An introduction to North Carolina
The state of North Carolina is bordered by four other states; South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia in the north. It stretches over 500 miles from the Atlantic Ocean in the east, right into the Appalachian Mountains in the west. The topography here is hugely diverse, fantastic for golf courses!
Despite not being the biggest city in the state, the capital is Raleigh. The city is centrally located between Fayetteville, Greensboro and Rocky Mount. Charlotte is by far the biggest city and is surrounded by fantastic golf courses.
One place which punches well above its weight for the quality of golf on offer, is the town of Pinehurst. It is located in the southern part of the state and just to the west of Fayetteville. This is without doubt a golfing mecca and well worth a visit.
Despite its sizable coastline, most of the decent golf courses are nestled around Wilmington and along the stretch of land reaching down to South Carolina. When you consider Myrtle Beach is just over the border, it’s hardly surprising this is a golfing hotspot.
The best golf courses in North Carolina
West Hampton Golf Club
The first golf course on our list is the superb Wade Hampton Golf Club, which opened in 1987. Ever since opening, this stunner has never been outside America’s Top 50 best golf courses.
Many of the courses on this list surround major cities. But Wade Hampton is tucked away high up in the mountains far from any major urban hotspots. So beautiful is the location in Gorges State Park in Cashiers, it is the ultimate getaway for the more affluent.
Vast swathes of dense forest surround the fairways with mountain outcroppings peering overhead. The location is simply stunning. So who else than the emblematic Tom Fazio to come and design a course which makes the most of this unique environment.
Over the course of his career, Fazio has earned as much criticism as praise. Although with nearly a dozen golf courses in America’s Top 100, it’s fair to say he got it right plenty of times!
Well here at Wade Hampton he nailed it! This is a rare example where Fazio actually worked with the natural environment rather than imposed his will upon it. It is in doing the latter which has attracted most criticism.
Being a mountain course, there is plenty of elevation and you’re constantly kept guessing as to what is coming next. Fairways are relatively generous albeit with plenty of movement. But be wary of your approach play as there is plenty of trouble surrounding the greens.
Tobacco Road Golf Club
Approximately an hour’s drive from Raleigh, is the outstanding Tobacco Road. You’re also looking around a 30 minute drive north of the golfing mecca of Pinehurst
This unique plot of land was for many years tended by tobacco farmers. And then more recently, it was used for mining and sand excavation. So what Mike Stranz, the course architect, found upon arrival, was a truly one-of-a-kind site to work with.
Tobacco Road features land-modelling and course features which are extreme in nature. Extreme carries, hazards, shaping of the land, this really is a mind-blowing design.
In a way, this bucks the recent trend where architects who work seamlessly with the land, get more credit. But here at Tobacco Road, Stranz’s design vision was stamped in place.
But don’t let this take anything away from the course. It is wonderful. The surrounding sandhills are the perfect host to the course and consistent feedback is just how much fun it is to play here.
This is without a doubt one of the best golf courses in North Carolina. And like many golf courses close to Pinehurst, it is open to the public.
Located in the sandhills to the north of Pinehurst is the private member’s Dormie Club. It is a relative newcomer on the golfing scene having opened for play in 2010.
Going from Tobacco Road to Dormie Club, there couldn’t be a more dramatic juxtaposition in styles. Tobacco Road’s bold and extreme design versus the elegant and delicate routing at Dormie Club.
It was the design duo of Coore and Crenshaw who were called upon to design Dormie Club. These are two men who have built their reputation on creating beautifully sculpted, minimalist courses, which work seamlessly with the natural environment.
When arriving for the first time at the plot of land that was chosen, they must have been delighted. Smooth rolling sandhills swept with pine woodland just ready to be crafted into a golf course.
Jump forward to today and the course at Dormie Club is immensely fun to play. Wide fairways present ample opportunities to rip out the big dog/ Whilst the wonderfully sculpted greens are a delight to attack. There is no rough with instead sandy-run offs into pine trees, which again encourages aggressive golf.
Charlotte Country Club
Just a few minutes drive east out of town through the Plaza Hills and Plaza Midwood neighborhoods, is the superb Charlotte Country Club
There are a number of Donald Ross designed golf courses throughout North Carolina. Charlotte Country Club is without doubt up there as one of the finest to behold.
Over the years it has hosted numerous high profile tournaments including the U.S. Amateur, the U.S. Senior Amateur and the U.S. Women’s Amateur championships.
Opened by founding members in 1910, it wasn’t until 1926 that Donald Ross was brought in to improve the rudimentary layout. Ross’ routing is generally considered as the ‘original’ layout.
Two of the golfing world’s most famous architects, Robert Trent Jones Sr and Tom Fazio, both took turns in updating the course. But it wasn’t until more recently that Ron Pritchard was commissioned to bring the original Ross design to the fore.
This renovation has worked wonders with numerous greens being remodeled to emulate those Ross would have designed. Trees were removed and bunkers were added to reestablish the original bunker count of 1926.
Pine Needles Golf Course
There are so many outstanding golf courses in the Pinehurst area, including all of those part of the Pinehurst Resort. It is therefore very easy to overlook other top class courses in the vicinity, and Pine Needles is one of them.
Although Pine Needles is hardly obscure, I truly believe it is one of the hidden gems of the region. Even more so following the Kyle Franz renovation.
The course first opened in 1927 and was designed by none other than Donald Ross. Ross left his mark on so many of the golf courses in this part of North Carolina.
But as with so many courses, over time the original layout and features often get lost. Be it through nature slowly encroaching the course or none too subtle maintenance and renovation projects.
