Best golf courses in North Carolina
Home to the iconic Pinehurst Resort, North Carolina can proudly boast that it’s a cut above the rest when it comes to golf vacations.
The state has a serious pedigree in the game of golf, from producing major champions such as Davis Love III and Webb Simpson to being home to some of the very best layouts you will find in the country.
The Sandhills region that incorporates areas such as Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen is packed with exemplary golf and we’ve picked out nine of the best golf courses in North Carolina to consider for your next golf vacation.
1. Pinehurst No.2
Forget about being one of the best golf courses in North Carolina, Pinehurst No.2 is undoubtedly one of the best in the country. Not only will you be traversing the same land as superstars of the sport, but you’ll be met with the most formidable of tests.
When Donald Ross travelled over from Scotland, his aim was simple: to create a golfing masterpiece. Suffice to say, the Scotsman achieved this vision. From a Ryder Cup in 1951 to numerous U.S. Opens including the late Payne Stewart’s victory in 1999, Pinehurst No.2 is steeped in history.
In 2010, Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore returned the layout to its original design, their work restored the natural sandy waste areas, widened fairways and reconstructed bunkers all of which received much praise at the 2014 U.S. Open. Pinehurst No.2 is known around the golfing world and is truly a bucket-list experience.
2. Tobacco Road
Tobacco Road is as unique as they come, built on land originally tended by tobacco farmers, and later shaped through mining and sand excavation, it finally fell into the hands of designer Mike Strantz, a course architect known for pushing the boundaries, and he did just that as he cut through the sand quarries and natural terrain to produce Tobacco Road.
Elevation changes, rolling fairways, vast waste areas and surreal panoramic views are all part of the challenge and enjoyment of this spectacular test of golf. Just 20 miles to the north of Pinehurst Village, Tobacco Road is a ‘must-play' when visiting this part of North Carolina.
3. Pine Needles
Designed by Donald Ross in 1927, the Pine Needles layout was restored and improved in 2017 by Kyle Franz to bring it up to modern-day standards, whilst staying close to the key traits of the original design. Although sometimes overshadowed by its famous neighbor (Pinehurst No.2), Pine Needles is a formidable test of golf and is the first venue in the country to be awarded four U.S. Women’s Open Championships.
Huge pine trees and the rolling natural terrain define the layout that was voted by Golfweek as #4 in the state of North Carolina to play. As for signature holes, the short par-3 3rd is one to watch out for as the tee shot is played across the water to a heavily protected green that slopes sharply from back to front. Pine Needles is both visually appealing and a true challenge for all that visit, certainly another Ross design that demands attention when planning a trip to this part of the country.
4. Mid Pines
Another Donald Ross design and another absolute masterpiece. Interestingly, Mid Pines was never designed to be a championship course, the original concept was to create a layout for friendly competition amongst members and guests of the club, however, in more recent times Mid Pines has hosted national competitions challenging the best in the game.
The golf course was restored in 2013 by Kyle Franz and consequently, it was awarded ‘Best U.S. Resort Renovation and Restoration of the Year’ by GOLF Magazine. Situated just across the road from Pine Needles and with lodging available at the Mid Pines Hotel, this is a great base for a golf trip to the Southern Pines area.
5. Mid South Club – Talamore
The Mid South Club is part of the Talamore Resort, situated just minutes from Pinehurst Village and is home to an Arnold Palmer design that stretches across 540-acres of longleaf pine forest. Elevation changes, wetlands, lakes and the natural rolling hillsides all provide the perfect setting for an afternoon of golfing fun.
It’s said that they like to do things ‘big’ at Mid South – big putting surfaces, big fairways, big bunkers, and even big rocks like those uniquely positioned in front of the 9th and 18th greens. Renovation work in 2017 converted all the putting surfaces to Champion bermudagrass, which has significantly improved the standard of this already fantastic layout. This Arnold Palmer design is challenging yet rewarding, with several signature holes that will entice you back time and time again.
6. The New Course – Talamore
Originally designed by Rees Jones in 1991, a restoration project in 2016 returned the greens to their original size and introduced Champion bermudagrass, making Talamore’s putting surfaces as good as any in the region. The fairways were widened to allow more freedom off the tee and a dozen sod wall bunkers reminiscent of those found in Scotland were added.
The New Course has gained many accolades and despite the tough competition in the local area, it is pushing its way to the top. Golf Digest have previously named it in both their ‘Top 5 New Courses’ category and their ‘Top 4 Courses in North Carolina’. It is another fine example of golf in the North Carolina Sandhills with more towering pines, sandy wastelands, elevation changes of over 150 feet and the wetlands to contend with.
7. Pinehurst No. 4
While Pinehurst No. 2 rightly receives the biggest praise at Pinehurst Resort, No. 4 is not too far behind and the list of course designers to have worked on this special layout is nothing short of sensational. Donald Ross applied his magic touch to the original design, which was completed in 1919. However, as the years passed, Robert Trent Jones Sr. was employed to apply restoration in 1973.
Only a decade later and Rees Jones was asked to further upgrade the famous course before Tom Fazio conducted a complete rebuild in 1999. This design remained until 2017 when Gill Hanse’s vision came to life. Hanse decided to revamp most of the greens and while they may have once laid flat, that is certainly no longer the case. They feature mounds, slopes and ridges to test the absolute best of golfers and less than a year after the reopening of No. 4, it proudly hosted the U.S. Amateur.
8. Legacy Golf Links
Situated 10 miles south of Pinehurst Village is the Jack Nicklaus designed Legacy Course. Past host of the USGA National Championship, it is a demanding layout with water coming into play on numerous holes. In total, it routes around five lakes, with elevation changes and tree-lined fairways all part of the challenge.
The par-3s are often considered the finest collection in the area and the 18th hole nicknamed ‘The Bear’ was rated the best finishing hole in the Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen region. Listed in Golf World’s ‘Top 50 Public Courses to Play’, adding Legacy Golf Links to your North Carolina itinerary is certainly a wise move.
9. Foxfire Golf Club
Nestled quietly away in the quaint village of Foxfire lies Foxfire Golf Club, home to two courses: the Red Fox and the Grey Fox. Both layouts were designed by Gene Hamm, who cleverly utilized the uneven terrain to his advantage.
You can expect numerous lakes, soft sandy soil and rolling hills to contend with as you take on either course. The Red layout is favored by members and typically plays easier than its sibling, despite the wary of the water hazards that come into play on six holes. The Grey is considered the tougher course and demands a thoughtful approach, on many holes hitting the fairway just isn’t enough as favoring one side to the other will make the second shot far easier. Foxfire Golf Club can be simply summed up as having two enjoyable golf courses that incorporate all this great golfing region has to offer.
North Carolina offers plenty of choice for the travelling golfer, however, it is very hard to beat the density of quality courses situated in and around the areas of Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen. From the world-famous Pinehurst No.2 to visually stunning layouts such as Tobacco Road and Pine Needles, the quality of golf is breath-taking and the natural landscape in this Sandhills region only serves to enhance the whole experience.
Senior Golf Vacation Specialist
Senior Golf Vacation Specialist, I advise clients on golf courses and accommodation options across the US, Mexico, and Caribbean