North Carolina golf: Five Top-5 lists
August 15, 2017
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
When Tiger took the lead at Wyndham
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- This week’s Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club extends the PGA TOUR’s stay in North Carolina to a fortnight. With more than 400 courses and a rich golfing history – led by Wake Forest alum Arnold Palmer – the state takes plenty of pride in its ties to the sport.
With contributions from a few of the state’s golf-loving personalities, here are five top-5 lists to enhance your knowledge about the Old North State.Grandfather Golf and Country Club. (grandfatherclubnc.com)
Top 5 Tracks
By Roy Williams
North Carolina head basketball coach Roy Williams, who coached the Tar Heels to their sixth NCAA title with a 71-65 victory over Gonzaga in March, is an avid golfer. He even hosts a group of NBA coaches with Tar Heel ties in Pinehurst each August – a last-gasp before practice begins – in what has become known as the Dean Smith Invitational. (Michael Jordan occasionally attends, too.)
Williams had five birdie putts when he played in the 2013 Wyndham Championship pro-am with Davis Love III, a Tar Heel alum and soon-to-be World Golf Hall of Famer. And there was a pretty special moment when Williams putted out on the final hole.
“I played really well, made a bunch of putts,” Williams remembers. “(Davis) turned to the crowd, you know, it's a pro‑am so it's not a million people there or anything like that, but there was several hundred people in those stands, and he just said out loud, ‘I wish I could putt like Coach.’ And that meant to me almost as much as winning in Phoenix this past year.”
On a recent July day as Williams was presiding over the final day of his basketball camp, the UNC icon stopped and gave PGATOUR.COM a list of his five favorite courses in North Carolina.
Grandfather Golf and Country Club (Linville) -- “I have a picture in my office of the 18th hole at Grandfather Mountain that [course owner] Mr. [Hugh] Morton gave me because I made the statement that if I could only play golf one place for the rest of my life and I could snap my fingers and get there so transportation and travel was not a problem, it would be Grandfather Mountain.”
Biltmore Forest (Asheville) -- “It's an old‑style course, immaculate condition. The people are just so nice. You can come up there in the afternoon and there's 25 or 30 kids [ages] 5 to 13 hanging around, so I love the atmosphere there. But I really like the golf course, too.”
Forest Creek Golf Club (Pinehurst) -- “I love the layout. You have two 18 holes and they're very different. But love the locker room, the practice area, everything about it.”
Pinehurst No. 2, No. 8 and No. 6 (Pinehurst) -- (OK, that’s three courses but he was hard-pressed to choose.) “I love all of the Pinehurst. No. 2 is neat because you can walk and you can think about the fact that Nicklaus, Palmer and all those guys walked there.”
Quail Hollow Club (Charlotte) – “Charlotte has got some great golf courses. People talk about Quail Hollow now, and it's a relatively new golf course, but Quail Hollow could be in there.”
Secret Sixth: Mount Mitchell Golf Club (Burnsville) – “Mount Mitchell is a golf course very few people know about, but it's spectacular with the views and everything.”Sedgefield's 15th hole. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Top 5 Holes
By Webb Simpson
Webb Simpson, who won the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, and now lives at Quail Hollow in Charlotte. Here are his five favorite holes in his home state – all of which turned out to be par 5s.
He’s a member at all the clubs where his favorites are except for Sedgefield, but he speaks with authority on that course, too. After all, Simpson’s first win came on the Donald Ross gem at the 2011 Wyndham Championship.
No. 18 (580 yards, par 5) at Eagle Point in Wilmington -- “It’s a great risk-reward hole. On the green, you can see the Figure 8 Island bridge. It’s just a pretty sight.”
No. 18 (501 yards, par 5) on the Dogwood Course at Country Club of North Carolina in Pinehurst -- “I love that hole. Again, it’s a great risk-reward par 5, water, up the hill. You can make eagle. You can make bogey.”
No. 7 (546 yards, par 5) at Quail Hollow -- “Again, a risk-reward par 5. I have probably played Quail at least 100 times so I’ve seen it both ways.” (He birdied it twice during last week’s PGA Championship.)
No. 1 (475 yards, par 5) at Carolina Country Club -- “This is at the course I grew up playing in Raleigh. I’ll bet I’ve played this hole more than 500 times. It’s relatively easy but when I think of fun par 5s I think of that one.”
