Fayetteville offers quality, affordable golf

By Patrick Jones, Contributor

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -- This is a town that rises into the national consciousness in time of international conflict. Known worldwide for its military might, Fayetteville is home to Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base. The Army's Special Forces (Green Berets), the 82nd Airborne Division and the Golden Knights parachute team are based here. An "All-America City" (one of 10 selected in the nation in 2001) of 123,000 residents, it hugs Interstate 95 at the midpoint, the turn if you will, between New York and Florida.

Golfers traipsing up and down the East Coast on I-95, many on their way to established meccas such as Pinehurst, Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach, probably know Fayetteville as a nice spot for dinner, gassing up the tank and a well-guarded sleepover. Most, it's a good bet, probably never have considered it as their primary golfing destination.

That perception might steadily change if the Fayetteville Golf Association (FGA) can get out the message that the city offers much more than regular sightings of C-130 transports lumbering across the sky.

Along with its prominent role in supporting our nation's defense, Fayetteville offers a variety of recreational opportunities. It has a sporting heritage - Babe Ruth slugged his first professional home run here in 1914 - that is heavily influenced by golf.

Raymond Floyd, a U.S. Open and Masters champion, and his sister, former LPGA player Marlene, developed their games growing up in Fayetteville.

Chip Beck, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour, is a native.

Local Methodist College is a Division III golf juggernaut. The women's team captured its sixth consecutive national championship in May, and the men's team is a perennial contender. The school offers a golf management degree program that furnishes some of the game's best-prepared club professionals.

Fayetteville knows golf. Golf travelers should consider ranking the city high on their destination list for several reasons. For one, it's home to the Davis Love III-designed Anderson Creek Golf Club, recipient of North Carolina Magazine's "Best New Course" in the state entitlement, along with other quality layouts that include Cypress Lakes, King's Grant, Gates Four, Bayonet at Puppy Creek, Carolina Lakes, Baywood and Keith Hills.

"Our community has always realized that golf is a great niche market for us to develop and one of our stronger assets," said John Meroski, president and CEO of the Fayetteville Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We see a lot of golfers in the spring, but what we're trying to do is build that traffic 10 or 11 months out of the year. With the climate in North Carolina, you can golf for that long and we want to capture that.

"People who come and experience our golf will be pleasantly surprised," he added. "We invite golfers to come in, enjoy our hospitality and give us a try."

Packages that include a hotel stay, an 18-hole round and breakfast begin at just $74. Green fees at all of the courses in the Fayetteville area, even on weekends, never reach the $50 mark.

"Our accessibility makes us an ideal location for golfers," said Meroski. "The affordability of our golf coupled with the quality of the courses we can offer is just what golfers are looking for. For a non-traditional market, we offer an excellent alternative to the established golf destinations like Myrtle Beach and Pinehurst."

What else to do

Besides the golf, there are plenty of other diversions to occupy travelers between rounds and after hours.

The Airborne & Special Operations Museum should be at the top of the list. Among its draws is a simulator that lets you experience a helicopter attack, a parachute jump and an ATV pursuit (which might seem mild stimulation to golfers who have spent a round trying to convert up and downs after short-siding themselves around the green).

"From an arts and cultural perspective, we talk about Fayetteville being 'Festive-ille,' meaning that there is regularly some type of festival or arts and entertainment event going on in our community," said Meroski. "We also offer a plethora of retail opportunities from the mainstream malls and retail outlets, as well as downtown shopping at our boutique shops."

Dining options are also plentiful in Fayetteville. Chris's Steak House on Raeford Rd. is one of the local's favorites. Bella Villa on S. McPherson Church Rd. is an excellent choice for those who prefer Italian cuisine in an informal setting.

In addition, considering hops-based beverages are a favorite of many golfers, the city has a couple of microbreweries -The Mash House and Huske Hardware Brewing Company - that would be a good addition to an itinerary.

Hotel choices for golf packages include the Holiday Inn Bordeaux, which is centrally located to most destinations.

Fayetteville area golf courses

Here is a quick rundown of each of the courses you can play in the Fayetteville area.

Anderson Creek Golf Club - Designed by Davis Love III, this was his first foray into course design in his native state and it has won rave reviews. North Carolina Magazine voted it the "Best New Course" in the state. The 7,108-yard, par-72 course has a Pinehurst-like feel without the accompanying prices.

Bayonet at Puppy Creek - This 7,021-yard Willard Byrd design opened in 1995. The course was the brainchild of Joe Poole, owner and operator of Carolina Turf Co. The course has played host to Hooters Tour events.

Baywood Golf Club - This is a Stuart Gooden design that opened in 1990. It is not a particularly demanding course, playing to 6,800 yards from the back tees with a slope/rating of 126/71.9.

Carolina Lakes Golf Course - Located in Harnett County off N.C. 87, this Robert Trent Jones Jr. layout was completed in 1981. The golf course has tree-lined fairways and bent grass greens.

Cypress Lakes Golf Course - This aptly named course combines challenging and scenic golf along with an Okefenokee Swamp-like feel on certain holes, particularly the par-3 ninth, which requires a carry over tannin-stained water. This is the home of the golfing Floyds. L.B. Floyd, Raymond and Marlene's daddy, along with Stuart Gooden, designed the course back in 1968.

Gates Four Golf & Country Club - This club completed a $5 million, 29,000-square-foot clubhouse in 2001 that is the envy of Cumberland County. Maples Golf Management has overseen Gates Four since 1999. Architect Dan Maples put his imprint on the course, including reversing the two nines, bringing golfers home with a view of the new clubhouse. The original Willard Byrd design opened in 1967.

Keith Hills Golf Club - Located in Buies Creek, this 36-hole layout is the home course of the Campbell University golf team. Ellis Maples opened the original 18 in 1974. Son Dan Maples completed the second 18 in 2002. Golf Digest voted Keith Hills one of the Top 100 "Bangs for Your Buck" in the country.

King's Grant Golf & Country Club - A semi-private course designed by Jim Holmes and opened in 1990. It was chosen the No. 1 course in Cumberland County in 2000 and 2001 by readers of the Fayetteville Observer.

"Fayetteville offers as high a quality of golf courses as anything you will find in Myrtle Beach or Pinehurst," said Loren Beahm, president of the FGA and head golf professional for the past nine years at Gates Four. "We don't have the historic background of a Pinehurst No. 2, but the golf courses in Fayetteville are high quality and they compare favorably with anything you are going to find elsewhere in the country or the region.

"Even better, they are not crowded and the prices are extremely reasonable," added Beahm. "There's not a golf course in the area that going to charge you $50 any day of the year, and that includes the cart. That is tough to beat."

Patrick JonesPatrick Jones, Contributor

Patrick Jones was the senior producer for ESPN's "Lower Your Score with Tom Kite" CD-ROM instructional golf training series. He spent six years as a full-time sports writer and was awarded first-place honors for column writing from both the Florida and Texas sports writers associations.

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