North Carolina's Impressive Array of Big-Time Tournament Courses

North Carolina’s Impressive Array of Big-Time Tournament Courses

Coach Dean Smith may have cemented the notion that college hoops is King when it comes to sports in North Carolina. NASCAR likely runs a close second, certainly in the days when Rockingham’s oval was rocking. Nonetheless, in terms of rich sporting sporting history in the Tar Heel State, neither basketball nor auto racing can begin to touch golf. Important, national-level golf events in North Carolina date to 1901, when the first North and South Amateur took place in Pinehurst. Since then, every great name in golf, from Harry Vardon to Bobby Jones, from Ben Hogan to Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson to Tiger Woods has teed it up with serious intent among the Carolina pines.

The tradition continues this week with the Chrysler Classic of Greensboro. One of the oldest events on the PGA Tour, Greensboro has played host to the pros since 1938, when Sam Snead won the inaugural. Snead went on to win seven more times, including in 1965, at the age of 52. Not only was it the final victory of his stellar career (it gave him 82 wins, a PGA Tour record that still stands), but in doing so, it made him the oldest winner of a PGA Tour event-another record that remains in place.

You want more history? Byron Nelson hoisted the Greensboro trophy in 1941 and again in 1945 when the title became win number 3 in his surely-never-to-be-broken win streak of 11 straight tournaments. Ben Hogan won here in 1940. Gary Player triumphed in 1970. Seve Ballesteros was crowned champion in 1978.

Unfortunately for you traveling golfers, you’ll have a hard time accessing any of the three courses used for the Greensboro Tour stop since the beginning. Sedgefield Country Club, Starmount Forest Country Club and Forest Oaks Country Club are all private. Forest Oaks, the current site, has quietly hosted the PGA Tour continuously since 1977, putting it in the class of such esteemed venues as Pebble Beach, Harbour Town, Doral, Colonial, Muirfield Village, Westchester and of course, Augusta National. Ellis Maples, who worked for years in the employ of Donald Ross, crafted Forest Oaks in 1962. Davis Love’s design firm tweaked it a couple of years ago, but essentially it’s the same rolling, forested layout it’s always been, one that’s especially dazzling in the springtime, when the dogwood blossoms are exploding.

So while you can’t play Forest Oaks without a member, here are five other tournament-tested North Carolina tracks that do welcome your business.

Pinehurst Resort (No. 2), Pinehurst
Payne Stewart and Michael Campbell captured U.S. Opens here, both times edging Tiger Woods, among others. Jack Nicklaus won the North and South Amateur here in 1959, while his son, Jack II, duplicated the feat in 1985. Ben Hogan led the U.S. squad to Ryder Cup victory here in 1951. We’re talking incomparable golf history here and the aura is palpable. Teeing it up on the very walkable No. 2 course, caddie alongside and trying to solve the greenside puzzles presented by master architect Donald Ross is one of golf’s singular thrills.

Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, Southern Pines
Another Donald Ross masterpiece, dating to 1927 and recently restored to perfection by John Fought, Pine Needles is home to venerable and hugely popular teacher Peggy Kirk Bell, who owns the place. Tucked in amid magnolias, hollies, dogwoods and longleaf pines-and throw in some brilliant azaleas in springtime-Pine Needles is pure delight, yet a strong enough test to have hosted the U.S. Women’s Open in 1996, won by Annika Sorenstam and in 2001, when Karrie Webb triumphed. The top women return for another Open in 2007.

Tanglewood Park (Championship Course), Clemmons
Less than 10 miles from Winston-Salem sits one of golf’s least heralded major championship venues. Tanglewood was the site of the 1974 PGA Championship, when Lee Trevino slipped past Jack Nicklaus by a shot over a rolling, wooded, typical late 1950s Robert Trent Jones Sr. design that features elevated greens fortified by multiple bunkers and plenty of water hazards down the stretch. Tanglewood also saw action as host of the Senior Tour’s Vantage Championship from 1987-2002, when winners included Hale Irwin, Lee Trevino and Gary Player.

Rock Barn Golf & Spa, (Robert Trent Jones Jr. Course) Conover
Sixty miles from Charlotte is where you’ll find this current host to the Champions Tour’s Greater Hickory Classic. Andy Bean won the 2006 edition in early October. Past champions are Craig Stadler, Doug Tewell and Jay Haas. Dramatic elevation changes, huge, undulating greens and a waterfall at the ninth green are among Rock Barn’s distinguishing features.

Legacy Golf Links, Aberdeen
Jack Nicklaus II designed this 15-year-old Legacy that’s not far from Pinehurst. In 2000, the course hosted the USGA Women’s Amateur Public Links, won by Catherine Cartwright, who at 17, became the youngest winner in the event’s history. Perhaps she was slightly overshadowed by another youngster, Michelle Wie, who at age 10, shot 74-76, to become the youngest player ever to reach the match-play portion of the competition. Occupying a secluded woodsy setting, the layout is mostly user-friendly until the bear of an 18th, a 459-yard par-4.

Joe Passov is the Architecture and Course Ratings Editor of GOLF MAGAZINE. E-mail him your questions and thoughts at [email protected]