Places to Play: Our Fave 5 Carolina Publics

What’s up, Dirt Fam? With the season finally kicking it into 6th gear (what was UP with all of that rain?), we thought it’d be nice to shout out some of our favorite public golf courses for that next destination trip you have on the horizon. Check out our top 5 tracks in the Carolinas!

1. The Ocean Course – Kiawah Island, S.C.

This place is like the dirty lovechild of St. Andrews, Whistling Straights, and Pinehurst No. 2. The only drawback to it is if you play a high cut. Take 4 extra clubs and turn the face down hard. You may even want to try hitting hooks. Pete Dye wasn’t joking around.


On the 17th hole, your caddie will tell you to hit anything from a 9 iron to a 3 wood, depending on whether the wind is coming from the ocean or the sound. That makes golf fun.

A point of advice: alligators at the OC are the real deal. There are signs all over the place warning you not to feed them, and for a good reason. Back in 2009, I dropped a cheese-filled cracker to one of those suckers off the 17th green. It lunged 4 feet in the air, slung open its jaws, and nearly took off my hand before belly flopping back into the sound. I have no idea what happened to the cracker.

On a positive note…oh my goodness, the scene. The Ocean Course nestles 10 of its 18 holes right along the Atlantic, with views of the ocean nearly every step of the way. Talk about a sanctuary. Conveniently enough, the Sanctuary Hotel is the spot to crash. And for dinner, make sure to stop in to the Atlantic Room. There is no better oceanfront dining option on the island.

2. Pinehurst No. 2 – Pinehurst, N.C.

What’s not to love about Pinehurst – the Cradle of American Golf? With adding a 9th golf course last year, there are plenty of holes to go around for even the most diehard boys’ or girls’ trips. The resort is impeccable, the people are incredible, and No 2…well let’s just say you better be sure to have your wedge game in tip top shape before tackling that beast. You might want to consider warming up on No 4. or No. 8 first. The starter will be glad to share his favorite tidbit with you — “The greens out here on four are like an upside down dinner plate. Head over to 2, and it’s more like a salad bowl.” We can tell you, he ain’t lyin’.

Need a place to stay? The Carolina Hotel all the way. Some of the most beautiful moments in golf history line the walls — it’s like taking a short walk back to 1901. The service at the hotel is extraordinarily good, and if you do one thing while you’re there…get the brunch served in the Carolina Dining Room. My tastebuds are watering just writing about it.


Even if you’re not staying in the hotel, do yourself a favor and head over to the Ryder Cup Lounge for a cocktail and a cigar if you’re into that sort of thing. Nothing beats a fern laden terrace with rocking chairs overlooking the finely manicured grass and shrubbery of the Carolina. This is where you’ll snap the famed “Pinehurst” photo. The mood is light, and nobody seems to be in much of a rush at all. Order a Carolina Tea, and you’ll feel yourself slowly sink into heaven. PinehurstMintJulep1-387x570

If you happen to be in town on a Saturday, head to the Village Wine Shop for a tasting and meet the owner, Gwen. She’s just fantastic, and we think her shop is too.

3. Harbour Town Golf Links – Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Imagine hitting long irons all day into greens the size of postage stamps with 20 – 25 mph gusting and swirling winds. That’s Harbour Town for you. Aside from the difficulty, this golf course is one of the prettiest in the nation. With views of the Calibogue Sound, lots of natural wildlife, and 100? yard long bunkers, Harbour Town Golf Links is just one of those places you find yourself gobbling your iPhone memory up with photos along the way.

image1-2Make sure to hit up the Lighthouse restaurant that overlooks the sound for some of the best she-crab soup in the world. The waitstaff is exquisitely prepared to make your dining experience something you eventually end up writing about on the internet. Honestly, the place never fails to impress.

4. Tobacco Road – Sanford, N.C.

Hold on to your butts! This place is off its rocker, and it knows it. Talk about a roller coaster ride. Tobacco Road is the kind of course you’ll shoot 10-20 shots OVER your normal potential the first time you play it. Then, you just have to come back once you know where to place the ball.


The sand, the hills, and the grasses make for one of the most picturesque backdrops in all of golf. It’s no wonder it’s constantly rated one of the top public courses in the world. And to think you can grab a round of golf on this “highly decorated, never duplicated” track for under $150, it makes Tobacco Road all the more attractive. This course is a classic and a must play on your way down to Pinehurst, and/or on your way back!


After the round, grab a cold one and plop yourself down in a rocking chair on the back deck that overlooks 18. You’ll find sympathy as you hear the moans and groans of all the other unfortunate souls finishing up their rounds that also started with high hopes. At least you’ll have a phone chocked full of pictures to remember the ride. If you’re interested, I think the locker room attendant will burn your card for a small fee (don’t quote us on that).

5. Lonnie Poole Golf Course – Raleigh, N.C.

Ex-Waste Management Exec, Lonnie Poole, decided to team up with Arnold Palmer to throw down a golf course right smack dab in the middle of N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus. Arnie put together a gorgeous rolling layout with wispy fescue and some great risk/reward shots. Every tee shot will demand precision if they’ve let the grasses grow long — which is a challenge for even the most advanced golfer. On the 11th tee box, you’ll find the most beautiful view of the Raleigh Skyline in all of North Carolina. You’d better soak it in and amp yourself up because after that peg is in the ground, you’ll have over 600 yards of uphill par 5 to conquer.

golf-bigAfter the round, grab a cold libation on the terrace that overlooks the finishing holes. Here, you have yet another spectacular view of the city, only made better by good drinks and good company. You may even catch a Dirty Larry sighting or two.

Until next time,



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