Best Public Golf Courses in North Carolina
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South of Virginia, east of Tennessee, and bordering the Atlantic Coastline is the idyllic state of North Carolina. Boasting many beautiful beaches, birdwatching sites, state museums, and a wide array of golf courses to its name, North Carolina is home to major cities like Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Durham, and the state capital - Raleigh.
North Carolina has a diverse geography composed mainly of mountains, plateaus, and coastal plains. The Appalachian Mountains, one of the state’s most famous landmarks, is eastern United States’ largest mountain range and spans the entirety of North Carolina’s western region. The Atlantic Coastal Plain, which extends for nearly sixty-five miles inland is critical in growing the historically important crops of the area such as tobacco and cotton.
Aside from cotton and tobacco, the Old North State is one of the leading producers of brick, textile, and furniture, earning it the nickname “The Furniture Capital of the World”. With a population of 10.27 million as of 2017, North Carolina is recognized as the tenth most populous state in the country.
It has also become a very popular tourist destination, highlighted by its white sand beaches along the Atlantic Coastline. With a 200-mile-long shoreline, its string of barrier islands is the most visited tourist destination where you are free to enjoy a vast array of outdoor activities such as biking, kayaking, fishing, and hang gliding, among others.
While many come here to bask in the sun or soak in the culture, tourists and locals also like to partake of some sport recreational activities like golf, which the state has a lot to offer. North Carolina has more than 600 golf courses, wherein a large number of those are public courses.
In this guide, we are going to list the top public golf courses in North Carolina, as well as some semi-private clubs that allow non-members to play after payment of green fees and other charges.
Best Golf Courses in North Carolina
Location: Pinehurst, North Carolina
Holes: 18 Par: 70 Length: 7,588 yards
Snagging the top spot on this list is the historic Pinehurst No. 2 Golf Course, a perennial must-play course on every golfer’s bucket list. It was cited by Golf Magazine as the 18th best golf course in the world in 2017.
This Donald Ross original masterpiece has the distinction of holding the first back-to-back Men’s and Women’s U.S. Open Championship in 2014. Throughout the years, Pinehurst No. 2 has also hosted other high-profile tournaments such as the Ryder Cup, the PGA Championship, the PGA Tour Championship, the U.S. Senior Open, the U.S. Amateur, and the U.S. Women’s Amateur championship. Pinehurst No. 2 has hosted more prestigious golf tournaments than any other course in the United States.
The course is in excellent condition with wide fairways but you need to hit the exact spot to make the right approach. It would be a good idea to take a caddie as they would be able to advise you on where these spots are and how to attack the turtleback greens.
This course will challenge you from the get-go. So try to get in there earlier and take advantage of the practice facility to properly warm up. Your short game and putting skills would be absolutely tested by the greens of this course. If you are not able to pull off the proper trajectory on your approach or land on the right spot, your ball could roll off the very firm greens because of their unique upside-down, saucer-like configuration.
And the Pinehurst Resort itself is absolutely fantastic, with their well-appointed accommodations, professional and very friendly staff with their trademark southern charm, and fabulous food choices. It’s easy to imagine going on a one-week stay here with friends and family, play on a different course every day (the resort has a total of nine courses) and everyone just having a grand time.
Because of its historical significance, unique green architecture, deceptively challenging layout, and overall resort quality, Pinehurst No. 2 is our choice for the best golf course in North Carolina.
Location: Pinehurst, North Carolina
Holes: 18 Par: 72 Length: 7,099 yards
Imbibing the ideals set out by the iconic Pinehurst No. 2 but updated for a more modern game, Pinehurst No. 8 Golf Course successfully marries the brand’s core fundamentals with the area’s natural beauty.
As with all of the other courses in the resort, the condition at No.8 is impeccable starting from the tee boxes to the fairways, bunkers, and all the way to the greens. You have to bring a mean short game when you play here because even though the greens are a little bit more generous than on No. 2 and the collection areas are not as massive, their sloping edges will definitely complicate things if you become complacent.
With the characteristic swales, slopes, and false fronts, Course Designer Tom Fazio pays homage to the legendary Donald Ross with this commemorative Pinehurst centennial design, and has executed it to a tee (pun intended). Fazio’s signature flair for the whimsical still manages to shine through, however, as he successfully incorporates classical Ross design elements with his own artistic vision.
Carved out of 420 acres of rolling, sandy terrain and natural wetlands, Pinehurst No. 8 is a very playable and fun course even for beginners and high-handicap golfers. It is also a perfectly walkable course which is made even better with the property’s natural scenic surroundings.
Some of the more memorable holes are the risk/reward par-4 fourth, the long par-3 eighth, the short par-4 12th hole with its left-to-right sloping fairway, and the sharp dogleg par-4 14th hole.
These are just some of the prime examples why Pinehurst No. 8 has been recognized by Golf Digest as one of the “100 Greatest Public Courses of America”.
Location: Southern Pines, North Carolina
Holes: 18 Par: 71 Length: 7,015 yards
At the Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club, you can walk among different pine varieties and enjoy the refreshing view from your porch with a glass of robust red wine afterward, as you watch the sun go down from your balcony. The Pine Needles resort guarantees a wonderful stay with their chalet style lodges and exquisite vistas.
