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Escape to North Carolina's Outer Banks for golf, wild horses and the sea

Katharine DysonBy Katharine Dyson,
Special Contributor
Currituck Club
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Golfers will enjoy the Currituck Club. (Katharine Dyson/TravelGolf)

The Outer Banks -- a sandy stretch of barrier islands threading their way off the northern half of coastal North Carolina between Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds and the Atlantic Ocean -- have long been a coveted escape destination for anyone looking for an unpretentious, laid-back getaway characterized by dunes, wild horses and small villages with funny names such as Kitty Hawk, Duck, Kill Devil Hills, Coinjock and Nags Head.

Stretching from Virginia Beach down to Hatteras and Okracoke, the Outer Banks not only provides an incredible playground for those who love the ocean, stunning white beaches and a kick-back lifestyle, but it also harbors an extraordinary collection of more than seven golf courses with a diversity as rich as a bowl of seafood chowder.

Outer Banks golf

From windswept tracks such as Nags Head Golf Links and Rees Jones' Currituck Club to the gracefully manicured Carolina Club and The Pointe Golf Club along with Kilmarlic Golf Club's nature walk, golf on the Outer Banks is a welcome addition to the other attractions that bring people to this part of the world.

Clearly golf is a big draw, but there are many other things to discover as well.

The Outer Banks off course

Corolla's wild horses freely roam the dunes and beaches of Currituck County, and the mustangs (of the horse variety) have right-of-way on the 4x4 beach area north of Corolla known as Swan Beach, North Swan Beach and Carova Beach. This wide, sandy stretch is a state-recognized road with cars and trucks tooling up and down two lanes roughly defined by tire tracks. Vehicles typically park in the middle of the lanes, spread out their picnics and even get married there on the sand.

Driving along this beach and cutting into the dunes in search of the horses, you'll pass a number of homes planted in the sand.

"The only way you know you're on a public road is to look up and see where the power lines run," said our guide as we lurched and slid through a rutted network of sandy "roads." Woe to the driver without a four-wheel drive and low-pressure tires.

"Larry the Tow Guy makes a lot of money just pulling cars out of the sand," said our guide, laughing, as we passed a Ford Taurus stuck up to its hubcaps.

Many coming to the Outer Banks like to explore the area's history. It is, after all, the place where England and Sir Walter Raleigh first attempted to colonize the Americas.

Those fascinated by shipwrecks can learn about the many sailing ships that sunk in dangerous waters around Cape Hatteras at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, and scuba divers can have a hay day exploring the wrecks.

Aviation buffs like to visit the Wright Memorial, site of the Wright Brothers' first flight in a powered airplane at Kill Devil Hills (Dec. 17, 1903). See the exact spot where the craft took off, a replica of the plane and a museum recounting the history of this amazing feat.

The Whalehead Club and Currituck Heritage Park contain a 1920s Art Nouveau-style home (now a museum), a park perfect for biking, picnicking, boating and listening to outdoor concerts, and there is also the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education.

Looking for remote? Head south to Hatteras Island, and take a ferry to Ocracoke Island where it is said the people still speak with their own accent.

The Outer Banks appeals to both families and to couples looking to marry. They can tie the knot at a beachfront ceremony, at sunset from a lighthouse or even on the seventh tee of the Currituck Golf Club with the water as a backdrop.

"We drive the bridal party out on our golf trolley," explained Patrick Damer, general manager, who pointed to white rose petals lining the grassy pathway to a flowered bedecked cross, site of a wedding the previous evening.

Outer Banks lodging

Driving from course to course along Route 12, you'll get a first-hand look at the many new houses that have been recently built here. Many are available for rent.

There are also seaside hotels such as the Hilton Garden Inn in Kitty Hawk, the Ramada Plaza Nags Head Beach and the Sanderling Resort & Spa in Duck, as well as the Hampton Inn in Corolla.

Groups and families may prefer accommodations in condos, homes and purpose-built bungalows such as the Club Cottage at Kilmarlic Golf Club in Harbinger that sleeps eight with four suites, a living area and kitchen. For something different, there is the Inn at Corolla Light.

Places to eat and drink

In Duck, for fine dining, we like the Left Bank at the Sanderling Resort, plus Ocean Boulevard Bistro & Martini Bar and JK's Restaurant in Kill Devil Hills.

For casual fare, try North Banks Restaurant & Raw Bar in Corolla -- their oysters are excellent -- and for seafood in a fun atmosphere, there is Blue Moon Beach Grill in Nags Head. "Pirates" serve a killer breakfast at the Jolly Roger (argh!).

While en route to your tee time, stop for coffee and pastries or even a heap of pancakes at Stack 'em High Pancakes in Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills. Like oysters? Try Awful Arthur's in Kill Devil Hills.

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Blue Moon Beach GrillKilmarlic Golf Club - hole 5Wright Brothers modelNorth Banks RestaurantCurrituck Golf Club - weddingsWhalehead MuseumWild mustangs

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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