Lake Effect: Top 3 golf course in NC tough to get to but well worth the effort

     Many southeastern U.S. golf community homeowners have power companies to thank for the beautiful water views from their back decks and golf courses.  By damming rivers in a successful effort to bring electricity to rural areas of the south, big corporations, literally, created the landscape for real estate development in the 1980s.  Retirees who could not afford a home on the ocean but craved a water view looked inland toward the many manufactured lakes in the mountains of the Carolinas and Tennessee and were happy to pay a little extra for the daily pleasure of watching the sun set over the lake, and for a bit of moonlight through the pines.

        For similar reasons, Tom Fazio’s heart might have skipped a beat when he first laid eyes on the land adjacent to Badin Lake in a remote section of the Piedmont area of North Carolina.  And he must have been doubly excited when, instead of reserving the best sites along the water exclusively for homes, original developer Dominion Land turned much of that liquid asset over to the designer.  Fazio took full advantage of it and laid out one of the top three golf courses in the golf-course-laden state.

        In 2002, like many other power and paper companies that realized land development was better left to others, Dominion sold Uwharrie Point to East-West Partners, which had co-developed the community with the energy company beginning in 1992.  But Dominion retained ownership of the golf club until 2009 when, lucky for Uwharrie property owners, the buyer was the quality-oriented McConnell Golf, a firm that is not inclined to let a pesky little issue like a remote location get in the way of buying and burnishing an excellent track.  (McConnell owns the equally out-there Musgrove Mill Golf Club near Clinton, SC.)  With the recent purchase of the Donald Ross designed Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, the acquisition-minded McConnell now owns and operates seven excellent golf courses in the Carolinas, all accessible to members of Old North State (and vice versa).


The par 3 7th at Old North State, one of nine holes with Badin Lake in play or in view.


        Old North State could very well be the best of the bunch and, despite its location a bit over an hour from Charlotte and two hours from Raleigh, should have little trouble drawing play from other McConnell clubs (members of any McConnell club

Only Pinehurst #2 and Grandfather Mountain are rated higher than Old North State Club.

can play all others a total of 10 times each year for no fee).  The North Carolina Golf Rating Panel rates Old North behind only Pinehurst #2 and Grandfather Mountain.  I haven’t played every great golf course in the state, but it is hard to argue with the experts; I found Old North State both challenging, interesting and a lot of fun to play (despite slow greens on a late-March day).  The McConnell Group thankfully resisted the temptation to over-seed the fairways at Old North State, an expensive and unnecessary concession too many clubs make to their members or visiting golfers.  I never had a bad lie on the straw colored fairways at Old North, my only complaint being that the dead grass that sprayed up from my divots caused me to spend most the night sneezing (allergies to grass and hay having dogged me since youth).  I was happy to use my imagination to envision what the green fairways of later spring will look like against the blue water of Badin Lake, which is in view on half the holes on the course.  And in the fall, when the leaves along the fairways and in Uwharrie National Forest across the lake begin to take on some color –- well, it is almost too impressive to contemplate.

        I played the white tees at 6,300 yards, a rating of 70.4 and slope of 129.  I am always happy to see a par 5 as the 1st hole, especially one that offers few trouble spots, and Old North’s warm-up does not disappoint.  A dogleg left that features a bunker at the crook of the elbow, there is plenty of bailout room out at the point of the elbow before an approach that can almost reach the right side of the green (a yawning bunker guards the left half).  A pin position on the left side forces an approach well right of the bunker.  Part of the fun on the par 5s at Old State is that two good shots can have you salivating about a birdie chance.


Fazio created two fairways, an upper and lower, on the approach to the par 5 11th hole.


        The 2nd hole brings water into play for the first of many times, with a fickle finger of the lake covering most of the front of the green from the left side, where a bunker will save some errant shots from reaching the water.  The hole is only 352 yards long, and a lofted iron approach will be there for all but the wimpiest tee shots.  It is a pretty and fair golf hole.

        After a straight-on landlubber’s par 3 of 175 yards, the par 5 4th provides the first true lake shot, the enormously deep green backed by one of the coves of Badin Lake.  With the pin at the back, as it was on this day, an aggressive play could roll down the bank behind and into the lake.  Yet the steep slope up from front to back demands a little bit of daring lest a timid approach lead to an uphill 70 footer and potential three-putt.

        After a couple of nice par 4s, the short (142 yard) downhill par 3 7th hole brings the lake back into full view, and into play for the aggressive minded.  The funnel-shaped landmass between tee and green, the lake behind and right of the green, and a handsome home just to the left of greenside create an arena setting.  The deep green is double-tiered, making a putt from front to back more problematical than back to front.  The front nine ends with the challenging par 4 8th, with a row of bunkers reachable from the tee on the right and a lone tree that appears from the tee to be on the left edge of the fairway (but isn’t); and the long and difficult par 4 9th, the toughest hole on the course, with another lone tree on the left that forces a bit of right-to-left shaping to avoid bunkers farther down the fairway on the right.  Beyond the green lies another wedge of the lake, more distraction than hazard on this tough hole.


