North Carolina is a hotbed for golf resorts for a variety of reasons.
One, the game can be played almost year-round, but spring and fall are ideal getaways for sun-starved golfers in the Midwest and upper East Coast. Two, its unique landscapes – mountains, the Sandhills, big cities and ocean shores – provide great variety for different kinds of golf experiences. Three, some Scottish guy named Donald Ross set up shop in Pinehurst a century ago, eventually building one classic course after another throughout the state, especially in the Sandhills, where golf turf thrives.
Choosing and ranking the 10 best golf resorts in the state isn't an exact science. Obviously, Pinehurst – the “Home of American Golf” – is well represented, but there might be a few off-the-beaten-path destinations out-of-staters might not recognize.
1. Pinehurst Resort, Pinehurst
The largest golf resort in America – and third largest in the world – is undergoing significant changes. Gil Hanse is completely redoing Pinehurst No. 4 and adding a short course, the only thing missing for this 162-hole/nine-course operation to be considered a complete resort. Pinehurst No. 2, the historic Ross design rejuvenated by a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw restoration in time for back-to-back men's and women's U.S. Opens in 2014, remains one of the game's best walks. It will host its fourth men's U.S. Open in 2024.
2. Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club, Southern Pines
I prefer the historic charms - the crooked floors and classic décor - of this 103-bedroom Georgian-style Inn and Ross course. A restoration effort by Kyle Frantz has refreshed the look and fun of Mid Pines, similar to the work done at Pinehurst No. 2. If you need more space, there are villas with kitchenettes along several fairways.
3. Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, Southern Pines
Pine Needles, another Ross effort lined by towering pines, is best suited for players. It has hosted three U.S. Women's Opens. Covered walkways connect the 74 rooms in chalet-style lodges to the main lodge and its dining room. A newer outdoor pool adds another family-friendly element.
4. The Omni Grove Park Inn, Asheville
One of golf's historic hotels, the 513-room luxury inn has been sharing the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains with guests since 1913. Thick rough and narrow passages through the trees keep scoring under control on the Grove Park Inn's 6,400-yard par-70 Ross course. Perhaps the biggest draw is the 43,000-square-foot subterranean spa, where even guys who don't like massages can relax.
5. Eseeola Lodge at Linville Golf Club, Linville
Sensing a theme? Here's another historic lodge (1892) with another Ross to play, the private Linville Golf Club dating to 1924. With only 24 rooms, Eseeola offers a sense of privacy and escape in the High Country. Gentleman must wear a dinner jacket to the four-course meals served every night.
6. The Ballantyne, A Luxury Collection Hotel, Charlotte
This hotel is part of the Marriott-Starwood hotel family, so cash in those reward points for a golf weekend. Hotel rooms, a cottage or The Lodge at Ballantyne, a 35-room group retreat, are available. Recreation abounds with indoor-outdoor pools, lighted tennis courts, complementary yoga, free bike rentals, lawn games, a golf school and the Golf Club at Ballantyne, a 6,740-yard course that debuted in 1997.
7. Rumbling Bald Resort on Lake Lure
You gotta love the resort's tagline: “The only thing we overlook is the lake”. If you can ignore the water (or your little ones dragging you to the children's water park) at this 3,000-acre property in western Carolina, there are two courses to explore: The 6,756-yard Apple Valley course by Dan Maples and the 6,283-yard Bald Mountain course. A scene from the original "Dirty Dancing" movie was filmed on Bald Mountain's par-3 16th hole.
8. Grandover Resort & Conference Center, Greensboro
With 45,000 square feet of meeting space, coupled with 36 holes, Grandover is both a corporate and golf retreat. The East course, designed by Gary Panks and David Graham, is older (1996 to 1997) and longer (7,250 yards to 6,800 yards) than the links-style West course. Grandover has hosted multiple NCAA Division III national championships.
9. Embassy Suites by Hilton Charlotte Concord Golf Resort & Spa, Concord
The city of Concord owns the Rocky River Golf Club, a 6,970-yard municipal course by Maples. No homes line the fairways, only trees and marshes. This adjacent all-suites hotel, which serves a free breakfast every morning and free drinks at happy hour every evening, gets brownie points for being so close to the Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Concord Mills mall.
10. Etowah Valley Golf Resort & Lodge, Etowah
Near Asheville, this 62-room resort sells a much more intimate, down-home feel than the massive Omni. Twenty-seven holes at Etowah, clay tennis courts and a heated outdoor pool are its most popular amenities.
Others to consider
The Maggie Valley Resort & Club, nestled between the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains in western North Carolina, offers packages to stay at individually owned two- and three-bedroom condos and a 6,500-yard course managed by Honours Golf, a division of Troon. The Talamore Golf Resort in Southern Pines has a similar setup with golf villas popular for buddies and family trips, along with 36 holes at Arnold Palmer's Mid South Club and the New course at Talamore, a Rees Jones design that uses 150 feet of elevation change, new Champion Bermuda greens and Pinehurst's only sod-wall bunkers to entertain. The Club Cottage at Kilmarlic sits adjacent to its first tee of the Kilmarlic Golf Club in Powells Point in the popular Outer Banks region. Plans to build more of these units, featuring four-bedroom suites, will create more of a resort down the road. The Rock Barn Country Club & Spa in Conover offers furnished luxury town homes and The Lodge – a single-family, five-bedroom home on the 18th tee of the Robert Trent Jones, Jr. championship course, which unfortunately is not available for non-members. Visitors only have access to the Tom Jackson course.
Golfers staying in the villas of the Sea Trail Golf Resort & Convention Center in Sunset Beach have three courses - the Jones course, the Byrd course and the Maples course - at their disposal and access to many more in Myrtle Beach, S.C., just across the state line.