No. 15 (545 yards, par 5) at Sedgefield Country Club -- “I love this hole, too. Again, it’s a tough drive but it you hit it in the fairway you can make eagle. I played it 5 under when I won there in ’11, making three birdies and an eagle.”Davis Love III (left) and Denny Hamlin. (Caryn Levy/PGA TOUR)
Top 5 Driver-Golfers
By Dale Jarrett
NASCAR was born in the Carolinas when bootleggers souped up their cars and fine-tuned their driving skills, hauling the illegal bounty and eluding the police. The NASCAR Hall of Fame is in downtown Charlotte, not too far from Quail Hollow, the annual PGA TOUR stop that last week hosted the PGA Championship.
Conover resident Dale Jarrett is a three-time Daytona 500 champion who won the 1999 Winston Cup title. There was a time when he was younger, though, that Jarrett dreamed of playing golf competitively. He was so good with his sticks, not the stick shift, that South Carolina offered him a golf scholarship but he turned it down. (Click here for the full story on Jarrett’s golf background)
Now NBC’s lead NASCAR analyst, Jarrett provides his list of the five best drivers who play golf.
Denny Hamlin -- Jarrett estimates Hamlin’s handicap as around a 4. “Denny has a really good short game and he hits the ball pretty straight. He’s a left-hander and plays well but his short game is his strength. He does that really, really well.”
Elliott Sadler -- “He’s a good player but Elliott’s a just a great athlete. He just kills the ball, kills it. He was outdriving all of us by 25 yards when we played. This was probably 8 years ago but he can still do it. He’s still a young man.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – “Ricky has a really good iron game. He doesn’t hit his driver all that far. He’s like a lot of us. When he tries to hit it further it gets him in trouble. But his iron game is very solid. I think if he had Denny Hamlin’s short game and you put them together, you’d have an outstanding player.”
Kyle Larson – “He’s someone who just picked the game up 18 months ago. But he’s already to the point that he’s breaking 90.”
Michael Waltrip -- He’s not a great player but he’s a player capable of shooting in the high 70s. But he’s just as apt to shoot 90, too. So it’s kind of hard to make a game against him, if you will, in a little cash game. Makes it tough. He can be a good player, though.”Pine Crest Inn. (pinecrestinnpinecrest.com)
Top 5 19th Holes
By John Maginnes
Who best to assess the 19th holes across the state than former TOUR pro and current radio personality John Maginnes, who was born in Durham but now makes his home in Greensboro? A former TOUR pro and now one of the hosts of SiriusXM’s, “Katrek and Maginnes on Tap,” he’s been known to enjoy a cocktail upon occasion. (The name of his show isn’t exactly accidental.)
Asked for his five favorite haunts, Maginnes writes: “Research is the cornerstone of journalistic integrity, and in that regard I have failed you. This installment is somewhat incomplete because I have spent little time in the western counties of N.C. I know there is great golf there and undoubtedly a 19th hole or clubhouse porch to be envied and enjoyed. But some research takes a lifetime and the quest will continue. I promise. In the meantime, with apologies to our friends in the hills here is a short list of fine golf-themed watering holes in N.C.”
Pine Crest Inn, Pinehurst – “My favorite spot in the world to sit and have a beer that does not have an ocean view is the front porch at the Pine Crest Inn. Settle into a rocking chair with a cold glass. Strangers become instant friends with most conversations starting with, ‘Where did you guys play today?’ That is all it takes. Just inside the lobby is the famous chipping bin tucked into the fireplace where dollars exchange hands into the wee hours. The cozy bar is filled with locals and visitors alike enjoying a story and the crock cheese left to nibble on before dinner. Even a visit to the men's room is memorable. Over the door under plexiglass is the scrawling signature of the late Payne Stewart, who pulled out his Sharpie and boldly signed the wall during his victory party after winning the 1999 U.S. Open. The signature is nearly faded away but you will be standing where so many of the greats have stood.”
Deuce at Pinehurst – “Overlooking the 18th green at Pinehurst No. 2, the new Deuce is the bar and restaurant that was always missing from the clubhouse at Pinehurst. With five different courses sharing the clubhouse an adequate cocktail lounge was needed. The 91st hole is more of a halfway house than a place to sit with friends and talk about the futility of the day. With indoor and outdoor seating, you can enjoy excellent food (they even have tater tots) and watch the players coming in on the famous par 4. That’s when the game begins – pick a player in each group and wager whether his or her ball will end up in the hole or if they will pick it up. While the Deuce is a recent addition to Pinehurst, it fits like it has been there for years.”
