Interstate 95 Offers Golfers Several Top Rest Stops

By Patrick Jones, Contributor

CLAYTON, NC -- Interstate 95, the paved artery that connects the U.S. East Coast from Miami to the Canadian border, traverses through North Carolina for 183 miles. Vacationers and business travelers with clubs in the trunk can easily find quality rounds within reach via short detours off this lengthy asphalt ribbon. Getting off the road and getting in a good round of golf might be just what the teaching pro and chiropractor ordered to break up a trip through the Mid-Atlantic States. It will certainly be time better spent than stopping to see Pedro’s sombreroed cabeza at South of the Border, arguably the world’s tackiest tourist trinket shop.

Heading north through the state, I-95 passes through the military town of Fayetteville – home of Fort Bragg – and within 45 miles of the world renowned golfing mecca of Pinehurst. If a 90-minute round trip diversion to play Pinehurst No. 2 is more of a side trek than you can fit into your itinerary, you still have some excellent options. Anderson Creek, a Davis Love III course opened in 2001, is only 12 miles northwest of Fayetteville in Spring Lake, NC, just off Highway 87. Anderson Creek’s par 72, 7,180-yard layout was voted “Best New Course” by North Carolina Magazine. The course was truly a labor of love for Love, a 14-time PGA Tour winner who was born in the state and played collegiate golf at the University of North Carolina.

Continuing to head north on I-95, your next quality golfing option is Keith Hills Country Club. Take exit 73 off the interstate and head to the hamlet of Buies Creek, home of the Campbell University Camels.

Located just 12.5 miles off 1-95 on U.S. 421, the par 72, 6,703-yard Ellis Maples design has won a slew of awards. Golf Digest voted Keith Hills as one of the top 100 bangs for your buck in the country. Carolina Magazine rated it the seventh best public course in the state.

And things are only improving at Keith Hills. Dan Maples is adding an additional 18 holes to complement his father’s work that originally opened in 1974. The new front nine opened at the end of 2001. The back nine opens Nov.1, 2002.

Don’t have time to get in a full round, but just want to tweak your in-to-out path after Ben Hogan’s swing secret came to you while deep in an interstate driving trance? Keith Hills should still be your destination. Its 32-acre practice facility was listed as one of the top 50 in the Southeast by Golfweek.

Another 30 to 45 minutes north on I-95 and you are within a short trek from The Neuse in Clayton. Exit onto Hwy. 70 West in Smithfield, famous for its outlet mall and for being the birthplace of – pick your favorite – Hollywood starlet Ava Gardner, veteran PGA Tour grinder Neal Lancaster and former Montreal Expo baseballer Barry Foote. Clayton and The Neuse are only about a 20-minute ride if you don’t stop in Smithfield to view Ava’s museum or the historical marker in front of the county courthouse. The marker informs that Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, better known for torching Dixie than for his short game, was bivouacked in Smithfield when news arrived on the clinching match in the hotly contested North-South. Bob Lee, dormie to Ulysses Grant at an Appomattox, VA, layout, had conceded the tap-in.

The Neuse is a demanding John LaFoy design that has garnered its own share of kudos from the various golf publications: 4-½ stars from Golf Digest, voted “Best New Course in North Carolina” by Golf Digest shortly after its opening and recently chosen as the second best publicly accessible course in the state, which caused it no shame being the runner-up to Pinehurst No. 2, host of the 1999 U.S. Open. It is a favorite layout of many Triangle (Raleigh-Durham) golfers who don’t mind a short drive to the east. The course is 20 miles from the heart of downtown Raleigh.

The Neuse plays to a demanding 7,010 yards from the back tees and has a slope of 136 with a rating of 73.5. Several holes wind next to the Neuse River, but the waterway does not come into play unless you hit a career banana slice off the No. 4 tee. Golfers need to have their game in gear on the easier front nine because the lengthy rollercoaster ride on the back side is not conducive to salvaging scores. The course’s photogenic hole is No. 14, a par 3 partially over water with a gauntlet of boulders fronting the green. Poorly struck tee shots have been known to wildly ricochet from rock to rock like a haywire Pong video game before unceremoniously taking a dunk in the drink.

The final I-95 destination in the northern part of the state is The Course at Northgreen, formerly known as Northgreen Country Club, in Rocky Mount. You might as well play golf in this town considering that its infamous attraction, Uniroyal Gal, a 20-foot fiberglass bikini clad woman spinning a beach ball, has been removed from the front of Mosley’s Shady Lake Motel. (This is true, not a poor attempt at humor.)

Northgreen, located less than 10 minutes from exit 141, was designed by Bob Toski and opened for play in 1973. It has hosted numerous Atlantic Coast Conference tournaments over the years. Wake Forest’s Gary Hallberg won the ACC’s individual title at Northgreen in 1980. The course hosted the event for six straight years from 1989 to 1994 with former Georgia Tech golfer and British Open winner David Duval winning the collegiate conference event at the layout in 1991and 1993.

So there you have it. Interstate 95 may look, at first cruise, like a mere connecting road for off-ramp fast food joints, or a drag strip for drivers high-tailing it back and forth from Florida. But with a variety of quality golf opportunities just short jaunts away, North Carolinians can get away with calling this stretch of highway their own paved Grand Strand of golf.

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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