Among golf’s many charms is the tug of the first tee where every round starts fresh, every player equal and every possibility still alive. Though it can be cruelly humbling, golf is a game for dreamers, who chase an elusive perfection. It’s a part of the Charlotte culture, whether at one of city’s finest private clubs or at one of the many high-quality daily-fee courses. And for those special times when the game becomes the centerpiece of a luxurious getaway, Charlotte’s proximity to three exceptional golf destinations makes it easy to experience the best of what the sport can offer. All are within a four-hour drive of the city and offer elegant amenities to take the edge off a rough day on the course or enhance a day you don’t want to end.
It has been called the American St. Andrews, and for good reason. There is no place else on this side of the Atlantic quite like Pinehurst where golf is both a game and a way of life. The spirit of Pinehurst is alive throughout the village, which is built around the grand Carolina Hotel and the resort’s eight golf courses. This is a special year at Pinehurst because it celebrates the return of Course No. 2 to its original design concepts created more than 70 years ago by legendary designer Donald Ross, who lived just off the third fairway. Through a masterful renovation handled by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, considered by many to be the best course designers in the business, No. 2 has, in a sense, gone retro to recapture its special magic. It was good enough before to host the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Opens, but it is even better now with the ragged, sandy look that gave the layout so much of its original character. You may have played Pinehurst No. 2 before – perhaps often – but unless you’ve teed it up there since its reopening in early March, you haven’t played this classic refreshing of a revered layout. It’s a spectacular project that has stripped the course of its thick collar of Bermuda grass rough, replacing it with the distressed, unkempt areas common to the North Carolina sandhills. Coore and Crenshaw haven’t so much changed No. 2, but remade it into what it once was. When the 2014 men’s and women’s U.S. Opens are played there in successive weeks, it will be another monumental moment in the resort’s second century. There is, of course, more to the resort than golf (though with eight courses, that’s never far away). There is a world-class spa adjacent to the Carolina Hotel, the exquisite charm of the Holly Inn and exceptional dining. Don’t miss the breakfast buffet at the Carolina Inn, a dining experience on par with playing No. 2. Just like the resort itself, you’ll want to go back for more.
Kiawah Island Golf Resort
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There is an undeniable charm to the Carolina lowcountry with its tidal marshes, moss-draped live oaks and shrimp and grits. Perhaps no place celebrates its own location better than the Kiawah Island Golf Resort. It has taken golf to the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and created a relaxed and luxurious experience that caters to almost any whim, but particularly to golfers. The stunning Sanctuary is a five-star hotel with one of only 13 five-star spas in the country. Tennis magazine rated it the No. 3 tennis resort in the country and Dr. Beach, who specializes in all things sandy and sunny, put Kiawah’s beach among his top 10 in the U.S. There’s only one steakhouse in the country that has both a Forbes four-star rating and a AAA four-diamond rating – the Ocean Room at the Sanctuary. And then there’s golf. There are five courses, but the star is the Ocean Course, which debuted on the world stage when it hosted the 1991 Ryder Cup matches famously won on the last hole of the last day by the American team. Laid across a wind-blown strip of sandy land hard by the Atlantic, the Ocean course was one of those bucket-list experiences even before it was named host of the 2012 PGA Championship. This year, the resort is offering a one-of-a-kind experience. In August, exactly one year before the PGA Championship, guests will be able to play the Ocean Course exactly as the pros will play it next year – stretched to 7,606 yards with the rough and the putting surfaces set as the pros will find them. If that’s more than you’re after, there’s always the Tom Fazio-designed Osprey Point course or Turtle Point, a Jack Nicklaus creation with its own set of oceanside holes. That’s one of the many charms at Kiawah: it’s not hard to find what you’re after.
Located just over the Virginia-North Carolina border not far from Mt. Airy, inspiration for the fictional Mayberry, Primland is unlike any other resort in the Carolinas – or perhaps anyplace else. It sits nearly 3,000 feet above sea level, spread across 12,000 acres that offer outdoor activities of virtually every type, from an exceptional golf course to fly fishing on mountain streams to shooting sports. There is even an observatory with a telescope, offering guests rare glimpses into deep space on clear evenings. The ride into Primland offers a hint of what awaits. When guests arrive, they drive a long, twisting road up to the lodge, winding through the wooded hillside. On one visit, I had to stop nine different times on the way up and then back down to allow deer or other wildlife to cross the road, proving it’s possible to make traffic delays enjoyable. Created by Swiss billionaire Didier Primat, the resort hits just the right notes with its understated elegance, accenting the natural beauty of its setting. The spa, the dining and the accommodations – whether in one of the 26 suites in the lodge or in one of the cabins scattered around the landscape – are exceptional. As for the Highland Course, mountain golf doesn’t get much better. Architect Donald Steel, reminded of his native Scottish highlands, has created a big, demanding course that can challenge the best players but still charm the average golfer. With dramatic views and little of the extreme elevation changes common to so many mountain courses, it’s no wonder that Primland was named best new public golf course (with greens fees of $75 or more) in the United States in 2007 by Golf Digest magazine. Because of its elevation, play at Primland runs from early April through early November with greens fees $200 (including cart). A variety of packages are also available.