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Asheville, North Carolina has Biltmore Estate and good mountain golf

Joel ZuckermanBy Joel Zuckerman,
Asheville Municipal Golf Course
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Asheville Municipal Golf Course, a rolling parkland track, is just one reason to check out Asheville's golf scene. (Courtesy Asheville Municipal Golf Course)

Asheville, North Carolina isn't the first destination that comes to mind when you think about Carolina golf, but courses like Grove Park Golf Course and Mount Mitchell Golf Club, not to mention the awe-inspring Biltmore Estate, make this beautiful city one to seek out.

Want to get away from the Carolina golf crowds that often swell in Pinehurst or, further south and over the border, Myrtle Beach? Head to Asheville, North Carolina.

Check out the astonishing Biltmore Estate, 8,000 acres of indulgence. Simply put, this is the largest private home in the country. It has 250 rooms, with 31 guest rooms and 65 fireplaces. The floor space covers four solid acres, which is the equivalent of 175,000 square feet, or 88 normal size houses.

The Vanderbilt family built their massive fortune in shipping and railroads, and built this home of grandeur in 1895. Although it's still owned by the family, no one lives in the house anymore. Instead it's filled with priceless art by Renoir, Whistler and Sargent, with a 20,000 volume library.

The gardens are equally impressive, created by Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmstead. You can party at the on-site winery, go horseback riding, kayaking, biking or carriage riding all on the estate itself. Those Vanderbilts really knew how to live.

Now there is golf on the estate, but Biltmore Forest Country Club. is a private track, tourists need not apply. It's a shame, really. This 1925 Donald Ross beauty hosted the U.S. Women's Amateur in 1999, and the rolling terrain, corridors of hardwood and dazzling mountain views both enthralled and intimidated the players concurrently. But there is worthwhile golf in or near Asheville, courses that welcome visitors. In fact, there's another Ross jewel just 15 minutes away.

The Grove Park Inn Resort features a tiny diamond of a golf course, laid out in compact fashion in the shadow of the historic hotel itself. Golf was first played here in 1899, and then Ross redid the routing in 1924.

A $2.5 million restoration just a few years ago restored what was a fading beauty to its original luster, but the original Ross touches still abound. The old master was fond of saying, "golf should be a pleasure, not a penance," but apparently he could steer away from the intimidating ravine lurking right of the difficult seventh, a staunch par 3 playing 190 yards into the prevailing breeze. The varied length of the one shot holes, the tiny greens, the false fronts and the mostly reachable par 5s make this delightful antiquity one of the most memorable resort tracks you'll encounter.

Another worthwhile course is the Mount Mitchell Golf Club in nearby Burnsville, which bears more than a passing resemblance to one of the greatest mountain courses ever created. This is a curious but endearing track, sitting in the imposing shadow of 6,000 foot Mt. Mitchell, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi. At a glance the golf course looks a bit like Upper Cascades, the fabulous William Flynn creation at The Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia.

While Upper Cascades is really a valley track on the floor of the Alleghenies, Mt. Mitchell has some notable elevation changes, particularly on the inward nine. Here you'll find tilting greens and encroaching woods the major lines of defense. It's a worthwhile excursion, but too many parallel fairways and quirkily short par 4s and par 5s that were shoehorned into the terrain keep this course from being much more than a pleasant diversion.

Downtown Ashville offers myriad charms of its own. The city is full of art deco buildings and dozens of unique eateries, outdoor cafes and nightspots. It's a cultural and culinary oasis in the middle of the mountains.

"Dark and silent late last night, I think I might have heard the highway calling," sang former Asheville resident James Taylor in "Carolina on My Mind." Take the troubadour's advice. Follow the road to Asheville.

Joel Zuckerman is based in Savannah, Georgia and Park City, Utah. He is the author of five books, and his golf and travel stories have appeared in more than 100 publications around the world, including Sports Illustrated, Golfweek, Travel+Leisure Golf, Continental and Golf International.

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