The resort’s pièce de résistance, however, is their astounding golf course. Another Donald Ross classic, Pine Needles is a mildly challenging course built along a winding path among the pines of Midland Road. The interesting layout and the idyllic scenery both vie for the player’s full attention, leading to a truly immersive golfing experience.
The first golf resort in the nation to hold four U.S. Women’s Open Championships (a subtle nod to owner Peggy Kirk Bell, an LPGA charter member), Pine Needles was originally launched in 1972 and meticulously restored by Kyle Franz in 2017. The greens now feature a strain of zoysia grass to provide an impeccable putting surface while the bunkers were also dug out and installed with fresh sand to restore the course to its original glory. Fairway bunkers are now creatively placed in strategic locations to serve as the kind of hazards that Ross would have intended from the tees.
Course conditions are flawless and feature rolling hills, wide fairways, numerous doglegs, waste areas, and heavily-bunkered greens. The front nine may be a little pedestrian for some, but the back nine more than made up for it with some exciting layout. The 525-yard 10th hole is a par 5 dogleg where the green can be reached in two with some aggressive play. The 461-yard par-4 17th mirrors the same dogleg layout and risk/reward scenario as on the 10th which favors the big hitters.
The cool artifacts at the old school clubhouse and restaurant provide a perfect ending to an exciting round of golf. Be sure to include this course when you are in the area. This is one of the best courses in North Carolina outside of Pinehurst.
Location: Southern Pines, North Carolina
Holes: 18 Par: 72 Length: 6,723 yards
Situated just across the road from the Pine Needles Resort, the Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club is another original Donald Ross design and owned by the same family as the property across the road. But that’s where the similarity stops.
Mid Pines is generally regarded as the more difficult course between the two, especially after it went through an extensive renovation a few years ago. Architect Kyle Franz restored the historic course to its former glory as intended by original course designer Donald Ross. Shrunken greens were expanded, fairways were widened, and bunkers were either redone or removed. All in all, the recent renovations have made the course even more difficult than the previous version.
This course plays longer than its advertised yardage of 6,723 yards from the tips. It requires a good strategy, control, patience and tremendous shot-making ability to come out with your typical scores. The trio of par-4s on the last three holes may be one of the most exciting finishing holes that you could ever play. The 440-yard 16th is a cardiac dogleg left with a downward trajectory from an elevated tee. The 17th and 18th require some advanced shot-making off the tees to land on a perfect position to realistically make par down the line.
The consensus is that the Mid Pines is favored by the more advanced players while the Pine Needles is preferred by the mid-to-high level handicappers who relish making a par or two with its relatively easier layout.
Overall, you could not go wrong with any of these two sister courses. Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club is sort of Pinehurst No. 2 Course version 2.0. It is definitely one of the best courses in North Carolina.
Location: Linville, North Carolina
Holes: 18 Par: 72 Length: 6,959 yards
Linville Golf Club is located at the heart of North Carolina’s High Country and features stunning mountain vistas to go along with the challenging course layout carved from the land’s natural contours. Another Ross classic, Linville GC is listed among the Best Courses You Can Play in North Carolina and Best Resort Courses in the US by Golfweek magazine.
To be able to play here you must stay at the adjacent Eseeola Lodge. The greens come with the trademark Ross crown designs which can be very challenging for the mid-to-high handicap golfers. They absolutely need some getting used to, which may take more than one round of play. Many seasoned players even struggle to break 80 and may even score into the 90s on their first go-round at this facility.
The fairways and greens are kept in great condition. The club also maintains a dress code not only when playing but also at the Lodge itself especially when you or your group are dining. It adds a certain level of sophistication which goes well with the comfortable and peaceful atmosphere of the entire property. A truly relaxing and rejuvenating getaway as good as any.
It is rare to see an original Ross design remain exactly as how the legendary architect has designed it, but this gem accomplishes just that and somehow manages to come across as timeless yet somewhat contemporary. Definitely a must-play course in the Linville area of North Carolina.
Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Holes: 18 Par: 72 Length: 7,220 yards
Launched in 1949 and open to the public year-round, the UNC Finley Golf Course is another honorable mention in the list for best golf courses in North Carolina. Originally designed by George Cobb and subsequently renovated by Tom Fazio in 1999, this formidable yet very enjoyable course is considered by many as one of Fazio’s best works in North Carolina.
Right off the bat, the par-4 starting hole doesn’t waste time intimidating you to take the next box from where you normally tee off as you stare at a 270-yard carry over water to reach the fairway.
The back nine will definitely test you. The par-4 11th hole requires you to carry your tee shot over bunkers. Big hitters who can carry the left bunker will be rewarded with a possible lower score. But most golfers would not be able to carry the left bunker, so the practical option would be to carry the shorter right bunker but you will be left with a much longer and more difficult approach shot.
By the way, be sure to check out the beautiful bridge on your way down from the 11th hole tee box. The view from the tee of the 15th hole as you look down the fairway is another absolutely stunning treat.
