RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory told a crowd of more than 1,000 North and South Carolina-based golf professionals recently that as part of Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker's economic development plan his administration would be using the 2014 Men's and Women's U.S. Opens being played in Pinehurst on back-to-back weeks in June as a "major jumping-off point" to promote business in North Carolina, as well as travel and tourism — while using golf as an important way to do it.
"Sharon Decker is really using me [during the U.S. Opens in Pinehurst]," McCrory said during his February address of the Annual Meeting of the Carolinas PGA (CPGA) at the Greensboro Coliseum. "They've told me to wipe my schedule clean for those two weeks. We are going to be meeting with business development people at the two Opens. In fact we're going to use the Women's Open to concentrate on Asian companies because of all the Asian golfers. We see more potential with the Women's U.S. Open as far as recruiting businesses to North Carolina and selling North Carolina.
"From now on when we have anyone come to North Carolina — whether they land in Greensboro or Fayetteville or Wilmington or Greenville or Charlotte or Asheville or Raleigh — we've got to promote to the business community to bring your golf clubs to North Carolina because there are no better golf courses in the world than right here, from the coast all the way to the mountains and through the Piedmont."
Said McCrory: "There is no reason that North Carolina should not be promoting golf as part of our travel and tourism package no different from what Arizona and Alabama are doing right now. We have the best 'Golf Trail' in the nation, maybe in the world right here in North Carolina."
Agree or disagree with his politics, McCrory's take on golf trails was music to the ears of McConnell Golf Director of Golf Brian Kittler, PGA, who takes tremendous pride in the fact that McConnell Golf provides its members and well-heeled golf travelers their own private golf trail rivaling any other stretch of layouts and experiences in the country.
McConnell Golf was founded in 2003 with the acquisition of Raleigh Country Club and today owns and/or operates eight premier private clubs in North and South Carolina including Sedgefield Country Club Ross Course and Dye Course in Greensboro, N.C., TPC at Wakefield Plantation in Raleigh, N.C., Old North State Club at Badin Lake, N.C., Treyburn Country Club in Durham, N.C., The Reserve Golf Club in Pawleys Island, S.C., Grande Dunes Members Club in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Musgrove Mill Golf Club in Clinton S.C. Most importantly, every one of the McConnell Golf facilities is top ranked in their respective states.
Kittler said many McConnell Golf members will take advantage of such a built-in amenity during June's U.S. Open Championships in Pinehurst. "With the U.S. Open coming to town, our members have business clients, guests and out-of-town family," said Kittler. "With the network of McConnell Golf courses it's a perfect opportunity to allow our members to show off what their options are.
"We all know that Pinehurst No. 2 is ranked No. 1, but there are four courses within the McConnell network that are ranked within the top 30 in the state. So you don't definitely need Pinehurst to entertain your clients and guests during the U.S. Open."
One of the critical decisions for any golf getaway is the destination, and in that regards McConnell Golf members seemingly have the best of all worlds. With Greg Norman's gorgeous, award-winning design at The Reserve at Pawleys Island, they enjoy luxurious coastal golf along with the Grande Dunes Member Course up in Myrtle Beach. At the conveniently accessible Old North State Club hard upon Badin Lake, they enjoy the finest urban retreat with all the amenities. And with Musgrove Mill and its legendary Arnold Palmer design, they enjoy the quintessential "pure golf" getaway reminiscent of faraway dream destinations like Pine Valley or Bandon Dunes.
Steve Foster is a veterinarian in Concord, N.C., and an Old North State Club member who has been enjoying a golf trip every March with 16-20 friends, mostly McConnell members. The last several years his group has taken advantage of the McConnell Trail, travelling from Raleigh Country Club to Musgrove Mill — and this year the group is going to visit The Reserve.
"We usually stay 3 or 4 nights and play four rounds of golf," said Foster. "At each site, the golf courses are in great shape, especially for March. Musgrove is challenging but the setting is awesome with the remote location and houses there. It's ideal, really, for a golf getaway. The food is fantastic and the service has been exceptional. Brian and his staff at Raleigh were too. And Donald [Clement, PGA at The Reserve] is doing everything possible to make our trip to The Reserve a success."
During their road trip to Musgrove Mill, McConnell Golf members and guests stay in on-site cottages for overnight accommodations and also enjoy a first-rate practice facility and full-service clubhouse. Like Musgrove Mill, Old North State Club is a great day-trip for any golfer wanting to tackle one of golf's finest tests. The golf course is widely considered one of Tom Fazio's best. As longtime host of the Atlantic Coast Conference golf tournament, Old North State has been ranked second in the state of North Carolina nearly since the day it opened in 1992, trailing only Pinehurst No. 2.
Old North State Club brings to the table a host of amenities found nowhere short of a private, recreational resort. Located just over an hour from Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston-Salem on the 5,300-acre Badin Lake, Old North State Club is a secluded, gated community surrounded by the quiet beauty of Uwharrie National Forest, which helps make it such a desirable private retreat. Members and their guests can stay in the original clubhouse, which has been turned into a spacious, eight-room lodge with a kitchen, bar, dining area and recreational room. The centerpiece of it all is the $6 million, 20,000-square-foot clubhouse overlooking the 18th hole of the golf course.
Not to be outdone, around the famed Sandhills of North Carolina visitors to the Talamore Golf Resort can stay and play two of the area's finest courses, Talamore Golf Club and its sister resort course Mid South Club, both located on Midland Road about halfway between the Pinehurst Resort and Mid Pines/Pine Needles. Talamore Golf Club has been ranked in the forefront of outstanding courses since opening in 1991. Architect Rees Jones, who helped fine-tune Pinehurst No. 2 for the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Opens, designed a course that is both visually striking and exceptionally enjoyable. The 7,020-yard layout was also made famous by instituting the first llama caddie program, which makes for an unforgettable day.
