There's more to golf in the Carolinas than meets the eye
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head and Pinehurst - golf vacation destinations that roll off the tongue like a well-struck putt off the back of a slick bentgrass green. Oh, but the Carolinas have so much more to offer than these high profile golf addresses.
In fact, many Tar Heel and Palmetto State residents go for years without so much as grounding a club in Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head. The traffic can be too much to bear, the heat and humidity in the summer months is oppressive, and tee times have to be procured weeks or even months ahead of time in the peak seasons.
Pinehurst is a different story. Unlike its sexier siblings, the Sandhills region of North Carolina is within a one- to two-hour drive of the two largest metro areas in the Carolinas, Charlotte and Raleigh. It's not uncommon for a group of Raleigh-based duffers to hop in the car and make the quick trip to an affordable, well-groomed track in Southern Pines or Aberdeen. Still, to venture into the heart of this golf-rich region and play its best courses can be an expensive endeavor.
Fortunately, no matter where you reside in these two golf-crazed states, quality golf at reasonable prices is never more than a 24-ounce coffee and a good CD away. Here's a look at some of the Carolinas' true unsung golf destinations, most of which are open year-round.
OK, so Charleston and all its historical charms are not exactly "unsung," but the Holy City rarely is mentioned as a viable golf destination. As evidenced by its recent ranking as the sixth best city for golf in the U.S. by Golf Digest, Charleston has plenty of daily fee and resort golf to throw at residents and traveling golfers. The city itself is accessible via the Interstate system and is just three hours from Charlotte and an hour and a half south of Myrtle Beach.
Downtown Charleston is one of the last living, breathing links to Colonial America. Its swampy geography and the rambling Ashley and Cooper Rivers always have limited the growth of suburban Charleston. Because of this, the majority of the city's golf courses are located across the Cooper River Bridge in Mount Pleasant or south on Kiawah and Seabrook Islands.
Where to Play
Traveling golfers gravitate toward the world famous resort courses of Kiawah Island and Wild Dunes. But just a chip away shot from the famed Ocean Course sits Seabrook Island, home of two outstanding resort tracks that don't receive nearly as much ink. The Crooked Oaks Course was designed by the late Robert Trent Jones Sr. and sports an unmistakable Harbour Town feel and Charleston's only bentgrass greens. The Ocean Winds Course was designed by Willard Byrd and is a bit more wide open and wind swept.
Over in Mount Pleasant, the King recently put his stamp on the Low Country with the RiverTowne Golf Club - a challenging, scenic semi-private venue that is sure to rack up some regional and national awards. Across the street at Dunes West, Arthur Hills has crafted 18 holes of traditional golf that tend more toward Pinehurst than the Charleston in flavor. North Charleston recently entered the race with the 27-hole Wescott Plantation Golf Club, designed by Michael Hurdzan.
Santee Cooper S.C.
It is nearly impossible to travel around the Midlands of South Carolina and not see a sign for something involving the Santee River. This fertile river basin is located southeast of Columbia, S.C. and is full of affordable golf courses. The five-county Santee/Cooper region centers on Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie and is just an hour south of Columbia and two and a half hours south of Charlotte by way of I-77 and I-26. The bargain golfer reigns supreme here (as evidenced by the shear amount of denim on the fairways) so don't expect Augusta National.
Where to Play
The Lake Marion Golf Course is one of the most convenient stops in town, located just a pitching wedge from I-95. The course is part of the Santee Cooper Resort, and is as close to a country club feeling as you'll find around these parts. The course opened back in 1979 and presents a mature, narrow layout with an unpretentious clubhouse and staff. The resort is also home to the Santee Cooper Country Club, the property's original 18-hole layout. For those content to squat around scenic Lake Marion, Santee National and the Tom Jackson designed Wyboo Golf Club are the choice pickings, while Foxboro, the Players Course and Royal Oaks cater to those on a shoestring budget.
The Outer Banks, N.C.
No, your ears do not deceive. Those are Virginia accents you hear all over the Outer Banks. Nags Head, Currituck and Kitty Hawk are all within a two-hour drive of the Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Newport News metro area. Meanwhile, North Carolina population centers like Charlotte and Greensboro are five to eight hours away. With a solid stable of daily fee and resort courses, the northern reaches of the Outer Banks have blossomed into a nifty, out-of-the-way golf destination.
Where to Play
Short and tight is the name of the game in these barrier island venues, so bring a solid iron game and a limitless imagination. The longest track in town is the Russell Breeden-designed Carolina Club, which plays to a healthy 7,000 yards. Most the courses, even the brutally arduous Nags Head Golf Links, play between 6,100 and 6,500 from the back tees. The new kid on the block is the Kilmarnoch Golf Club - a linksy course designed by Tom Steele
The course that has created the biggest buzz of late is the Robert Trent Jones II-designed Currituck Club off N.C. 12 in Corolla. The scope and scale of the 600-acre development are like nothing the Outer Banks has seen before: tennis courts, bike paths, basketball courts, sand volleyball courts, five residential communities, a trolley system that connects it all, and 70,000 square feet of upscale shopping space and an 80-room Inn in the long range plans.
For more information on these and other Carolinas courses, visit the online course guide at www.golfcarolina.com.
November 11, 2002