In our public golf course series, this time we’re looking at the best public golf courses in North Carolina. 

The capital city of the Tar Heel State is Raleigh, whilst Charlotte is by far the biggest city. But when it comes to golf, the city of Pinehurst is on a pedestal of its own. 

The city is littered with quality public access golf courses and a visit here is stepping into a golfing mecca. Not only is there a decent quantity of public access golf courses, but there is outstanding quality too.

But step outside of Pinehurst and you’ll still find some superb options for golf courses you can play in North Carolina. In the likes of Durham and Asheville, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

See also: What are the best golf courses in North Carolina?

The best public golf courses in North Carolina

RankGolf Course
1No. 2 Course (Pinehurst)
2Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club
3No. 4 Course (Pinehurst)
4Tobacco Road Golf Club
5No. 8 Course (Pinehurst)
6Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club
7Linville Golf Club
8No. 9 Course (Pinehurst)
9Duke University Golf Club
10UNC Finley Golf Club
11Mid South Golf Club
12No. 7 Course (Pinehurst)
13The Cardinal by Pete Dye
14The Omni Grove Park Inn Golf
15Southern Pines Golf Club
Table showing the best public golf courses in North Carolina

1. Pinehurst Resort

When discussing the best public golf courses in North Carolina, you simply can’t start anywhere else but Pinehurst Resort.

This epic resort is home to nine, yes nine golf courses, all of which you can play. There is also a sensational short course called the Cradle, which was designed by the highly celebrated Gil Hanse.

Pinehurst-Resort, Pinehurst, North Carolina
Pinehurst Resort

Pinehurst’s No.2 course is without doubt the best public golf course in North Carolina. It is a Donald Ross classic, a timeless masterpiece which has hosted numerous elite tournaments. Amongst these are multiple U.S. Open and the U.S. Women’s Open Championships. And let’s not forget it also hosted the Ryder Cup, back in 1951.

The recent renovation by Coore and Crenshaw has elevated this already incredible course to another level. The real skill in the renovation was to bleed new life into the course whilst maintaining much of Ross’ original design. 

Another of the best courses in North Carolina is Pinehurst No.4, a Gil Hanse redesign. The original No.4 was designed by Donald Ross, opening in 1919. But in 2017 Gil Hanse was called upon to evolve the course. Present it in a more modern light, whilst still maintaining the traditional elements it is renowned for.

Pinehurst-No.4, Pinehurst, North Carolina
Pinehurst No. 4 Course

The renovation was a resounding success and No.4 contrasts No.2 perfectly. The routing for the No.4 course benefits from far more land movement. Whilst unlike the crowned greens on the No.2 course, here we have far more variety. Greens feature plenty of movement with sways and hollows.

See also: What are the best public golf courses in Pinehurst?

The No.8 Course designed by Tom Fazio, is another highly rated layout at Pinehurst. Again, there is ample contrast in this design to others at Pinehurst, with plenty of water coming into play.

No.7 designed by Rees Jones and No.9, a Jack Nicklaus creation would also be on my pick list. 

The reality is, it doesn’t matter which course you decide to play at Pinehurst, you’re going to have a great time. With various stay and play packages incorporating the different hotel options, there are some great deals to be had.

2. Pine Needles, Mid Pines & Southern Pines

There are many people who claim Donald Ross’ greatest work in Pinehurst points to his work at Pinehurst Resort. But trust me, this is not all the truth. 

In fact, some would argue that aside from the No.2 course at Pinehurst, Ross’ best collection of designs are in fact Mid Pines, Pine Needles and Southern Pines.

Pine Needles Golf Course 13th Green, Pinehurst, North Carolina, Permission Given - Photo Credit Kevin Murray
Photo Credit Kevin Murray

All are original Ross designs and form part of the same resort, mere minutes away from Pinehurst Resort. It was following Ross’ accomplishment at Pinehurst Resort that the great architect was commissioned to work on Mid Pines, which opened in 1921.

This elegant course is quite simply divine as it meanders gracefully through glorious pine woodlands. Mid Pines is highly rated and certainly only just behind the No.2 course as the best course you can play in Pinehurst.

Yet Pine Needles and Southern Pines are also superb. Both are quintessential Carolina sandhill golf experiences. Pine Needles is the better of the two and there are similarly, some very affordable stay and play packages which allow you to play the different courses.

3. Tobacco Road Golf Club

A half hour drive up the road from Pinehurst, is the outstanding Tobacco Road Golf Club. Without doubt one of the best courses in North Carolina.

This distinctly unique golf course was formerly a tobacco farm turned sand quarry. As such the canvas Mike Strantz, Tobacco Road’s architect, had to play with, was out of this world. 

So good is the routing here, it has been recognised by every major golf publication. And all of this despite its tender age, having opened in 1998. 

Tobacco Road Golf Club, North Carolina

Strantz’s career was devastatingly cut-short when he passed away in 2005 at just 50. But throughout his short career, he built a reputation for crafting sensational golf courses based on Golden Age, golf course design principles, as well as his own artistic flair and eye for detail. 

Tobacco Road is arguably the greatest of his nine solo projects. 

But playing here is tough. The uncompromising layout will test even the most proficient golfers regardless of which of the five tees you choose to play from. It demands absolute accuracy and rewards a risk/reward approach. 

Prepare to be wowed, awed, beaten and elated. A must play public golf course in North Carolina.

See also: What are the best golf resorts in North Carolina?

