N.C. Golf: Three Triangle courses with a scholarly approach
Top 100 Golf
By Jim Pomeranz
Photo by Roger Winstead/N.C. State University
Standing on the 11th tee at Lonnie Poole Golf Course at N.C. State University, the striking view of the Raleigh skyline makes this 665-yard, par-5 the layout’s signature hole.
In Chapel Hill, at UNC’s Finley Golf Course, the 490-yard, par-4, dogleg left 15th hole has that moniker. “It’s intimidating from your tee shot all the way to the green, with water along the left side,” says director of golf Mike Wilkinson.
And Duke University Golf Club’s 181-yard, par-3, 12th hole — played completely over water from tee to green — is most memorable. “This is a photographic gem,” says PGA director of golf Ed Ibarguen. “The water has an uncanny ability to collect shots hit with hope rather than confidence.”
These three courses in the Triangle are on-campus, open-to-the-public layouts and among the state’s best. Finley is ranked No. 39 among the North Carolina Golf Panel’s top 100 courses; Duke is No. 41; and Lonnie Poole is No. 61.
Each course operates at or above break-even without financial supplements by its university, officials say. Duke has a $2.3 million budget, Lonnie Poole is at $2 million and UNC Finley’s is $1.8 million. Course maintenance accounts for about half of the budget. Duke and Finley are part of their schools’ athletics departments, while Lonnie Poole is owned by a limited-liability corporation that develops N.C. State’s Centennial Campus.
Much of the income at these courses is generated from faculty, students, staff and alumni. Eighty-five percent of the Duke course’s players are university-related, compared with 52% at Finley and Lonnie Poole. Students and staff get discounts at each course.
Duke is the oldest of the three layouts, though Finley’s original design by George Cobb opened in 1949. (The adjacent Washington Duke Inn, also owned by the university, opened in 1988.) UNC hired Tom Fazio to create a new Finley course in nearly the same spot at a cost of $8.2 million, fully funded by donations. Duke’s course was built for $500,000 in the 1950s and designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr.; the 1994 renovation cost $2.5 million, paid for by donations and operating income. Jones’ son, Rees Jones, donated his design fee.
Donations totaling $17 million paid for Lonnie Poole, including the course, clubhouse and maintenance facility. Waste Industries Inc. founder Lonnie Poole and his wife, Carol, contributed $6 million.
“We have a beautiful and challenging layout in the shadow of downtown Raleigh,” says general manager Chip Watson. “And that includes the 11th because of that impressive Raleigh skyline.”