This course is listed in Golf Advisor’s “Top Courses in North Carolina” in 2017. Be sure to check it out when you are in the area. Go Tar Heels!
Location: Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina
Holes: 18 Par: 72 Length: 7,014 yards
Carved out of a virgin pine forest, the Tiger’s Eye golf course features some dramatic elevation changes which are comparable to the North Carolina sandhills. Designed by Tim Cate and opened in 2000, this course rewards the strategic player with an advanced shot-making arsenal and a very steady short game.
It features a series of waste areas, as well as marshlands and waterfalls, along with a collection of local vegetation such as native grasses, wildflowers, and mature pine and oak trees. The sight of mature pine groves is reminiscent of Pinehurst, although the hardwood forest which surround the greens and fairways immediately pulls you back to the reality that this is the Lowcountry. The coquina boulders used throughout the course as bulkheads provides the course with its own distinct character.
Tiger’s Eye Golf Links is listed by Golf Digest among the “Top 100 Public Golf Courses in America”. Give it a whirl if you are in the vicinity. This adds another layer to the types of courses that you can enjoy in this golfing mecca called North Carolina.
Location: Brown Summit, North Carolina
Holes: 18 Par: 72 Length: 7,255 yards
The Rees Jones-designed Bryan Park Golf Club is a 36-hole facility composed of two 18-hole championship courses, namely: The Players Course which opened in 1974 and the more recent Champions Course which opened in 1990.
Between the two, the Champions Course is the one receiving more acclaims. Among others, it was recognized as the 2nd Best New US Public Course by Golf Digest in 1990. It features a challenging layout comprised of numerous sand traps, bunkers, hollows, and forced carries over water. The most significant feature is that you will be treated to spectacular views from the seven holes that are bordering Lake Townsend.
The par-3 holes on this course are exhilarating, especially on the back nine where accuracy from the tee is really at a premium. The 210-yard, par-3 14th hole is especially vexing. You can choose between two sets of tees that can either make or break your round. The first option puts the lake in play so you will have to carry your tee shot over the water. The second option takes the lake out of play but you still have to contend with a deep bunker fronting the green as well as a pot bunker to its right.
With a slope rating of 140, Bryan Park’s Champions Course demands both power and shot-making skills for you to score well. The front nine is relatively easier compared to the back nine. So frontload your scores before you hit the turn as you’ll definitely need that buffer to net a decent score at the end of your round.
If you are serious about honing your game, the Champions Course is a good barometer. It is one of the best golf courses in the Greensboro, NC area.
Location: Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina
Holes: 18 Par: 72 Length: 7,089 yards
Another jewel in the Big Cats collection of golf courses of the Ocean Ridge Plantation Resort is the Panther’s Run. This Tim Cates-designed masterpiece boasts of an intricate layout that winds along a massive and relatively unspoiled nature preserve.
Panther’s Run was included in the “Top 50 in Myrtle Beach” list by Golf Digest. It features wide fairways coupled with super-fast MiniVerde greens. The par-72 regulation course features heavily wooded land with rambling brooks and ponds in the background.
Water is prominently featured all throughout the 18-hole layout, testing your capability to either stay out of it or go over it. The Bermuda fairways and MiniVerde greens (installed in 2010) are well-maintained.
If you are looking for a challenge that has the requisite breath-taking background scenery, check out the Panther’s Run at Myrtle Beach. It is one of the top public golf courses in North Carolina that will definitely test your resolve.
Location: Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina
Holes: 18 Par: 72 Length: 7,155 yards
Yet another entry from the Big Cats collection of the Ocean Ridge Plantation Resort comes the most recent Tim Cate showcase, the Leopard’s Chase Golf Links. This 7,155-yard, par-72 course was immediately recognized as one of the “Top 10 Best New Public Courses in America” by Golf Digest and Golf magazine when it opened in 2007.
It is considered by many as the most scenic course among the Big Cats collection. Like a true Tim Cate creation, the Leopard’s Chase utilizes natural and man-made waters throughout the entire layout to provide some of the needed challenge. Spread across 220 acres of natural coastal terrain, its centerpiece is the heart-stopping 18th hole, where a steeply-elevated green is draped against a backdrop of a cascading waterfall splashing against the coquina boulders.
Remember to check your ego at the door, and lower your score expectations before starting the round. This is a very difficult course which is better suited for those who want to improve their game or those who just love the challenge. If that’s you, then head on out to Myrtle Beach as this is one of the absolute must-play courses in the area.
North Carolina is a hotspot for all sorts of recreational activities. Aside from the white sand beaches, state museums, and towering lighthouses, golf enthusiasts are also drawn to the state as they seek to experience and enjoy the many golfing destinations in this historically relevant golfing mecca which traces its golfing tradition more than a century ago.
Regardless of whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or a seasoned player, there is a golf course that will cater to your particular skill level, price range, and preferred layout. This is our own list of the best golf courses in North Carolina, based solely on gathered research and from our own personal experience.
This is by no means a definitive and exhaustive list, however, as golf rankings tend to be based on subjective factors that wildly vary between visits. Hence, we would like to hear of your own list. Drop us a message and we will gladly get back to you as soon as possible.