Champion Hills

Fall Golf Splendor in the Tar Heel State

James Taylor may not have had his clubs in the trunk of his car when he wrote “Carolina in my Mind” back in 1968. In fact, he was in dreary London, England, at the time, recording his debut album, the eponymous James Taylor.

But just as visions of his homeland inspired him to pen one of the greatest songs of the past 50 years, North Carolina moves golfers from throughout the U.S. to hit the road and tee it up during the Tar Heel State’s most glorious season.

Golfers who can imagine a place with all the vitamin D of Florida and stunning fall foliage of New England, set amid a tapestry of towering Blue Ridge Mountain peaks and crystal-clear lakes, will have a clear picture of this two-state region.

For golf course architecture aficionados, it also happens to be an area blessed with layouts from the likes of Donald Ross, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Ellis, and Dan Maples, P.B. Dye, and other distinguished designers. So without further ado, grab the clubs, some sunscreen, and even a three-quarter zip or two and plan a “golf trip by design” to the Western Carolinas this fall.

Apple Valley
Apple Valley in North Carolina

We’re providing a carefully curated mix of public, resort, and private courses to sample. Private? That’s right – as the saying goes among real estate agents in the region, every golf travel is a prospective buyer. Here’s a breakdown by course designer ranging from classic to modern.

Donald Ross

Dornoch, Scotland-born Ross forged his brand at Pinehurst Resort in the Carolina Sandhills, designing four of the resort’s nine courses. The storied architect went on to craft more than 40 layouts between Wilmington and Asheville in the 1920s, saving some of his most impressive work for the mountains of Western N.C.

The Omni Grove Park Inn’s 6,400-yard Ross design is diminutive by today’s standards but has a reputation for being enjoyable and in impeccable condition. What is lacks in distance, it makes up for in strategy, creativity and unapologetic fun. The tee box on the 332-yard 15th hole is an ideal spot to crack open a beer from one of Asheville’s myriad craft breweries. The resort offers a number of golf packages year-round.

The Asheville Municipal Golf Course, also designed by Ross, is one of the oldest courses in Western N.C. Opened in 1927, “Muni” was the first racially integrated course in the state. For history buffs, it’s also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Just a few miles away, the exclusive Asheville Country Club features a vintage Ross track that was expertly restored by Richard Mandell in 2016.

Ellis and Dan Maples

DanMaples hails from the “first family of North Carolina golf.” His grandfather, Frank, was a construction superintendent for Donald Ross, and his father, Ellis, was one of the most sought-after golf course architects in the Southeast in the 60s and 70s. Dan and Ellis even worked on 17 courses together, including the Championship Course at Grandfather Mountain Golf and Country Club in Linville.

Dan designed Rumbling Bald’s marquee course, Apple Valley, which is under an hour from Asheville on the north end of Lake Lure. The 6,800-yard par-72 layout reopened in August of 2020 sporting new Champion Bermuda greens and other agronomic enhancements. Known for both its conditioning and playability, Apple Valley’s 4,617-yard forward tees are popular with women and beginners.

Tom Fazio

No modern golf course architect has had a bigger impact on the region than Tom Fazio. His influence started with Wade Hampton in Cashiers and Champion Hills in Hendersonville in the late 80s and continued with Mountaintop (also in Cashiers) and Diamond Creek in Banner Elk in the decades to come. During a 20-year stretch, Fazio was involved with nearly every golf real estate project in the region.

Champion Hills
Champion Hills

His office remains in downtown Hendersonville just minutes away from Champion Hills where he and his wife are members. Fazio refers to the 6,500-yard layout as his “mountain masterpiece,” and splits his time between Hendersonville and Jupiter, Fla. He pulled off what some call a “miracle of modern golf design” at Champion Hills routing the course and shaping the land so that 12 of 18 holes play downhill or level.

With this caliber of course, it’s no surprise the Western Carolina community has emerged as one of the region’s most sought-after places to live. Resale homes are reasonably priced, by private community standards, and the member-owned, Troon-operated club offers a “vertical membership” that extends privileges to family members – a rarity in the region.

Jack Nicklaus

Jack Nicklaus and Fazio dominate the residential golf course design rankings. Between the two, they’re responsible for more than 50 percent of Golfweek’s “Best Residential Courses in the U.S.” The Golden Bear’s work in Western N.C. spans nearly 40 years. His first “Signature” course design was Elk River Club in Banner Elk, which opened in 1984 to rave reviews.

Short and alternative length courses have been all the rage over the past five years, and Nicklaus Design’s work at Bear Lake Preserve in Tuckasegee, N.C. is a prime example. This spectacular nine-hole, par-29 is proof positive that 7,000-yard par-72 regulation courses are no longer required as centerpieces of upscale golf communities.

P.B. Dye

P.B.’s connection to the Palmetto state runs deep. His wife, Jean, graduated from the University of South Carolina in Columbia, and the two never miss an opportunity to catch a game in Williams-Brice Stadium. He fell in love with the Upstate region in the 90s, designing what was then known as The Gauntlet but is now Cherokee Valley Course and Club.

Cherokee Valley
Cherokee Valley in North Carolina

Situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, Cherokee Valley displays numerous Dye characteristics while offering an exceedingly playable golf course with only a smattering of blind shots and uneven lies. The par-3 sixth hole features a 70-foot drop from tee to green and a panoramic view of Glassy Mountain in the distance.

A collection of cottages onsite house golf travelers in search of a convenient and enjoyable stay-and-play experience. Cherokee Valley’s new chef-driven restaurant, Core 450, opened earlier this year and is just a smooth pitching wedge away from the cottages. Golfers can take on the course via Finn Cycles, battery-powered scooters that can ride anywhere on the course other than the greens.

Shane Sharp

Shane Sharp, owner and Chief Writing Officer at Soundboun4.com, a public relations company located in Greenville, South Carolina. In addition to running Southbound 4, Shane is a seasoned freelance writer for numerous golf, travel, tourism, and real estate media outlets including GOLF Magazine, Golf Inc., Club Management Magazine, Club & Resort Business., Golfdom, Golf Guide, Golf Vacations Magazine and many others.

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