An introduction to Raleigh
The capital city of North Carolina, this time we’re looking at the best golf courses in Raleigh.
When most people think of cities in North Carolina, they’re likely to think of the booming mega-city of Charlotte. Or maybe even Wilmington on the coast or Greensboro. But it is Raleigh that has been the state capital since the sixteenth century.
The city forms part of the Research Triangle, alongside Chapel Hill and Durham and is renowned for its scholarly institutions. These include Duke University, North Carolina Central University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
With quite a young population, the city is vibrant and growing a more sophisticated reputation as time goes by. There is a modern feel alongside the Southern charm which makes the city so welcoming.
There are some fantastic places to visit, including one of the world’s oldest amusement parks in Pullen Park. It was established in 1887 and is a great place to take the kids.
The food scene is terrific and has been slowly but surely growing a positive reputation nationwide.
One thing you can be sure of and that is quality golf courses. There is a wide collection of top class private golf courses and a handful of decent public ones.
See also: What are the best golf courses in North Carolina?
For the purpose of this list, I’m only including golf courses that are a half hour drive from central Raleigh. So for example, I’ve not included the likes of Treyburn Golf Club, a superb course designed by Tom Fazio. Or likewise Governor’s Club, both of which are over 45 minutes drive.
The best golf courses in Raleigh, North Carolina
1. Raleigh Country Club
We kick off our best golf courses in Raleigh list with the sumptuous Raleigh Country Club, just minutes from downtown.
This iconic club is home to Donald Ross’ last golf course design and it’s a spectacular layout. It was 1948 when Raleigh’s course opened for play, also sadly the year Ross passed away.
The course is routed on beautifully rolling land to the east of the city, a landscape within which it flows seamlessly.
There are many typical Ross design features dotted throughout, many of which have been delightfully renovated by the talented Kyle Franz. Franz headed up a 2020 major multi-million dollar renovation, which was funded by McConnell Golf who own the course.
Trees were removed, new bunkers installed and green complexes completely reworked, this was no small task. And Franz was without doubt the perfect person to work on the project, having successfully overseen similar renovations at a handful of Ross courses in Pinehurst.
Raleigh Country Club is a superb course maintaining very high standards. Albeit sadly a member-only club.
2. Hope Valley Country Club
One of the finest Donald Ross designs, Hope Valley Country Club is well deserving of the recognition it receives.
The club is located in the southern outskirts of Durham, about a half hours drive from central Raleigh.
There are of course a large number of Donald Ross designs in North Carolina. But the routing at Hope Valley has largely been kept as the original 1926 design. And this despite multiple renovations.
Over the years, Perry Maxwell, Dan Maples, John LaFoy, Brian Silva and Kris Spence have all been called upon to ‘touch up’ Hope Valley. Greens and tee boxes have been modified, but the actual routing has largely remained the same.
At a modest 6,700 yards, the main defenses of the golf course are uphill shots and false fronts. The greens are also incredibly rapid and a 4-putt is never too far away!
In the mid 1940s, it was also the host venue to the PGA Tour’s Durham Open. The 1945 event was won by Byron Nelson, which happened to be the 4th of his incredible 11 consecutive wins that year.
3. Duke University Golf Club
The highly regarded institution that is Duke University, has been in the outskirts of the city of Durham for well over a decade.
It is renowned nationwide for being one of the finest universities in the country, accepting some of the brightest and most athletic students.
It also has a fine golfing division, home to the Duke Blue Devils. Over the years many have graduated onto the various pro circuits. And anyone who does play golf for the Blue Devils gets to play on the superb Duke University golf course.
The idea first originated for a golf course in the 1930s, with plans eventually being drawn up by the famed architect Perry Maxwell. But due to World War II and various other reasons, those plans were shelved until the mid 1950s.
This time, the administration sought out the world-famous Robert Trent Jones Sr, famous for countless designs worldwide. In September 1957, the course finally opened for play. The 120 acre site seemed primed for golf. Countless elevation changes spread across the rolling terrain. Characterizing the site is a blanket of hardwoods and pines, endemic to the area.
Rees Jones returned many years later to renovate the course, in what was undoubtedly a very personal project. This is a fine course.
4. Old Chatham Golf Club
Not quite on the shores of Jordan Lake, but in that direction from central Raleigh, is the superb Old Chatham Golf Club. This is a quiet and peaceful plot, which seems a million miles away from the ‘Research Triangle’.
The club is located on 400 acres of protected woodland with no residential homes anywhere near the property.
Old Chatham came to life in 1999, when a handful of business leaders from around the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill Triangle came together to start a golf-only club. Having chosen the perfect spot, they then appointed the celebrated Rees Jones to design the course routing.
Jones’ reputation precedes him and at Old Chatham he’s once again delivered with a sensational layout which makes full use of the spectacular landscape.
The course is a challenge, with a myriad of bunkers protecting bunkers and lining fairways. Hitting the greens in regulation is no mean feat, especially if the course is extended to 7,200 plus yards!
What elevates Old Chatham is without doubt the course conditioning. The club is devoted to ensuring the maintenance is as good as you’ll get not just in Raleigh, but North Carolina.
The practice facilities are immense, well worth arriving early to enjoy if you do get an invite here.
5. Hasentree Club
Located in Wake Forest to the north of Raleigh, is the elegant family-orientated country club of Hasentree.
This premier gated community has a wealth of amenities including three pools, one of which is a six-lane, 25-yard competition pool. There is an impressive 90-foot double-loop water slide, tennis courts and the finest fitness equipment and classes.
But without doubt, the center-piece of the community is the Tom Fazio designed 18-hole championship course.
This is an outstanding layout and definitely one of the top golf courses in Raleigh. The rolling natural topography accommodates this fine layout which extends to just under 7,100 yards from the tips.
