Carolinas filled with top-notch spots for weekend getaways

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Clocking out at noon on a Friday is a summertime rite of passage in the Carolinas. Bags and clubs already packed, the car full of gas, and a six-pack of Cheerwine soda on ice to get you through the ride. By supper time, all memos and meetings will be forgotten.

The majority of the two-state population is located in a handful of metropolitan areas: Charlotte, Greensboro/Winston-Salem, Raleigh/Durham, Columbia, S.C. and Charleston, S.C. There is mot a preponderance of resort golf getaways. But as any experienced "nooner" will tell you, some of the best golf in the United States awaits just an afternoon's road trip away.

Best Beach Golf Getaway -- Seabrook Island Resort

Kiawah Island and Wild Dunes get most of the ink when it comes to the Charleston golf scene. All the better for Seabrook Island Resort guests, who can sample the property's two stellar golf courses in relative anonymity. Seabrook is a half-hour south of downtown Charleston, and just three hours south of Charlotte. The atmosphere is unapologetically low key and appeals to weekend warriors who like to keep to themselves.

The Resort features 29 golf villa complexes with 190 comfy one-, two- and three-bedroom units. There are also 15 private homes available on the resort's rental program that range in size from three to six bedrooms. Anchoring the experience are 36 holes of pure Lowcountry golf. Only guests of the resort can snare tee times at the Willard Byrd designed Ocean Winds Course and Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed Crooked Oaks Course. So empty fairways and open tee boxes are not uncommon in the summer.

The two courses also provide an ideal cross section of Lowcountry golf. Crooked Oaks has an unmistakable Hilton Head feel, while Ocean Winds smacks of Kiawah or Wild Dunes. Crooked Oaks recently underwent a $2.4 million overhaul that included the installation of the area's only bentgrass greens. At Ocean Winds, the front nine plays through the interior of the island while the back nine takes is a wild and windy ride around the resort's perimeter.

Best Mountain Golf Getaway -- The Grove Park Inn

The bustling mountain town of Asheville has a lot going for it: near-perfect climate, enviable location in the foothills of the Appalachians, and the state's best live music scene, to name a few things. The historic Grove Park Inn and its storied Donald Ross designed resort course trump them all when it comes to a convenient, lavish weekend escape. Just a two-hour drive from Charlotte and a three-hour trek across I-40 from the Triad area, the Grove Park Inn is accessible for a huge chunk of Tar Heel state residents.

The golf course is fresh off a major face lift that has it mentioned (once again) as one of the top Ross courses available to the public. Traditionalists -- you can breathe out now -- the course was in good hands while under the knife. Greensboro based architect Kris Spence and Grove Park superintendent Greg Benton used a circa 1940s aerial photographs of the course to guide their redesign work.

The duo lengthened a handful of holes, removed more than 400 trees, restored bunkers and mounds to their original positions, and laser-leveled and re-grassed all 18 tee boxes and rebuilt all fairway and greenside bunkers. The old Bermuda grass fairways were replanted with a new bentgrass hybrid (Pinntrio) and the greens were outfit with new A4 bentgrass.

Best Piedmont Golf Getaway -- Pine Needles Resort

What the golf courses of the North Carolina Sandhills lack in scenery, they more than make up for in convenience and quality. The picturesque town of Southern Pines is just a one hour drive from Raleigh and two hours from Charlotte. The bucolic burg is home to some of the state's top horse farms and one of the Carolina's most venerated golf resorts -- Pine Needles/Mid Pines. Peggy and Bullet Bell purchased Pine Needles in 1953 with the intent of shaking the resort's reputation as an overflow property for Pinehurst Resort. And shake they did. Today, Pine Needles' Ross designed course is considered one of the top resort tracks in the world, and has hosted the 1996 and 2001 U.S. Women's Opens (it has also been tapped for the 2007 Open).

Pine Needles is a golf nut's panacea. The resort's Swiss Alps styled lodge is an understated edifice with a utilitarian purpose -- providing guests a cozy place to sleep just a chip shot from the first tee. The hallways of the clubhouse are adorned with enough historical pictures and plaques to make the Smithsonian blush.

As for the courses -- neither Pine Needles (6,727) nor its sister course, Mid Pines (6,528) play long by today's standards. But narrow fairways, strategically placed bunkers and turtle shell shaped greens protect par from low handicappers. Both courses are walkable, even during the dog days of summer.

Other Best Bets: Best long weekend golf getaway -- the Outer Banks. Best shot at romance golf getaway -- tie: Daufuskie Island Resort, S.C., Pinehurst Resort. Best golf getaway for guys who like golf getaways -- Barefoot Resort, North Myrtle Beach, S.C. Best golf getaway on the cheap -- Sante e-Cooper Resort, Santee, S.C.

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 from 1997 to 2003.

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