By Jim Pomeranz
When seeking “best bang for the buck” golf courses in seven N.C. regions, the exclusive, high-dollar membership courses such as Charlotte Country Club, Raleigh’s Carolina Country Club, or Linville’s Grandfather Golf & Country Club did not make the cut. Instead, panelists mostly chose courses that are primarily public or semi-private daily greens fee loops geared toward golfers seeking an enjoyable day on the links without breaking the bank.
“I define ‘best bang for the buck’ as a good, well-conditioned golf course for a reasonable price,” says Sally Austin, former women’s golf coach at UNC Chapel Hill who is an instructor at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines. She’s a charter member of the N.C. Golf Panel, which Charlotte public-relations guru Bill Hensley started in 1995 to give more recognition to the state’s golf courses.
“In the Pinehurst area, Southern Pines Country Club is one,” Austin says. “It doesn’t cost much to play but it’s usually in good condition and the layout is fun.” The Moore County club charges $50 to $100, depending on the season. She also likes the rolling hills of the Boone Golf Club, an Ellis Maples design, where the price is $65 or less.
Steve Williams, editor of Triad Golf Today, goes off the 18-hole grid and picks his home course — the full-length, nine-hole Pennrose Park Country Club in Reidsville. It’s a Donald Ross design that opened in 1929. “The greens are small but tricky, and the course is not long. Best of all, it’s fun to play,” Williams says. Family membership is $140 a month, while individuals pay $100. The initiation fee is $200.
Andy Moye, from the unincorporated community of Maury in Greene County, defines a best bargain as the “value as related to the amount I’m spending, regardless of price.” Moye enjoys Mountain Glen Golf Club in Newland, a George Cobb design that opened in the mid-1960s. The 6,500-yard layout’s front nine holes are links-style in relatively flat terrain, while the back side is more mountainous. Summer greens fees are just $60 with a cart. An annual individual membership is $880 for a season, which runs April 1 through Nov. 1.
“I consider Mountain Glen to be very reasonably priced for the shot values and scenery,” says Moye, who doesn’t mind a higher greens fee if a course is worthy. He also favors Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, which charges as much as $235 in the prime season from April through May, and Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club, which has a $215 greens fee during the same period. “I love these two,” he says. “They are worth the price.”
Few might consider Pinehurst No. 2 a bargain, given the greens fees of $305 to $485, caddie fee of $90 and suggested tip of at least $40. But the host course of the U.S. Open in 1999, 2004, 2014 and 2024 — per the current schedule — is the best bargain for plenty of golfers who want the experience and challenge. “Playing No. 2 will kill your buck,” says Jo Ann Sluder of Pinehurst. “But for some, given the opportunity to play a U.S. Open course [for] any price is good, especially if the course is in great shape.”
The Cradle at Pinehurst Resort, a nine-hole, par 3 tract amid North Carolina’s golf mecca, didn’t make the golf panel’s bargain list. But panelist Russell Eaves of Greenville says it should have. “The Cradle has challenging green complexes and is great for practicing your short game or just having a good time with your friends. There’s music playing throughout the layout, and the Pinecone bar at hole eight keeps things lively.” Since it opened two years ago, more than 70,000 rounds have been played there. The greens fee is $50 for all-day play, as many rounds as you can get in. It’s a great place for a comeback after one has lost the first nine.
Eaves also includes the Wilmington Municipal Golf Course on his bargain list. “There are not many places that you can play a Donald Ross layout of that quality for around $50 [which includes the greens fee and cart],” he says. Betsy Mitchell of Pinehurst concurs. “I love the story that Donald Ross marketed the idea of the [Wilmington] Municipal Golf Course to draw vacationers to their town.”
There are plenty more best-bargain courses in North Carolina that are open for non-member play. Some have low annual dues; others have reasonable daily rates. Topping the list in the Triangle is UNC Finley Golf Course, a Tom Fazio design in Chapel Hill, where daily rates don’t exceed $100. In the Triad region, the Champions layout at Bryan Park Golf & Conference Center in Browns Summit is a well-noted Rees Jones design with a greens fee of less than $60. Rocky River Golf Club, owned by the city of Concord and less than a mile from the Charlotte Motor Speedway, was designed by Dan Maples and offers greens fees of $50 a round.
Best bang for the buck? It can be about bargain golf. More likely, it’s personal preference when choosing where to play at the wide range of great courses in North Carolina.