Henry A. Lister
Carolinas Golf Association Rater
The Top 100 Golf Courses in NC for 2017 were named by the NC Golf Panel through the Business NC magazine. For 25 years, the NC Golf Panel has produced the Top 100 list ranking the best of the 520 courses in NC.
Triangle golfers are blessed to have 45 courses from which to choose, and 19 rank in the Top 100. But only five public courses in the Triangle rank in the Top 100: Finley (41), Duke (43), Lonnie Poole (65), Mill Creek (91) and The Heritage Club (96). The other 14 are private.
Readers are aware that my fellow panelists and I disagree on the rankings overall and the Triangle courses specifically. Differing criteria, such as walkability, layout and flow and youth development (among others) account for much of the difference.
Panelists are compelled to vote only for courses they have played in the last 5 years so some of the year-to-year shifts in ranking could be accounted for by a number of them not having played a course. Nonetheless, it is surprising that several quality courses in our backyard are absent from the rankings: The Neuse, the Club at 12 Oaks, Chapel Hill CC and Devil’s Ridge.
Last year, Croasdaile CC (75) finally was recognized and this year the Lakes course at North Ridge debuted at 86.
Six previously unranked courses made the 2017 Top 100 list: Mountaintop (3), The Thistle (67), North Ridge/Lakes (86), Carolina Trace CC/Lakes (93), Southern Pines GC (95) and Stoney Creek GC (99). The biggest shock was the first-time appearance of Mountaintop at 3. This ultra-exclusive club in Cashiers features a course built by Tom Fazio 2014 with an invitation-only membership of 350. The amenities are over the top, clearly a retreat designed for the 1%. And while it is difficult to separate the course from the overall experience of the club’s immoderate extravagance, the course was fabulous. I don’t regard Mountaintop as a top 10 course but surely in the top 25.
Southern Pines GC has long been known as an exceptional Donald Ross layout and the restorative work put into has brought it back to its glory. Similarly, Stoney Creek GC has spent 4 years renovating or remodeling the course to a very high standard and will probably rank higher in the coming years.
There are some incomprehensible rankings with which I vigorously disagree. Most notable is how low Tobacco Road (97) is on the list. The ranking was 73 in 2015 and 82 in 2016. Clearly my fellow panelists are blind to the genius of the late Mike Strantz’ design there. In fact, the other NC course by Strantz, Tot Hill Farm, is absent from the list.
I ranked Tobacco Road as 13 and Tot Hill as 29. I will admit that both courses push the edge on golf course design, apparently to an extreme that many on the NC Golf Panel find disagreeable. The “Wow” factor of both courses can be overwhelming to some but should not be held against the courses, both of which are thrilling to play. Several architects have incorporated visual deception into course design, but none as boldly as Strantz. Both courses deserve to be in the Top 50.
Equally befuddling is the 6-place rise in the ranking for The Hasentree Club (36). I’ll say it out loud—the superintendent there is engaged in a failing experiment. Around each bunker there is a collar of grass 3-feet wide and at least a foot deep. If your ball lands in any of those grassy collars, you have a 50/50 chance of finding it and even a smaller chance of being able to hit it out. This feature does not enhance your golfing experience nor does it test a golfer’s ability; only her patience. Yet for some reason Hasentree’s ranking rose. I am at a total loss to explain this.
Courses dropped from the Top 100 were Nags Head Golf Links, Jefferson Landing, Forest Oaks, Seven Lakes, Mount Mitchell and Mountain Air. Quail Hollow, site of August 2017 PGA championship, rose a point to sixth place and Eagle Point (17) in Wilmington will fill in as the site for this month’s 2017 Wells Fargo Championship.