Whatever the reasons here at Pine Needles, they understood the need to reestablish Ross’ original design. So they called upon Kyle Franz, a man who has on more than one occasion expertly renovated Ross designs.
Today the course is outstanding and a real beacon of early 20th century design. Like many courses in the Pinehurst area, there are gently rolling sandhills and swathes of pine woodland which dominate the site. This is a delight to play.
Old Town Club
This fabulous golf course is located in the northern outskirts of Winston-Salem, a city in northern North Carolina.
The term hidden gem has been used to describe Old Town. Not so much because it hasn’t earnt decent praise over the years (it’s considered as one of the Top 100 golf courses in the world!). But because it is a course very few people manage to play.
The course is private, so knowing a member is your only way on. And secondly, because Winston-Salem is probably not a name on many people’s ‘holiday destinations’ list. Which means Old Town is one of those Top 100 golf courses few people know about or have played.
Despite that, this is without doubt one of the finest examples of golf course architecture from the ‘Golden Age’. The course was built just before World War II and designed by Perry Maxwell.
The topography of the site is quite sensational, with hardly a flat lie anywhere on the course. This means fairways and greens have distinct undulations but are fair at the same time. Many fairways are sloping and there is never a flat approach, with many greens slightly elevated so ball control is essential.
Quail Hollow Club
Located to the south of Charlotte approximately 25 minutes drive from downtown is Quail Hollow. This golf course is without doubt one of the finest golf courses in North Carolina.
The club was inaugurated in 1959 with the George Cobb designed course opening for play in 1961.
Over the years, there has been plenty of upgrading, with Arnold Palmer modifying a handful of holes in the mid-80s. Tom Fazio reconstructed the course in the late 90s and again in 2016.
The site is incredibly peaceful, partly due to its 257 acres of nature with not a house to be seen. But this masks the incredible challenge of the course. So tough is Quail Hollow, it regularly hosts PGA Tour events, with the Wells Fargo Championship an annual event.
In 2017 Quail Hollow hosted the PGA Championship and hosted the President’s Cup in 2021. This private club really is a prestigious place to play.
This is the flagship course at the spectacular Pinehurst Resort and is considered to be one of the finest golf courses in the world, let alone North Carolina.
Designed by Donald Ross who was responsible for many of the layouts in the region, Pinehurst No.2 is really quite special. The landscape within which the course is routed is quite sensational and absolutely immaculate. It is one of these courses which just seamlessly blends into the surrounding environment.
Yet don’t spend too much time admiring the scenery, the course is tough and 100% concentration is needed. Hitting the fairways isn’t too much of a challenge, it is the approach play where things really become difficult and many a shot is lost. The crowned greens demand precision putting and nothing less.
The course is held in such high esteem, it has hosted the U.S. Open on numerous occasions and has for decades been ranked as the best golf course in North Carolina. And the good news is that this isn’t a private club.
Roaring Gap Club
We’re in the land of Longleaf Pines in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Here there are many outstanding mountaintop golf courses, many of which are quite sensational layouts with stunning views.
So choosing which to feature in this list was a challenge. But one kept coming back as just a little superior to the others. And that club was Roaring Gap, a private mountain community club.
The course is located a good few thousand feet up in the mountains driving out from Winston-Salem. It is another Donald Ross creation which opened in 1926.
It is playing a course like Roaring Gap where you really respect Ross’ architectural vision and prowess. The way he has sculpted the course into the land is quite astounding.
The course is divine, and has benefitted from recent investment in reestablishing Ross’ original designs. Amongst others, there was significant tree removal and upgrading of all 18 greens, elevating Roaring Gap and giving it a new lease of life.
Grandfather Golf & Country Club
Another golf course located up in the Blue Ridge Mountains close to Linville, is Grandfather. Like a number of the courses in this area, it is a private club community, owned by the members, featuring a number of amenities and other facilities.
There are two courses here, the Championship course and the Mountain Springs course, the latter which is focused towards families and golfers of all skill levels. It is the epic Championship course which gets the rave reviews and is considered one of the best golf courses in North Carolina.
Designed by Ellis Marples in 1968, the course is widely considered his architectural masterpiece. There are stunningly beautiful tree-lined fairways with the constant backdrop of the Appalachian Mountains.
Being a mountain course, naturally there are some dramatic elevation changes, against which you are constantly trying to navigate your ball. So much so, teeing it down the middle is not always the right choice with the fairways pitching sometimes quite aggressively from one side to another. Don’t be surprised if you find your ball in one of the many creeks or streams hidden amongst the trees!
Country Club of North Carolina (Dogwood)
Just south of the Pinehurst Resort but still centrally located is the gated community of the Country Club of North Carolina with its two courses, Dogwood and Cardinal. Despite the fact both courses are quite sensational, it is Dogwood which earns the plaudits.
The course opened for play in 1963 and was the creation of two golf course architects, Ellis Marples and Willard Byrd. Not long after opening, the course quickly began to earn recognition and praise, and was soon considered one of the finest golf courses in North Carolina.
The course, like so many others in the Sandhills belt, is characterized by rolling hills and longleaf pines. But unlike those at the Pinehurst Resort, water comes into play with the huge Watson Lake and a number of other smaller lakes and creeks dotted around the site. This is most evident on the 3rd hole with its island green and the 4th with water running down the whole of the left-hand side.
The condition of the courses here really is superb, with the Bermuda grass greens and Zoysia fairways some of the best conditioning you’ll find in the state.
What is the best golf course in North Carolina?
The best golf course in North Carolina is the sensational Pinehurst No.2, in the city of Pinehurst. It was designed by Donald Ross and has hosted many tournaments including the U.S. Open on multiple occasions.