At the Mid South Club, 545 acres of longleaf pine forests, lakes and gently rolling hillsides provide a backdrop for a place of beauty and serenity. Formerly known as Pinehurst Plantation, the Mid South Club & Lodge was designed by the renowned team of Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay in 1993, and stands as one of the Carolinas' most attractive private residential golf communities.
Of course, those who are "in the know" during the back-to-back U.S. Open weeks in Pinehurst may be able to make a connection at the exclusive Forest Creek Golf Club, which stands alone in the Home of American Golf when it comes to exclusive, high-end golf communities offering a national draw to golfing purists.
Built on a magnificent, 1,265-acre piece of unencumbered property just two miles outside the Village of Pinehurst and less than five minutes from Pinehurst No. 2, Forest Creek features a diverse mix of world-class golf in its two stunning designs by Tom Fazio, the most highly ranked living golf course architect. Forest Creek's North and South provide a pair of entirely different experiences that one would not expect to find within 50 miles of each other, let alone in the same community, which explains why Forest Creek was the only golf course community in America with two layouts ranked among Golfweek's Top 50 Best Residential Golf Courses. And the two gems leave members flipping a coin on any given day, though the North Course plays about two shots harder.
The Forest Creek lifestyle experience is anchored by its stunning, 43,000 square-foot clubhouse, an elegant white structure that opened in May 2011, designed to have the look and feel of a private home, with four fireplaces, a library and eleven swank, upstairs suites — 10 owned by members including one by Fazio himself — with a veranda providing one of the best golf scenery across the Sandhills. "[When I heard] they were going to build units in the clubhouse, kind of like the old-time clubs did where they had rooms and places you could stay," Fazio said. "I went up and looked at them and said, 'Gosh, I've got to have one of these.' What a great place to send your friends, my family, my boys. I had to do this. What a place to be."
And speaking of well-known golf course architects, the legacies of Donald Ross, Willard Byrd and Ellis Maples, along with Dan Maples and Davis Love III, extend into the Eastern Sandhills toward Fayetteville. From the thoroughly modern Love III design at Anderson Creek on the northwest side of Fayetteville to the classic routing featuring a lavish panorama of Cypress trees, ponds and natural springs at Cypress Lakes to the southeast just off I-95 and the 1967 Gates Four Golf and Country Club, with its winding streams and wooden bridges weaving near the city center, there's quite a wide range of looks to be found here. Throw in one of the most well crafted names in golf — Bayonet at Puppy Creek (located on the south side) — and you'll discover another quartet of courses to add to your golfer's bucket list.
Sometimes golf trips around the Tar Heel state are combined with beach trips, and there are few better places to enjoy both than North Carolina's legendary Outer Banks.
For starters, golfers can rent a beach house or stay on the mainland in one of the best golf cottages you will ever enjoy at Kilmarlic. Though its upscale Tom Steele design is more heavily wooded than the island courses and thus less impacted by coastal breezes, Kilmarlic challenges golfers with substantially more water hazards. In fact, there are only three holes on the entire course devoid of a wetland or water feature, forcing golfers to think their way around the layout that stretches a modest 6,560 yards in length. The most memorable hole is the 201-yard, par-3 17th. A precise shot over marsh running along the entire left side, then wrapping around the back of a bulk-headed green, is required to hit dry land.
The Pointe, meanwhile across the highway, is a traditional design that spreads out across the rural Carolina mainland. Like Kilmarlic, The Pointe's greatest defense is in the form of water with 15 holes sporting some sort of wet lateral challenge. Given its player-friendly qualities, many tee off their Outer Bank golf getaway here. Finally on the mainland, The Carolina Club is a big, brawny layout — particularly in relation to the others in the region — that stretches to within lob wedge distance of 7,000 yards. Designed by popular architects Russell Breeden and Bob Moore, the layout is more open than its mainland brethren making the winds more significant. The signature hole is the 166-yard, par-3 seventh showcasing an island green that can be difficult to hit when the ocean breezes kick up and penetrate the mainland.
Those who prefer beach living and the occasional break for golf might prefer the Currituck Club, located on the top end of the barrier island past Duck in Corolla. Currituck Club's Rees Jones-designed layout winds through a premier, gated community and features diverse coastal terrain — including sand dunes, wetlands, maritime forests and sound-side shoreline — and glimpses of the Currituck Sound, particularly on signature holes at the par-5 seventh and par-3 15th. Like all the great links courses abroad, the Currituck Club can change complexion according to the wind speed and direction. Play it on three consecutive days and you'll likely enjoy three different experiences.
For a true seaside golf experience in the Outer Banks, you can do no better than Nags Head Golf Links, located on the south end, which challenges golfers with several holes routed right along the Roanoke Sound and winds that seemingly change by the minute. The front nine's fifth and ninth and the back nine's 15th and 18th holes actually play right along the water in opposite directions, making club selection more art than science. Though not located directly on the water, the well-bunkered, 160-yard, par-3 17th — with sound waters lapping just beyond the dunes that surround the green — provides a highlight on any golf trip worth its salt.
Some helpful links to learn more at www.McConnellGolfTrail.com, www.TalamoreGolfResort.com, www.ForestCreekGolfClub.com, www.VisitFayettevilleNC.com/golf and www.PlayOBXGolf.com.
Martin Armes, 919-608-7260, firstname.lastname@example.org
Brad King, 336-306-9219, email@example.com