They may be separated by a three-hour car drive, but golf courses on the ocean and in the Sandhills region (Pinehurst) are closer than you think. That’s because 20 million years ago, during the Miocene Epoch, Pinehurst was actually buffeted by ocean waves; that explains the sandy soil that lies beneath and atop, in the form of bunkering, all the golf courses in the area.
Golf course developers made the most of the terrain, pine forests and soil composition in Pinehurst and Southern Pines, and their efforts have been rewarded with a golf destination among the most popular and highest quality in America. In this year’s “best courses you can play” golf club rankings by the North Carolina Golf Rating Panel, the top five courses in the state are all in Pinehurst and Southern Pines, and the 7th rated club, The National, was acquired by the Pinehurst Resort a few years ago and is now designated as Pinehurst #9. Pinehurst #2 was the top vote getter on the “courses you can play list” and among all courses in the state, public and private.
Unless you are a Pinehurst member, you will need to stay at the resort in order to play the Pinehurst courses, although in some cases, you can call within five days and there might be an opening. (See the end of this article for some notes about membership in all the Pinehurst courses.) The price tag for green fees depends on the course you choose; Pinehurst #2, the famous Donald Ross layout redone by Coore & Crenshaw before the last U.S. Open there, will set you back more than $300, but no serious golfer complains. Pine Needles Lodge & Golf is #2 in the public-access rankings ($125 to $145 green fees in summer) with Pinehurst #8 in the third spot. Coincidentally, Pinehurst #4 is #4 in the state rankings with the Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club in Southern Pines ($125 - $145) holding down the fifth spot. Like Pine Needles, Mid Pines was designed by the famous architect Donald Ross. Dormie Club, the Coore & Crenshaw modern classic in West End, NC, is immediately north of the Pinehurst and Southern Pines area and rounds out the top 10. Linville Country Club in Linville is the other top 10 course at #6, the only mountain course to make the top 10 on the best you can play list.
A fair number of golf community courses make the public-accessible list, including numbers 11 through 14. At #11 is the Bald Head Island Club, a course reached only by ferry unless you are lucky enough to have access to a helicopter. Surrounded by water, beaches and multi-family beach houses, Bald Head’s layout offers plenty for the eyes to feast on during a pleasant ride on the links-style course. (Green fees $125) Cat scratch fever got to the panel judges as they ranked Leopard’s Chase #12 ($128 peak rate green fee) and Tiger’s Eye #14. ($118 peak rate) All five courses at Ocean Ridge are named for jungle cats.
Scotch Hall Preserve, ranked #13, may be a bit off the beaten track in Merry Hill but it received a strong nod from the panel. With intentions to be a private club when first developed a decade ago, the course now gratefully accepts daily fee players interested in a sparkling layout that bumps up against the wide Albemarle Sound, as well as the reasonable green fee rate of $40 weekdays, $50 on the weekend. The Currituck Club in Corolla, at #20 on the list, anchors the northern string of golf clubs on the Outer Banks and offers comfortable summer homes for sale or rent, and great long-range views of the ocean. ($95 if you are renting a unit from a member; otherwise green fees up to $165)
For the full rankings, see the North Carolina Golf Rating Panel web site.
As for membership in all those top rated Pinehurst clubs, a Pinehurst membership is one of the best bargains in golf for the serious golfer not on a strict budget. You can choose from a variety of membership options based on the number of courses you choose to play regularly, but the most elaborate option is what Pinehurst calls No. 7/No. 9 because it includes those golf courses in addition to Numbers 1 through 6 (number 8 is available to members on a seasonal basis). Initiation fee for the big membership is $45,000 with monthly dues of $477 per month, quite reasonable for that number of golf courses. The other golf membership plans start at $25,000, with comparably lower dues. Keep in mind that you will be sharing your golf courses with traveling golfers. But the atmosphere in Pinehurst tends toward quiet sophistication, and the environment is somewhat infectious, meaning you won’t be sharing space with Joe Six Pack.
If you would like any additional information on the golf community courses that made the grade on both the South Carolina and North Carolina “best of” lists, please contact me.