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Golf in Charlotte, North Carolina: More than just the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow

Katharine DysonBy Katharine Dyson,
Special Contributor
Birkdale Golf Club
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The Arnold Palmer-designed Birkdale Golf Club is one of the top public courses in North Carolina. (Courtesy of Birkdale G.C.)

For the past 10 years, spring has brought the PGA Tour's Wells Fargo Championship (formerly the Wachovia Championship) to Quail Hollow Golf Club in Charlotte, N.C. And what better place to watch the pros when temperatures are in the 70s and landscapes are bursting unreal colors of azaleas, red bud and dogwoods?

Whatever reason you come to Charlotte, you feel the buzz, the energy. Charlotte is a happening place -- new buildings, new restaurants, street fairs, concerts, auto racing. America's 17th largest city, Charlotte is a huge sports town, home to the NFL Panthers, NBA Bobcats and Lowes Motor Speedway. And golf.

There are more than 70 golf courses in the Charlotte area, many private like Quail Hollow, the Charlotte Country Club originally designed by Donald Ross, and TPC at Piper Glen, an Arnold Palmer layout.

But with more than 50 courses offering public play, most at green fees of less than $40, Charlotte's golf scene is underrated and can hold its head high even in the shadow of strong golf meccas Pinehurst and Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Charlotte golf courses you can play

One of the older public golf courses in Charlotte, Larkhaven Golf Club on the eastern edge of the city, was built in 1958 and features narrow, fairly flat tree-lined fairways, roll-up greens and some water hazards making it a good play for all levels of golfers.

On site at the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge is a fine, recently renovated, 18-hole course, a pretty track with some serious rock-and-roll greens. "I love this course. I play it often," said Mike Pinckney, a Charlotte resident.

In addition to the elegant, 214-room Ballantyne, there is a four-bedroom cottage and 35-room retreat lodge.

The 7,360-yard Renaissance Park Golf Course in southwest Charlotte, designed by Michael Hurdzan, is one of five courses managed by the Ratcliffe Golf Services where low green fees are the norm. Renaissance appeals to families and new golfers with its three-hole, par-3 course where you can play three times for less than $8.

Another good bet for family outings is Paradise Valley, a quirky little par 3 with a lot of treacherous water lurking at the edges of small roll-off greens.

Other courses in the Ratcliffe group include Charles T. Myers Public Golf Course with friendly forward tees, the recently renovated nine-hole Dr. Charles L. Sifford Golf Course at Revolution Park and Sunset Hills G.C. with a regulation 18-hole track and a nine-hole Learning Course.

One of the top tracks in the area, Birkdale Golf Club, is an Arnold Palmer design north of Charlotte. Voted one of the top five public golf courses in North Carolina, Birkdale features a lot of elevation changes and bent-grass greens. Although public, Birkdale evokes a private club ambiance with its handsome clubhouse and meticulous grooming.

Rocky River Golf Club, a Dan Maples course northeast of Charlotte near the speedway and an Embassy Suites, is carved out of rolling hills and wetlands. It's one of the more challenging courses around, with rugged rock outcroppings, water, feathery fescue, and large greens and bunkers.

About an hour outside of Charlotte, Rock Barn Golf and Spa east of Hickory has two tracks, the Jones Course and the Jackson Course. The more challenging and longer of those, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., is characterized by huge white sculptured bunkers and undulating greens and fairways; the shorter track by Tom Jackson features some sizable elevation changes.

Old North State Club one of eight courses on the prestigious McConnell Golf Trail and host to the Atlantic Coast Conference men's championships, was named the best private course in the state by North Carolina Magazine, and its finishing holes were named the best par 3 and par 5 in the state. Designed by Tom Fazio, it's a private course. But like the other courses on the Trail, it's available to those who are looking for a top-level golf experience and are willing to pay for it. On-site accommodations are available in a lovely lakeside lodge.

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Charlotte - skylineLarkhaven Golf ClubBallantyne Hotel & Lodge golf courseQuail Hollow Country Club - Tiger Woods

Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.

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