There are some unique features throughout including a double-green on the 10th hole as well as five par-3s, of which the sixth measures 238 yards from the tips.
Fairways are generally wide, encouraging aggressive play from the tees. In fact three of the four par-5s are reachable in two. Although beware the 88 steep faced bunkers which have been strategically positioned in landing areas and hidden around the corners of doglegs.
This is a fine golf course and definitely one of the better Fazio designs in the state.
6. MacGregor Downs Golf Club
Just off Interstate 1 and 64 West in a lovely wooded private residential community, is MacGregor Downs Country Club.
The club was established in 1967 and is nestled on the shores of the pristine Lake MacGregor in Cary.
To complement the first-class membership, the club wanted a first-class golf course architect. For this, they turned to William Byrd, one of America’s leading course architects of the time.
This is an impeccable course which ever since opening, has hosted many top-tier golf tournaments. Foremost amongst these was the Liggett & Myers PGA Tour Match Play Championship. Many great names have subsequently graced these fairways.
But it’s not just the hosting of decent tournaments which have put MacGregor Downs in the limelight. It has also been regarded for the quality of its design, having been regularly ranked in North Carolina’s Top 50 golf courses.
The course is routed in a large clockwise circle around the 60-acre MacGregor Downs Lake. The only two times you cross the lake are at the 1st and 18th holes, the latter where your tee shot needs to be hit across the lake.
This is a superb golf course and well deserving of being on the list of best golf courses in Raleigh.
7. UNC Finley Golf Club
Like Duke, the University of North Carolina is a fine scholarly institution. It has a reputation that precedes it worldwide.
Within the university’s grounds, is a fine golf course which opened for play back in 1949. The construction of the course was funded by a local businessman A.E.Finley, hence the name.
The routing was originally designed by George Cobb. Although around the time of the millennium, the course sorely needed renovating. For this latest work, they turned to the world-famous Tom Fazio, a North Carolina native.
Fazio literally started from scratch, with very little of Cobb’s original routing alive today. And what he created is a masterpiece. So much so, Fazio said at the time this was as good a design as we can do.
The layout is incredibly playable, regardless of your ability. The key to scoring well is to pick your battles, know when to attack and when to be patient. Be too aggressive and you could spend plenty of time searching for balls in the tall pines.
The course has hosted numerous collegiate tournaments including the NCAA Men’s Regional Championship and the Men and the Women’s Tar Heel Invitational.
8. Lonnie Poole Golf Course
Yet another collegiate course in our list of best golf courses in Raleigh. This time, the fine Lonnie Poole Golf Course owned by North Carolina State University.
Lonnie Poole has the fine distinction of being the only collegiate course designed by golf legend Arnold Palmer.
The layout is nestled amongst Centennial’s 1,000 acres and this par-71 public course is just shy of 7,000 yards.
It is a fine course of which the design takes inspiration from Scottish traditional design as well as features in the existing landscape. Some of these include sizable elevation changes which also offer some magnificent views out across to Raleigh in the distance.
The bunkers are also quite ingenious, featuring jagged edges and irregular shapes. Most bunkers feature small islands and peninsulas covered in zeon zoysia grass.
One of the unique aspects of Lonnie Poole is how the design architecture has pivoted around sustainability. This includes an emphasis on protecting the natural environment as well as essentially being a living laboratory used by the university’s academic turf research and water quality research classes.
See also: What are the best public golf courses in North Carolina?
9. River Ridge Golf Club
Just a 15-20 minute drive south east from downtown Raleigh, is the wonderful River Ridge Golf Club.
This is southern Wake County and is a perfect plot of land for a golf course. Just to the north you have the meandering Neuse River and the surrounding landscape includes ravines and rolling hills. There are impressive rock outcroppings, lakes and wetlands, all of which have been artfully included in the design.
For the design, the club called upon Chuck Smith, a relative unknown in architectural circles. Indeed, Smith only has a handful of courses officially against his name. But once you’ve played River Ridge, it’s baffling he hasn’t been commissioned to do more.
The rocky outcroppings are generally used as aesthetic features whilst on a couple of holes, they’re used to aim at from the tee.
There are a couple of holes where big-hitters will be able to reach for the green. And the final 3-holes are without doubt some of the finest in the Triangle.
The club is part private, part public. And if you’re looking to play after 3.30 midweek, tee times start at $25….bargain!
10. Prestonwood Country Club
And so we get to the last on our list of best golf courses in Raleigh. Prestonwood is a superb, luxury country club 20 minutes to the west of the city.
This impressive facility has 54 holes of golf onsite. Two of these are championship layouts, the Meadows and the Highlands. The Fairways Course is a ‘short’ course albeit still 6,500 yards long!
All three layouts were designed by Tom Jackson, an architect who made his reputation in the U.S. Other notable courses of his include the Carolina Country Club in Spartanburg as well as Arrowhead Golf Course in Myrtle Beach.
Here at Prestonwood, are three fine layouts. The Meadows and Highlands both stretch over 7,000 yards and a composite of the two is used when the course hosts the PGA Tour’s Champions Tour event.
Unlike many of the courses on this list, water plays a constant threat. In fact on 13 of the 18 holes, water comes prominently into play. As for the Highlands, just 9 have water in play.
There is however the signature hole on the Highlands course. The 17th hole, a par-3 with an island green measuring 168 yards from the tips.
Of the courses, the Meadows probably just comes out on top, having been recognised as one of the Top 50 golf courses in North Carolina by The North Carolina Golf Panel.
What is the best golf course in Raleigh, North Carolina?
The best golf course in Raleigh is Raleigh Country Club, just minutes from downtown. The course is the last design by the great golf course architect Donald Ross, and opened for play in 1948.