The 'other' Duke-North Carolina rivalry: On the links

By Jennifer Mario, Contributor

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - If you live in the Triangle area of North Carolina, you eat, sleep, and breathe a rivalry that is among the finest in college sports.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was chartered in 1789, making it the oldest state university in the country, not to mention one of the best. Eight miles down Highway 15-501 you'll find Duke University, dubbed "The Harvard of the South" due to its reputation for academic excellence. Matchups between the Duke Blue Devils and the UNC Tar Heels are a highlight of the entire college basketball season.

But ACC basketball isn't the only show in town. And maybe not even the best - at least not for folks who do more than just watch from the sidelines.

After all, can the average basketball fan spend their Saturdays shooting hoops in Cameron Indoor Stadium with J.J. Redick, or take on Rashad McCants in the Dean Dome? Short answer: No. But the average golfer can, on the other hand, test their mettle on the same golf courses that each school's golf team claims as their home.

With March Madness in the air, what better time than the present to compare the two courses?

Tradition, tradition, tradition

Duke University Golf Club, home of the Blue Devils, was rated by Zagat's last year as the No. 2 college course in the country. Situated on 120 acres of undulating terrain, it was originally designed by legendary architect Robert Trent Jones, but then underwent a major transformation in 1993 by Jones's son, Rees Jones.

The course hosts many tournaments, including the 2001 NCAA men's golf championship. Visitors generally stay in the adjacent Washington Duke Inn, a lovely 146-room hotel built in the style of an old English country inn.

UNC Finley Golf Course, home of the Tar Heels, boasts a recent major redesign that makes it one of the finest courses in the area, says Senior Assistant Professional Staci Creech. An almost complete overhaul by Tom Fazio in 1999 resulted in a beautiful and challenging course that places it among the best.

In 2004 Golfweek ranked it the 11th best collegiate course in the nation. And it's perfect for sports fans, Creech said.

"Most of our customers are Carolina fans and they really enjoy the university atmosphere," Creech said. "Everything's geared toward the Tar Heels."

With five sets of tees ranging from 4,980 yards from the reds to 7,220 from the tips, golfers of all levels can play at their comfort level. Finley is, in fact, considered an excellent arena for women and juniors to test their skills. Home to numerous junior golf camps and host to the Mia Hamm Foundation Golf Classic (to be held in April), Finley is accessible to champions and beginners alike.

Duke vs. UNC: The matchup

How do the two courses compare? Duke Golf Club's Assistant Professional Samuel Calderone believes Duke is more difficult.

"Duke is a very challenging course, because of the elevated greens and the bunkers in front," Calderone said. "There's a premium on approach shots - you have to be able to carry it all the way to the green. And the greens are fast - 9.5 to 11 on the stimpmeter."

But Calderone's quick to add that Finley is a fine course as well.

"Both courses are in prime condition and have a lot to offer, just different styles - Rees Jones compared to Fazio," Calderone said.

Six-handicapper Bill Porter, a San Francisco attorney who visits the area frequently and plays both courses, agrees that Duke has more teeth.

"I've played all over the world, and I've never had my butt kicked like I have at Duke," Porter said. "It's the best test of skill I've ever come across."

Certainly Duke's rating and slope indicate a more difficult course: 72.8 and 136, respectively, versus Finley's 69.9 and 125 (from the blues). Calderone said that course knowledge is critical.

"It is a very challenging course," Calderone said. "People just don't take enough club for their shots to the green. If you know what to use and how to play it then you'll be successful."

Creech points out that she's heard that Finley is consistently in better shape than Duke. However, "Duke has better amenities," Creech said. "They have the hotel, a nice place to stay right there by the golf course."

Calderone agrees that Duke's amenities are top-notch. "We have the hotel, the restaurant, the Bull Durham lounge," Calderone said. "It makes for a different experience."

John Marino, head professional at Old Chatham Golf Club in Durham, is a Connecticut Huskies fan, and possibly the only unbiased party in town. Even so, he doesn't play favorites and said each course has its advantages.

"Duke is more demanding off the tee," Marino said. "But (at) Finley, you need to be better around the green. Every time I've played each I've enjoyed them immensely."

And if he had to choose one over the other? "I couldn't," Marino said. "They're both great courses."

Despite the rivalry, the staffs at the two courses remain friendly. "If for any reason our course is closed, we always recommend people try Duke instead," Creech said.

Calderone also notes this reciprocity, and characterizes the rivalry as "healthy."

"We have tremendous respect for Finley," Calderone said. "There's always the underlying rivalry. But our relationship is extremely amiable and complimentary."

The verdict

So which course deserves the title? Here's the bottom line: If you're a Triangle resident or even one of the 11.5 million visitors the area sees each year, you have access to two of the finest collegiate courses in the country.

Looking for a course with muscle and teeth? Duke's your best bet. Looking for genteel Southern charm and a better chance to score? Try Finley. Regardless of which shade of blue you prefer, both courses are guaranteed to turn you into a fan.

Green fees at Duke run $40-$65 on weekdays and $80 on weekends during the "on" season. At Finley, fees remain constant year-round at $45-$62 weekdays and $77 on weekends for guests not affiliated with the university.

Where to stay

The Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club, of course, is the place to stay when visiting Duke.

At UNC you'll have to drive to get to your hotel, but it's only a few minutes to The Carolina Inn, a charming, on-campus historical inn. Open since 1924, this beautiful little gem is listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

Where to eat

You haven't really experienced the Triangle area if you haven't dined at the landmark Angus Barn. This unique family-owned Raleigh steakhouse has won just about every major restaurant award there is to win.

Guests enter a rustic red barn and dine surrounded by antique farm implements that underscore North Carolina's agricultural roots. It's difficult to find a restaurant with more character and charm. And don't forget to order the award-winning chocolate chess pie for dessert.

Jennifer MarioJennifer Mario, Contributor

Jennifer Mario is a regular contributor to the TravelGolf Network and the author of "Michelle Wie: The Making of a Champion" (St. Martin's Griffin, 2006). A graduate of Duke University, she lives in the Triangle area of North Carolina with her family.

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