emphasis on accurate iron play. Both courses at Fairfield are refreshingly affordable, with greens fees ranging from $30 on the weekdays to $45 on weekends and holidays.

The Grove Park Inn: Many golfers who have had the pleasure to knock it around at the GPI course will tell you that it is one of their top two of three favorites in the state. The course is not long, but Ross demonstrates a wonderful ability to mix up the yardages on his par 4’s and 5’s, giving the track a complete feel. The entire course takes up less than 80 acres, but you will never feel as if the walls are closing in on you.

The front nine plays through some relatively flat land. The back nine plays up and around the resort, and features some wonderful views of the surrounding mountains. You don’t have to stay at the resort to play at the course (a round typically costs between $70 - $100), but as Ferris Bueler once said, “I highly recommend it if you have the means.”

Maggie Valley Resort and Country Club: Picturesque is not the word to describe Maggie Valley. The town is essentially a two-mile long strip mall filled with chain stores and tourist traps. But the golf course is one of the best in the area.

The course has hosted a number of NC Opens, the women’s state senior championships, the Western NC PGA Assistant Pro Championships and a variety of other tournaments. So despite the lack of surrounding charm, somebody out there must think this is a great layouts.

The front nine stretches along a valley floor and the back nine is hilly with some elevated tee boxes and excellent views of the surrounding territory.

Golf courses in Blowing Rock and Boone

The quaint towns of Blowing Rock and Boone form the northern hub of the North Carolina Mountains. Boone, home to Appalachian State University, is the quintessential mountain college town packed full of pubs and cheap places to stay and eat. Blowing Rock is quaint, more mature, and a little pricey. Both burgs are surrounded by great golf courses that are playable until late October.

The Linville Country Club: Linville Golf Club is widely recognized as the best mountain course that North Carolina has to offer, and one of the best tracks in the entire state. Some locals swear by it, and visitors never forget it.

The course opened in 1924, and a better setting for golf in North Carolina you will not find. Behemoth hillsides, thick strands of hardwoods, and greens that you just don’t want to miss –with your approach shots that is highlight this Donald Ross designed layout. A quick call to the pro shop will garner you a complete list of where to stay in the area.

Boone Golf ClubBoone Golf Club: Donald Ross may be the most venerable design signature in the mountains, but Pinehurst’s Ellis Maples (father of Dan) isn’t far behind.

Boone GC is a one of the elder Maples first courses, and is the golfing highlight of the Boone area. Maples is generous with the landing areas off the tee, but the smallish, undulating greens call for accurate approach shots with a variety of irons.

Mount Mitchell Golf Club: Mount Mitchell Golf Club may be the best example of traditional golf course design in the northern part of the mountain region. Every hole is memorable and well designed, and the layout simply takes on the natural contours of the land.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.


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