Top public golf in Charlotte, North Carolina: Five Queen City favorites

Charlotte, North Carolina, one of the most vibrant cities in the country, is a huge sports town where the NFL's Panthers, NBA's Hornets, the U.S. National Whitewater Center and the Charlotte Motor Speedway, draw thousands of fans. It also has more than 80 golf courses, many designed by revered architects such as George Cobb and Tom Fazio, Donald Ross, Dan Maples and Arnold Palmer.

While more than a third of the courses are private, there are still around 50 good tracks open to the public typically offering green fees that won't break the bank. Here are five of the best.

Golf Club at Ballantyne

The Golf Club at Ballantyne's fairways ride up and down a well manicured, hilly site punctuated by stands of trees, ponds and streams with some challenging risk and reward holes. The Ultra Dwarf greens are on the tricky side including some of the steep banks that flank putting surfaces as found on the eighth hole, a definite risk/reward test with a very active creek running in front of the green.

The centerpiece of the 199-room Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge, the golf course is tightly wedged between office condos, homes and other buildings. What saves the track from feeling too squashed in is clever mounding to better utilize what land there is. Indeed, if you catch the sun kissing the landscape, you can see how incredibly mogul-like the terrain appears. An Audubon-certified course, the landscaping along with water, stone walls and flowers enhances the beauty of this pretty track. On site you'll find the Dana Rader Golf School and a full-service spa.

Larkhaven Golf Club

Set on the eastern edge of Charlotte, Larkhaven Golf Club, the oldest public course in the city, dates from 1958 when it was laid out as a parkland-style course. Family owned and operated, Larkhaven offers memberships to singles and families, and green fees for the public are very affordable, making it a popular play for locals.

Recently the greens were upgraded with MiniVerde grass. Characterized by narrow fairways and water hazards on about half the holes, Larkhaven is overseeded in the winter making it one of the greener tracks to play in the area. With four tee boxes and playing more than 6,700 yards from the tips, it's a good choice for all levels of golfers.

Renaissance Park Golf Course

Renaissance Park Golf Course is the longest (at more than 7,300 yards) of the five Ratcliffe Golf Services-managed Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation public golf facilities. Designer Michael Hurdzan worked magic with the land here, a former landfill in southwest Charlotte that he turned from an ugly duckling into a swan.

Somewhat hilly with a more-open front nine and tighter back, Renaissance Park appeals to families and new golfers. There is also a three-hole, par-3 course on site. While another good bet for family outings is Paradise Valley, a quirky little par 3 with a lot of treacherous water lurking at the edges of small, roll-off greens.

Other courses in the Ratcliffe group include Charles T. Myers, a true public golf course reminiscent of the oldest of traditional classic layouts and designed by Bill Love; the recently renovated nine-hole Charles L. Sifford Golf Course at Revolution Park; and Sunset Hills with a regulation 18-hole track and a nine-hole Learning Course where the holes run pretty close together so it helps to be alert.

Rocky River Golf Club

Designed by Dan Maples, Rocky River Golf Club, northeast of Charlotte in the shadow of the Charlotte Speedway and near Embassy Suites Resort, is carved out of rolling hills with the back nine well nestled into the wetlands area. It's one of the more challenging courses around with rugged rock outcroppings, water, feathery fescue and large, rolling green complexes and bunkers.

With some serious elevation changes and wide landing areas, Rocky River gets high marks for its pace of play, friendly staff and conditioning, including the greens that have been resurfaced with Mini Verde grass. It helps to play the first time with a local, as there are some blind shots.

Birkdale Golf Club

As an Arnold Palmer design, Birkdale Golf Club, north of Charlotte in Huntersville, has received some good reviews for its layout and routing.

During the past couple of years, it has suffered from some maintenance issues, particularly on the tee boxes, bunkers and range. Still its good "bones," with a lot of elevations changes and water hazards, make it an interesting play, especially when the course conditions are favorable. The attractive clubhouse is often the venue for various events.

Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.
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Larkhaven is no longer open.

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Eagle Chase is by far the best around overall. Tough layout, elevation change and great conditions. If you don't mind a 30 min drive Charlotte. Red bridge is also a great one no body mentions.

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Rocky River, Ballantyne and Larkhaven are the best 3 of these 5. Ballantyne is fantastic but has no deals on Golf Now or Click it EVER, so it's pricy to say the least at an advertised $80 green fee. Rocky River is worth the price of around $60-$70 early on weekends and sometimes you can find deals on previously mentioned sites. The greens are usually perfect.. Larkhaven, I played this past weekend for $43 at 10:30am and while well worth the price the course was overbooked and took 4-1/2 + hrs to play. In great shape at the moment... Renaissance I would avoid as the smell is awful, course is ok... Birkdale is a good course but I have found the conditions are iffy at best. They just get too much play If you call them they will always say that they are in good shape.

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Top public golf in Charlotte, North Carolina: Five Queen City favorites