North Carolina Piedmont features timeless charm
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The vast, inland Piedmont of North Carolina isn't equipped with the scenery to go toe-to-toe with the state's coastal and mountain regions. But its rolling hills, green pastures and billowing willow oaks provide the perfect stage for some of the state's best golf courses.
The Piedmont spans the area between the foothills of the Appalachians an hour west of Charlotte and the coastal plains an hour east of Raleigh. In between, a diverse collection of big cities, BBQ joints and memorable, challenging layouts awaits the traveling golfer.
The Deal: The "birthplace of American golf" is widely considered one of the best golf destinations in the world. Forty-some courses dot the Sandhills region, many of which are considered tops in the state. The venerable Pinehurst Resort is where it all began by way of James Tufts and Donald Ross.
The stately golf haven features eight memorable layouts, including one of the world's most decorated courses - Pinehurst No. 2. In nearby Southern Pines, Pine Needles Resort is home to a classic Ross course that has hosted two women's U.S. Opens and neighboring Mid Pines sports its own respectable Ross design. Plenty of top notch, standalone courses abound, as well, including the Pit, the National Club, Talamore, and Keith Hills.
What's New: Remodels and redesigns. Rees Jones recently remodeled Pinehurst Resort's No. 7 course and the hilly layout is available to guests of the resort and the general, paying public. Tom Fazio redesigned No. 4 a few years back, making it one of the must-play courses in the entire state.
What's Timeless: The resorts. Pinehurst Resort, Mid Pines and Pine Needles are throwbacks to a time when a golf trip was all about, well, golf. Pinehurst Resort retains much of its original flavor and its white-washed, traditional architecture juxtaposed against the lush green of its championship courses is a surreal sight. Pine Needles and Mid Pines are still owned and operated by the Bell and Miller families, and once you set front in the front door, you're family, too.
Why Go: Value, quality, and ambiance. World class golf in a family atmosphere all for a price that is competitive if not lower than other upscale golf destinations. Every serious golfer must experience Pinehurst and the Sandhills at least once.
The Deal: Bustling Charlotte metro area consisting of six counties, 1.6 million residents and over 70 golf courses - most of which are daily fee or semiprivate. A major banking center and business travel destination with a solid supporting cast of sneaky good golf facilities.
What's New: The area's first new course in nearly four years and a PGA Tour event. The new Rees Jones layout at Rock Barn Country Club in Conover is drawing rave reviews and has already been slated to host a Champions Tour event this fall. The Wachovia Championship makes its inaugural appearance at Quail Hollow Country Club May 5-11, ending a 22-year PGA Tour absence.
What's Timeless: Charlotte's private clubs. The Charlotte Country Club, Quail Hollow CC, and Myers Park CC may be off limits to the public, but they defined golf in the Queen City for years. Spring golf on one of the area's traditional layouts. With dogwoods, azaleas, and eastern redbuds, there are few places that can rival Metrolina's spring golf wares.
Why Go: Business and golf go hand in hand. Budget time for at least 18 holes after your final pie chart presentation of the day. The Ballantyne Resort in Charlotte's posh southeastern side is cashing in on this concept, with its luxury hotel, conference center, 18-hole resort course and Dana Rader Golf School. Charlotte courses are unequivocally affordable, with rounds ranging from $30 to $50 during the week.
The Deal: A three-city region made up of Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and High Point that boasts some of the most affordable pay for play golf in the Southeastern U.S. Located in the central Piedmont, the Triad is one of the most golf-rich urban areas in the U.S. No mountains, no beach, no problem. The Triad's modus operandi is its gently rolling hills, deciduous Carolina hardwoods, ultra competitive price points and appreciation for the game's traditions.
The region's two landmark facilities bookend the spectrum of daily and resort golf. Venerable Tanglewood Park in Winston-Salem is still regarded as the best public access golf facility in the state after 40 years of service. The Grandover Resort on the southwestern edge of Greensboro is the Triad's top "got next" candidate, sporting two highly ranked resort courses, a state-of-the-art spa and a behemoth resort hotel.
What's Timeless: Tanglewood Park and a new Chrysler Classic of Greensboro date. Home to two picturesque Robert Trent Jones designed courses, the Championship and the Reynolds. Both courses were built pre-1965, but both underwent major renovations in the 1970's. Both courses have at one time or the other appeared in Golf Digest's Top 100 Public Courses list, and the Championship Course hosted a PGA Championship in 1974. The CCG moves to from its traditional April date to an early October slot that virtually guarantees the event will have a stellar field.
Why Go: Bang for the buck. The Triad is arguably home to more accessible, affordable daily fee golf courses than other loosely defined urban area in the U.S. The only way to spend more than $50 on a round of golf here - even on a weekend -- is to rack up one heck of a bar bill in the clubhouse.
The Deal: The Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill area, aka 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. In light of a recent golf course construction mini-boom, the Triangle is oozing with solid daily fee golf options as well. The surrounding terrain and style of course that pervades the area is similar to the Triad and Metrolina, so expect traditionally style courses set amid gently rolling hills and thick strands of hardwoods and pines.
What's New: Davis Love III designed courses. Anderson Creek opened to high praise in 2002, and the Preserve at Jordan Lake is threatening to one-up its predecessor.
What's Timeless: Golf and grades. 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). They are also home to two of the Triangle's best tracks. The Finley course at UNC underwent an $8 million makeover from Tom Fazio that has it back in the good favor of students and local duffers. The Duke University Golf Club -- a Robert Trent Jones Sr. original retooled by son Rees in the early 1990s -- continually ranks as one of the best collegiate courses in the U.S.
Why Go: History, hoop-la and holes in one. Raleigh is the state capital and is worth a visit for history buffs. Get to the Triangle early enough (think first week of March) and you might be able to play 18 by day and catch a heated ACC hoops rivalry by night.
April 3, 2003