4. Linville Golf Club

Linville Golf Club, North Carolina, Adobe

In the western half of North Carolina, towards the border with Tennessee, is Linville Golf Club.

This part of the state is renowned for its mountainous topography, with the Appalachian mountain range running north-east to south-west. There are a myriad of top-class mountain golf courses in this area, including the fine Grandfather Golf & Country Club.

Yet unlike many of these, Linville is open to the general public, as long as you book a stay and play package at the charming Eseeola Lodge. Having been onsite for over a century, the lodge oozes luxurious countryside charm.

It is said golf has been played at Linville since the 17th century, 1895 to be precise. But the layout played today came to life in 1924 and was designed by…yep, you guessed it, Donald Ross. 

Ross was prolific in North Carolina and Linville is yet another top class routing. 

The layout features tight fairways and narrow greens whilst a snaking creek intermittently comes into play. Add to this the breathtaking and constant mountain backdrop. 

All-in-all, it’s a pricey way to tick off a golf course, but boy is it worth it!

5. Duke University Golf Club

Duke University Golf Club, Durham, Raleigh, North Carolina, Photo Library

In our list of best public golf courses in North Carolina, we move to the city of Durham. Durham is just over a 30 minute drive from Raleigh and is known worldwide for its scholarly institutions.

These include Duke University and the University of North Carolina (which follows in this list). 

The course at Duke, which is home to the Duke Blue Devils, was designed by the world renowned architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. and opened for play in 1957. 

Interestingly, designs for the course were initially drawn up a decade earlier by another architect, Perry Maxwell. But for a number of reasons, including World War II, the development of the course was delayed.

The site that was chosen for the routing is sublime, with many elevation changes featuring throughout the rolling terrain. Add to this a number of forced carries and a constant blanket of towering pines and hardwoods, this is a fantastic experience.

Most recently, Rees Jones, Trent Jones Sr’s son, oversaw a meticulous renovation, with a view to putting Duke University’s golf course back on the map. 

6. UNC Finley Golf Club

UNC Finley Golf Course, Raleigh, North Carolina, Permission Given - resized

And following up Duke, is another fine university, UNC. The University of North Carolina’s Finley golf course likewise has a fascinating history. 

The first routing was devised by George Cobb and opened for play in 1949. It was funded by the local businessman A.E. Finley, hence the name. 

But half a century later, a major overhaul was needed. So they called upon one of the most prolific golf course architects of all time, Tom Fazio. 

Fazio, a native of North Carolina, literally started from scratch, with very little of the original Cobb routing remaining. And what he created is quite sensational. 

An immensely playable course which will test every golfer no matter their ability. Get too aggressive and you could spend a lot of time searching through the pines. But be patient and pick your battles, you could be looking at a decent score.

This is a fine course which Fazio professed was as great a design as he could muster. Great value and great fun.

See also: What are the best golf courses in Wilmington, North Carolina?

7. Talamore Golf Resort (Mid South & Talamore)

Talamore Golf Resort, Pinehurst, North Carolina - Photo 3

The fantastic Talamore Golf Resort is another great golf option in the golfing heartland of Pinehurst. 

It has two superb layouts. Mid South Club designed by the great Arnold Palmer and Talamore Golf Club designed by Rees Jones. 

Both courses have been beautifully woven through the vast pinewood forests with Mid South arguably the better layout of the two. But we’re talking by the finest margins. 

One thing you will come across playing Mid South is sand and lots of it. In fact there are over 11 acres of bunkers throughout the course. As for Talamore, expect sod wall bunkers and lots of playability. 

There are some great golf packages, staying in a choice of three different accommodation options. Choose from the villas, lodges or cottages for a unique Pinehurst golf vacation. 

8. The Cardinal by Pete Dye

The Cardinal by Pete Dye, North Carolina - Permission Given

North west of Greensboro is the wonderful Cardinal by Pete Dye. What was once a private golf course is now semi-private and welcomes members of the public at specific times of the day.

Routed through 140 acres of glorious woodland, the course follows a winding stream and wraps itself around two large lakes. 

Having originally opened in 1974, it is a mature layout which sits comfortably within its surroundings. This is a really serene plot. 

It is run by McConnell Golf, who purchased the property in 2006 and manage a number of other highly rated golf courses. As such you can be assured of great service and top condition.

9. The Omni Grove Park Inn

And last up on our list of best public golf courses in North Carolina, is the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville. 

And of course, it wouldn’t feel right not finishing with another Donald Ross designed course! Yep, the superb resort course is another Ross creation which opened for play in 1926. 

Omni Grove Park Inn, Asheville, North Carolina

This stunning plot had for many years been home to a grand luxury hotel, now the Omni Grove Park Inn. The hotel and surrounding grounds enjoy stunning views across to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the city of Asheville further south.

So building a top class resort course was the obvious thing to do. And who else to call upon, but the great Donald Ross whose reputation was at its highest. 

Despite being a tight plot, Ross masterfully devised a routing which maximizes the site’s endemic undulations and vantage points.

Asheville isn’t on everyone’s go-to list, but make a detour via the Omni Grove Park Inn, and you won’t be disappointed.

See also: What are the best golf courses in Asheville, North Carolina?

What is the best public golf course in North Carolina?

The best public golf course in North Carolina is the No.2 Course at Pinehurst. Having opened for play in 1907, it was designed by the venerable Donald Ross and has hosted a number of major tournaments. These include U.S. Opens as well as a Ryder Cup in 1951. It has been considered the best course in North Carolina for many decades now.

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