For good reason, parkland golf often tends to take a backseat in the hearts of golfers to seaside links, rumpled heathland-type layouts and, for some, desert or mountain tracts. But when done right, golf course architects can still tap into an unexpected sense of enchantment on tamer terrain, accented by trees, streams and lakes.
A recent round at the Cardinal Course at The Country Club of North Carolina showed me this deeper level of enjoyment that some parkland layouts can unlock. Originally laid out in 1970 by architect Willard Byrd, the course - one of two at the club - has an out-and-back routing that subtly subverts its traditional American setting. With wide corridors defined by medium-density tall pine forest and impressive homes set well back from play, it feels much bigger and statelier than one might expect. Almost every hole sits in its own individual "room," but the relative proximity of most tees to previous greens dissolves some of the disconnectedness from which such courses can sometimes suffer. Although the individual holes and their features are decidedly mid-century - this is not a place of frilly bunkers and eccentrically rumpled greens - a round at the Cardinal is plenty testing, fun and surprising.
Key to this sense of mystery is the fact that of the course's 14 par 4s and 5s, only four times can the golfer clearly see the green from the tee: at the 1st, 8th, 10th and 14th. On most other holes, Byrd routed fairways up and over a rise of some sort, such that the green typically comes into view shortly before the golfer reaches his or her tee shot. With generous fairways that invite aggressive swings off the tee, the reward for pulling off a stout drive is an attractive reveal. Very appealing.