OUTER BANKS, N.C. -- It is summer along the Tar Heel State's northern shore - the coast of Currituck to be precise in the Outer Banks region — where visitors from hillside cities like Pittsburgh, Pa., are soaking up the barrier island lifestyle.
The visitors have flocked eastward to the famed Outer Banks to dip their slightly pale bodies into the ocean; dig their hands and mountain-trampled feet in the sand; partake in an array of local historical events; or just relax in nature's glory while leaving their worries behind.
For many, the intrinsic pull of the game begins to creep inside of them not long after their inaugural glance toward the pounding surf. Sure, there is golf to be found out on the island, but those courses are fewer and farther between along this protective strip of ocean paradise and can be heavily populated with tourists during the high seasons. Of course, they are unusually good, but an escape to the "quiet" side is really what is desired - to the haunts where the "locals play."
You don't have to travel far from your place on the beach to find great interior golf near the Outer Banks. If you haven't already played one of the designs located at the gateway to the beach on your way into town, you don't have to backtrack far.
Located on route 158 just across the Wright Memorial Bridge (one of only three vehicle access points connecting the island with the mainland) is the first in a sequence of three championship OBX golf courses - layouts close to the sounds and ocean but more parkland in settings. It's called The Pointe Golf Club, and it is the course that helped put Currituck County on the national golfing map.
Overlooking the Currituck Sound at Powell's Point, The Pointe is a wonderful Russell Breeden design that broke ground in the mid-1990s and then became a groundbreaking achievement as a pioneer in golf course turf management. Since the course was built on a turf farm, it was only natural that the staff devoted its time to the finest playing conditions — and that process continues to this day. The Pointe Golf Club's A-1 bentgrass greens are considered second to none.
What also makes a round at The Pointe enticing is the fact that little or no development surrounds the traditional design, though a few scattered farm buildings and even a couple of family graveyards add to the throwback ambiance.
Jim Neis is a well-traveled retiree who grew up in Wisconsin but spent a bulk of his adult life in and around western Pennsylvania. As a former business golf member at several country clubs, he considers The Pointe his current "home" club. Now that Neis and his wife live on the barrier island in Nags Head, he enjoys the escape that The Pointe provides.
"It is still fun getting out smelling fresh air and hitting the ball on occasion," says Neis. "Both The Pointe and the Carolina Club just up the road, I am told, are owned by the largest sod producer in the Carolinas. The Pointe is maintained in excellent condition. I have always found playing at The Pointe challenging but fair, the greens and bunkers are always in excellent condition. My golfing skills are less than average but my experience on the course has always been very good."
As Neis and Eric Rehak - Neis's former neighbor back in Murrysville, Pa., and a frequent visitor to the Outer Banks - know well, the barrier island living experience can be the ultimate getaway. Still, something tugs at you. There is often need to step away from the shore; to ground yourself, but not kill an entire day doing so. That's when it's time to head for the mainland, where the turf is green and lush, the trees are tall and the experience is always "on pointe."
"When playing The Pointe, you know that you are near the sea, but it also gives you the feeling that you could be playing back in Pennsylvania just the same," said Rehak. "It kinda bridges the two experiences. The course has an 'openness' about it and it's definitely not a course where you are surrounded by town houses, condos or homes. Here, you can play more of a parkland/Pennsylvania style course right in the Outer Banks."
Rehak says he really likes the convenience.
"Mid-week, it's not too far to drive over there from your Nags Head or Southern Shores vacation home and tee it up," he said. "It's close enough to the bridge that you can play it on your way in, way out, or during your stay. It's also not the kind of venue you are going to get jammed up on either. It's designed to be a quick-play course. That's often what you are looking for when you are on vacation. You don't want to tie up an entire day traveling back and forth and playing a torturously-long round of golf."
A second exciting golf course, though just a few more miles up north of The Pointe, on route 158 to the north in Grandy, is The Carolina Club. As a sister course to The Pointe, it also features superb bentgrass conditions highlighted by a memorable par-3 island green No. 7.
Though both Rehak and Neis have yet to play The Carolina Club, they said they are planning to in the near future.
"If it's anything like The Pointe, it's got to be good," Rehak said. "It's true, the grounds (at The Pointe) are definitely well kept and the conditions are pristine. I had never seen that type of grass before. It plays very well, really good from the fairways. Water hazards (on some 15 holes) are there but it is open enough where you can steer clear of them most of the time. The course has some pretty neat par threes, with not a lot of forgiveness around the greens. There are lots of bunkers strategically placed to increase the challenge."
And like the stretch of Currituck mainland that leads to the wonders of the Outer Banks, the final four holes at The Pointe are quite memorable.
"That stretch is definitely as challenging as any I've played in the Outer Banks," said Rehak.
Learn more about The Pointe and OBX fall golf packages at www.PlayOBXGolf.com.
Martin Armes, 919-608-7260, firstname.lastname@example.org
Brad King, 336-306-9219, email@example.com