2,850 feet before you take your first swing

It is one thing to build a mountain golf course.

It is quite another thing to do it splendidly.

At Primland Resort, where the golf course sits atop a mountain in the midst of a 12,000-acre property, it has been done beautifully.

Located about 2 1/2 hours north of Charlotte, Primland Resort offers a variety of outdoor activities. You can fish for trout in the tailwaters of the nearby Pinnacles Reservoirs, ride horses or ATVs over the 90 miles of roads and trails or, depending on the season, hunt for deer, quail and wild turkey.

It is the golf course, however, that is the star of the property, and for good reason.

Laid across the top of a mountain 2,850 feet above sea level, the Highlands Course was designed by famous links-course designer Donald Steel and is framed by one magnificent view after another.

From the moment a golfer plays down toward the first green with a sweeping vista across the Dan River gorge in the distance until he finishes, the scenery is spectacular.

The trick, from a golfer's perspective, is to build a layout that enhances the vistas. Too often, mountain courses bump and twist like a roller coaster, with slopes and penalties that are equally severe.

At Primland, Steel has produced a course that moves gently across the mountain top, offering relatively few dramatic shifts in elevation. It is not an easy golf course but it is fun to play, a rare treat.

There are no long forced carries to make life miserable for higher handicap players. Bunkers are fair, and there are no ponds or lakes to deal with. There is room off most fairways for tee shots to wander off line without being lost.

Then there are the greens. Some are massive, one stretching nearly 60 yards from front to back, and many have distinctive contours to them.

“People like putting if the greens are not impossible,” Steel said, “even those of us whose nerves are shattered.”

The Highlands Course earned the high praise of being named the best new public course in America (with greens fees $75 or above) by Golf Digest magazine in 2007. That's like getting an Oscar.

“We did our best to exploit the views,” Steel said. “The golf can be secondary sometimes.”

The course is open through Oct. 31. Greens fees are $200 and include cart, range balls, a sandwich, snacks and soft drinks.

Part of the fun is getting there. Upon entering the gates to Primland, guests climb the aptly named Busted Rock Road back and forth up the mountain, twisting through property that for many years provided the wood for a timber company.

Now, it is becoming an expansive resort geared toward guests interested in experiencing the outdoors.

A new 72,000-square-foot clubhouse is under construction. It will feature meeting room for 100 people with a restaurant and an observatory overlooking Pilot Mountain in the distance. It will also include 26 rooms for guests.

Additionally, a series of cottages have been built adjacent to the course – the only real estate development on Highlands Course – each offering porches with expansive views of the course and the nearby mountains.