Sedgefield Country Club, Greensboro – “The men's grill at Sedgefield is actually an extension of one of the finest locker rooms on the PGA TOUR. The Tudor style clubhouse was renovated a few decades ago and the resulting second floor men's locker room comes complete with steam room and sauna. One former member was Earl Strickland, a champion pool and billiards player. So, it’s not surprising that the pool table in the locker room has felt and slate to world class standards. The bar itself overlooks the ninth green of the Donald Ross gem and is filled with large generous tables big enough for a couple of groups to sit at one and settle the bets and argue about handicaps. There is and always has been a cast of characters around, quick with a story and ready to deal the cards.”
River Landing, Wallace – “I have always loved the golf courses there. But the old plantation style clubhouse is incredible. With sweeping porches overlooking the golf courses there is always a shady spot to sit and relax. The best day of the year to be at River Landing is the day they host the Hope For the Warriors event just before Labor Day. When a great cause and an incredible venue come together to raise money for those who need and deserve it most there is nothing else like it. And there is always room for one more.”
Willowhaven Country Club, Durham – “Golf watering holes are about the people far more than they are about the venue. I learned this at Willowhaven Country Club in Durham, which was my playground as a kid. It was a working-class club with more pick-up trucks than sports cars in the parking lot. At an early age my brother and I were allowed to play in the ‘group’ on Saturday and Sunday morning which meant that we were allowed into the 19th hole for a few minutes while the bets were settled. It was a mere glimpse into the lives that we would later lead. The stakes in the group, 5 bucks for the big team, 2 dollars for the birdie pot. For those of you who know me and wonder where it went off the tracks, you should probable start there.”Payne Stewart at 1999 U.S. Open. (Harry How/Getty Images)
Top 5 Moments
By Helen Ross
I’ve written about golf for more than 30 years, first as a sportswriter at the Greensboro News & Record and most recently for PGATOUR.COM. I’ve seen some great duels and visited some amazing golf courses. Here are five memories that stand out.
Tiger plays in the 2015 Wyndham Championship – OK, I’m a bit of a homer here. But to see him play -- and contend -- in Greensboro for the first time (oh, and for Davis Love III to win for the third time) still gives me goosebumps. I think the reception Woods got from the fans was good for him, too, after being on the sidelines for so long. If didn’t take long for those 25,000 extra tickets tournament officials hastily printed to get snapped up.
1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst -- First of all, Pinehurst is one of my favorite places in the world and to see No. 2 host a major was almost surreal. Add to that the always popular Payne Stewart facing off against Phil Mickelson, bidding for his first major championship while awaiting the imminent birth of his first child, and it was a Hollywood scriptwriter’s dream. Unfortunately, two months later it became a tragedy as Stewart died in a plane crash. Eighteen years and six runners-up later, Mickelson – while he now has won five majors – is still looking for that elusive U.S. Open title.
Gary Player and Arnold Palmer at Quail Hollow in Charlotte -- Two very different experiences. One was my first one-on-one interview with Arnold Palmer during the Kemper Open. I remember he was standing by the open trunk of his car as we talked, his big hands gripping and regripping an assortment of putters he had stashed there. The other came after Player won the PaineWebber World Seniors Invitational. The media center was by the old pool and while he was talking about his favorite subject, physical fitness, the South African stripped to his skivvies and started to swim laps.
The Magnolia Inn and Simon Hobday -- On the Sunday when Hobday won the 1994 U.S. Senior Open at Pinehurst No. 2, the South African dropped to his knees on the 18th green and kissed the green in celebration. Later that night, he was chatting with Graham Marsh, who had tied for second, in the tiny bar at the Magnolia Inn. As he left to go to dinner, the TV over the door was tuned to SportsCenter and the same scene was being replayed. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Hobday stopped and watched, then turned to those of us in the bar and made an exaggerated, sweeping bow.
Jack Nicklaus II wins the 1985 North & South Amateur -- The week started with another first for me, a one-on-one interview with Jack Nicklaus, who had come to watch his son play in the prestigious amateur event. By the time Jack II won his first match and news of his father’s presence spread, you’d have thought the entire town of Pinehurst was in attendance. My hands shook so much my notes were almost illegible. But I remembered every word as the proud father talked about his son, who was playing golf at UNC. And he was still there on Sunday as Jack II put his name on the same trophy his dad had won in 1959.