Golfing in North Carolina's Triangle on the Upswing

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

RALEIGH, NC - The Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill area, a.k.a. the "Triangle" bleeds college hoops. Duke University, the University of North Carolina, and North Carolina State are all within a half hour's drive of each other, and have cultivated some of the most intense rivalries in all of sports over the past 40 years.

The Triangle also oozes technology. Research Triangle Park (RTP), home to IBM, SAS Institute, and Glaxo Wellcome, among others, is one of the largest conglomerations of tech and pharmaceutical companies in the U.S.

Hoops, big business, and an extremely comfortable community that has been recognized by such publications as Newsweek and Money magazines as one of the country's best places to live, make the Triangle a desirable place to dwell.

But if you'd prefer to surround yourself with shameful amounts of daily fee golf, you'll find that this portion of the Piedmont lags behind its cousins to the south and west.

Charlotte has almost 80 golf courses within a forty-five minute drive of downtown. Greensboro, High Point, Winston Salem, know as the Triad, is a panacea of affordable, daily fee golf, with nearly 100 venues open to the public. The Triangle, on the other hand, weighs in with a respectable, but hardly overwhelming 50 golf courses you can play.

With hordes of white-collar workers and young people who would seem to be prime candidates for jumping on the golf bandwagon, one would think that the Triangle would be a haven for high-end, daily fee golf.

"It has caught up some here in the past few years," says Scott Martin, author of Golf in the Carolinas. "Charlotte had this incredible boom in the 1990's, in large part because there was still affordable land left around the periphery. But land has become so expensive around the Triangle, there just aren't as many new daily fee courses coming on line."

The early 1990's saw the addition of two John LaFoy designed courses in the Triangle - Devil's Ridge Golf Club in Clayton, and the Neuse Golf Club in Holly Springs. LaFoy, a former associate of George Cobb, drastically departed from his mentor's architectural style with these two modern tracks. Both feature blind tee and approach shots, uneven lies, and severely undulating greens that are similar to the Triangle golf scene, but leave many players scratching their heads.

In the late 1990's, the Triangle did experience a bit of a golden age in public golf course construction, with the addition of Falls Village, the Crossings, River Ridge, Eagle Ridge, and the Heritage Club. The PGA even got into the mix, opening the semiprivate TPC at Wakefield.

"Since we have so many golf courses in North Carolina, leave it to us to say that there's a shortage of golf courses in an area with 50 courses," says Jay Allred, publisher of Triad and Triangle Golf Today. "But you do have lines at first tees and longer pace of play in the Triangle than you do in the Triad, where there might actually be too many golf courses from where the owners sit."

Courses in Higher Education

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University are the hubs of higher education in the Triangle (with apologies to Wolf Pack alumni), and they also happen to form the epicenter of the area's traditional golf scene.

The Finley Course at UNC has long been recognized as one of the better collegiate golf courses in the country, and that was before Tom Fazio completed his recent revamping of the course. The remodeling job was heralded as "remarkable" by the Insiders Guide to Golf in the Carolinas," and carried a price tag of almost $8 million.

Even with the money spent on the remodel, Finley carries an affordable $40 greens fee on the weekdays, and you won't find a better place to play for the money. The greens are walk mowed each day, a Border Collie chases away any water foul looking to leave their mark on the fairways, and Finley now boasts one of the best practice facilities in the state.

Leave it up to the Dukies not to be upstaged by the hated Heels. Just down "Tobacco Road" at Duke University sits one of the Triangle's other great golf tracks, the Duke University Golf Club.

When legendary Wake Forest basketball coach "Bones" McKinney would pick up recruits from the airport (Wake Forest used to be in the town of Wake Forest, just outside of Raleigh) he would drive them around Duke's campus and tell them it was Wake's "other campus". Once a top recruit signed on, he'd matter of factly let him know that he'd be living on Wake's "original" campus.

The point being, Duke has a gorgeous campus, and the course at Washington Duke Golf and Country Club (pictured) takes full advantage of this prime property. The course was designed by Robert Trent Jones and originally opened for play in 1957.

In 1993, Rees Jones was persuaded by his daughter (a Dukie at the time) to revamp the course pro bono. The course is routed through some of the most beautiful hardwoods in the area, and is walkable if you are used to hoofing it and have a resting heart rate of 80 or under.

Towering pines and Carolina hardwoods frame every hole at the Duke Golf Club. In the spring, with the azaleas and dogwoods blooming, the surroundings are truly something to behold. Out of respect for his father (and recognizing that the Duke Golf Club was already one excellent golf course) Rees Jones retained the original routing, but completely blew up and rebuilt the tee boxes and green complexes. The result is one of the most visually stunning courses in the region.

Of Devils and Neuse's

So you aren't ready to dawn the cap and gown and march down the fairway with a bunch of matriculating golfers? The Triangle does offer up a sisterhood of three high-end, daily fee courses that have garnered some recognition from national publications.

Off the beaten path in Clayton, about a forty-minute drive from downtown Raleigh, you'll find LaFoy's Neuse Golf Club. The Neuse recently received four and half stars from Golf Digest in its "Places to Play" rankings.

The Neuse is a good modern golf course with rock outcroppings, rolling hills for fairways and hundreds of homes -- you aren't in the back yard of higher education anymore, and developers have to make a buck or two.

A few memorable holes at the Neuse provide the occasional glimpse of the Neuse River. But chances are you will walk away with more memories of the course's blind shots, penal layout, and severe greens. The course remains a steal at $40 on the weekdays, with afternoon twilight rates dipping even lower.

Over in Holly Springs is one of the Neuse's sister courses, Devil's Ridge. Similar to the Neuse, Devil's Ridge is a modern course that sports a great deal of mounding, blind tee shots, and undulating greens.

Devil's Ridge is a course that will inflate your score by five to seven stokes the first time you play: you simply don't know where you are hitting most of the time, so a yardage book is a key piece of equipment.

The third member of the family is the Lochmere Golf Club in the affluent Raleigh suburb of Cary (which according to locals stands for Containment Area for Relocated Yankees). Compared to Devil's Ridge and the Neuse, Lochmere is flat and refreshingly manageable at 6,867 yards from the tips.

As would be expected from a shorter course, Lochmere demands accuracy on most shots, especially off the tee. And with short distances between tee boxes and greens, the course is quite walkable and appealing to traditionalists.

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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