From a distance, Badin Lake looks harmless enough from the tee of the par 4 16th at Old North State, but the water intrudes on the entire left front half of the green.


        The back nine begins with a hole that is something of a mirror image of #9, a slight dogleg left with a bunker guarding the left edge of the landing area and trees to the right of the fairway.  Beyond the landing area and in the 100 yards before the green, the fairway is double-leveled, the lower level on the right half and, in effect, elevating the green on that side.  A shot short of the green is better left than right, especially to a front pin just over the green’s edge.

        The par 5s seemed like the easiest cluster of holes on the course, and #11 continued the trend, providing some temptation for the longest hitters to have a go in two.  However, another sunken half fairway (again on the right) made an approach from that side even tougher than on the prior hole because a deep bunker guards the right side of the green.  After a bunker-lined par 4 12th and narrow but relatively easy par 4 13th, the par 3 14th brings the lake back into play (the tableau enhanced on the day I played by a lone fisherman in a boat just beyond reach of a pulled 165-yard iron shot).  With a steep hill to the right of the green and water beyond and left (just behind a large bunker), the safest play is to the front of the green no matter where the pin is.


The 14th is yet another dramatic and treacherous par 3, with water at the base of the bank behind the pin.


        After the straight uphill par 4 15th, the finishing three holes are all about the lake.  The 16th, rated the second toughest hole on the course, plays 386 yards from an elevated tee to a fairway that is partially out of sight.  A play left of the center of the fairway forces an approach shot over a large comma of water that extends from the lake halfway across the front of the green.  Those approaching from the right side of the fairway can play it safe and successfully by using the banked collection area short and right of the green to nudge a shot toward the putting surface, eliminating the risk of flying the green and finding the water.

        Old North saves its best for last with the 17th and 18th, arguably the best par 3 and par 5 in the state, respectively (according to a panel of golf raters).  At 160 yards from the white tees that I played, the 17th is beautiful trouble, all carry over a triangle of lake to a green kissed by the water on the right and with a huge bunker that arcs from behind the green to the right side.  The green is enormous right to left, with a depressed channel running through the middle of it.  I racked up my only three-putt of the day there when I repeated a mistake I made all day, leaving my first putt well short; the ball did not roll down slopes as fast and far as they will later in the spring, when the lawnmower blades drop a bit.


The view from behind the par 3 17th is even scarier than the view from the tee beyond.


        The 18th is a classic finishing hole reminiscent of Pebble Beach and Harbour Town, which is to say a long and sweeping dogleg left around a large body of water.  Although a line of trees guards the far right edge of the fairway, there is plenty of room there and no lone tree or two (as at Pebble) to block a shot toward the green.  At 511 yards, the hole tempted a tee shot over the edge of the water, but I was content to hang my drive out to the right edge of the fairway and play a conservative fairway wood short and to the right of the green, leaving just a half wedge to a center pin on a deep green (which I left short on my way to an ugly bogey).

        I had few quibbles with my round at Old North State, besides the slow speed of the greens which made downhill putts less than scary.  The four par 3s from the white tees are clustered in a tight range of distances, just 142 yards to 175 yards, with two of them playing the same 160 yards.  For variety, one long par 3 would have been nice, but that is a small nit on an otherwise outstanding golf course.

        The same NC Golf Rating Panel that gave Old North its #3 state ranking also judged it #1 in the category of “Courses You Would Like To Play Everyday.”  Amen to that.  The best way to play Old North State every day would be to live in one of the nicely outfitted homes in the surrounding neighborhoods inside the gates of Uwharrie Point.  We’ll discuss the real estate and the lifestyle in the community in coming days.

        The members-only Old North State Club is located in New London, NC inside the gated Uwharrie Point.  Web site:  Designer:  Tom Fazio.  Black Tees yardage/rating/slope:  7,102/74.8/142.  Green:  6,684/72.5/139.  White:  6,307/70.4/129.  Women's Gold:  5,802/73.1/138.  Women's Red:  5,079/70.2/125.  Membership initiation fees (resident):  $33,000 to $40,500 (depending on whether your purchase a new membership or purchase one with a resale home).  Membership includes access to other McConnell golf clubs in the Carolinas.


With a well placed long drive on the par 5 finishing hole, it is tempting to go for it all in a carry of about 200 yards to the green.  The prudent play is short and right, leaving a simple wedge to a large green.


Be the first to comment