U.S. Open

Pinehurst Resort & Country Club (Course No. 2)



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The best public golf courses in North Carolina

When you think of the best public golf courses in North Carolina, you’re likely conjuring up images of Pinehurst and No. 2’s diabolical table-top Ross greens—and for good reason, as the first seven layouts on this best public courses list are in the Sandhills region. With intriguing architecture, storied history and firm, quality turf conditions, there’s plenty of reasons why golfers flock to the Sandhills.

As good as these well-known gems are, there are many other tracks worth visiting in the Tar Heel state. Among other must-plays are resort-style oceanside layouts, top-ranked collegiate tracks in the Research Triangle and undulating mountain courses in the western part of the state.

We pulled our panelists’ scores from our most recent America’s 100 Greatest and Best in State rankings to determine the best public golf courses in North Carolina.

The best public golf courses in North Carolina

Pinehurst Resort: #2
Stephen Szurlej
Public
Pinehurst Resort: #2
Pinehurst, United States
In 2010, a team lead by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw killed and ripped out all the Bermudagrass rough on Pinehurst No. 2 that had been foolishly planted in the 1970s. Between fairways and tree lines, they established vast bands of native hardpan sand dotted with clumps of wiregrass and scattered pine needles. They reduced the irrigation to mere single rows in fairways to prevent grass from ever returning to the new sandy wastelands. Playing firm and fast, it was wildly successful as the site of the 2014 Men’s and Women’s U.S. Opens, played on consecutive weeks. Because of its water reduction, the course was named a Green Star environmental award-winner by Golf Digest that year. In 2019, Pinehurst No. 2 and No. 4 hosted another U.S. Amateur Championship, and the USGA announced Pinehurst No. 2—in addition to hosting the 2024 U.S. Open—will also have the 2029, 2035, 2041 and 2047 U.S. Opens.
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Pinehurst Resort: #4
Public
Pinehurst Resort: #4
Pinehurst, United States
Like a football team searching for the right coach, the resort could never settle on the right identity for the No. 4 course despite a series of major alterations by different architects. It found its match when it hired Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner to carry out a full-scale blow-up and rebuild in 2018 that brought back the sweeping sand-and-pine character we identify with Pinehurst, while initiating a style of shaping in the greens and bunkers that’s confident and distinctly its own.
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Tobacco Road Golf Club
Brian Oar
Public
Tobacco Road Golf Club
Sanford, United States
Tobacco Road took every idea that Strantz had been developing to that point in time (1999) and put it all in one place, specifically an old mining site of sand and pine 25 miles north of Pinehurst. The property is the secret star—yes, there are Strantzian trademarks like boomerang-shaped par 5s, greens and fairways notched blindly behind dunes, dramatic risk/reward shots played over deep chasms and putting surfaces stretched into stringy silly putty shapes. But without the elevation changes, depressions and contrasting textures of the rugged sand barrens, this would be True Blue 2.0. It’s much more than that: a master class in decision-making and composition that sits among the top 50 on the Golf Digest America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses ranking, a placement that’s at least 20 spots too low, at least in the mind of this editor.
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Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club
Dom Furore
Public
Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club
Southern Pines, United States
Pine Needles used to lurk quietly in the Pinehurst background before the USGA chose to put it in their regular women’s championship rotation. It got another big boost in 2017 after Kyle Franz reworked portions of the course, putting the Pinehurst touch on the borders, cross hazards and bunkers. Though it lacks the intimacy and connectivity of its sister course, Mid Pines, with the holes wandering far afield due to a being part of a 1920s residential development, it’s grown into a big, championship worthy course (most recently hosting the 2019 Senior Women’s Open and 2022 U.S. Women’s Open) with arguably the best set of greens after No. 2.
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Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club
Courtesy of Mid-Pines GC/kevinmurraygolfphotography.com
Public
Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club
Southern Pines, United States
What began as a private retreat called Knollwood, funded by Roaring Twenties millionaires like James Barber, Horace Rackham and Henry Ford, is now a charming public Donald Ross design, revitalized by young first-time designer Kyle Franz in the style of Pinehurst No. 2, where Franz had worked on the restoration. Mid Pines is pure elegance and beauty. The routing is spellbinding, with holes that stretch out into corners at the property’s high points, then fall back down to intersect at junctions across the calmer interior. Franz’s 2013 work expanding greens and restoring the perimeter sandscapes has greatly enhanced one of Pinehurst’s most refined golf presentations.
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Pinehurst Resort: #10
Pinehurst Resort: #10
Pinehurst, NC, United States
Sand is the defining character of Pinehurst, and Pinehurst No. 10 goes right to the source: a former sand mining site south of the resort, portions of which used to be a golf course called The Pit that closed in 2010. Several holes of this Tom Doak design, opened in April, 2024, plunge through the old quarries, including the turbulent eighth where players will want to pop Dramamine before tackling fairway swells you could surf across. Pinehurst is also characterized by the tight cluster of its primary courses and synchronous relationship with the surrounding village, but No. 10 is a world apart. The grandeur of the isolated holes roller coasting through the quiet sand barrens creates tension between the sublimity of the environment and the heroism of the architecture, demonstrated most intensely in the uninhibited green shapes, many of which are bowl-shaped and heavily segmented.
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Southern Pines Golf Club
John P. Kane
Public
Southern Pines Golf Club
Southern Pines, United States
Southern Pines used to be a course that only locals and architectural bookworms played. Designed in the early 1900s by Donald Ross, the affordable public course occupied a wonderful, bucolic piece of land and seemed to have buried treasure underneath. After a change in ownership, Kyle Franz completed a major 2021 renovation that added plenty of razzle dazzle to the design in the form of new greens and painting the layout with the kind of scruffy sandscapes indigenous to the Pinehurst region (and to Pine Needles and Mid Pines where he’s previously wielded his art). The work has elevated this formerly modest public course to the level of its more prestigious neighbors.
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High Hampton Resort
Public
High Hampton Resort
Cashiers, NC
4.1
29 Panelists
High Hampton Resort in Cashiers is one of the best courses in North Carolina. Discover our experts’ reviews and where High Hampton Resort sits in our rankings.
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Pinehurst Resort: #8
Pinehurst Resort: #8
Pinehurst, United States
Cut from a nature preserve about a mile north of the resort, Pinehurst No. 8 is one of Tom Fazio's most versatile designs, as each hole plays differently from the previous. The front nine is mostly tree-lined, the back more open, with both touching ponds, marsh and Pine Valley-like sandy wastelands. For putting surfaces, Fazio built crowned greens with greenside swales, intended as a salute to Donald Ross and Pinehurst No. 2. No. 8 is also the most secluded of the resort's nine courses (for now--Tom Doak's Pinehurst No. 10 is due to open in 2024), which no homes or development touching it. Fazio retrurned in late 2022 to touch up elements of the course that needed burnishing, and the course plays as fast and firm as its older brethren.
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The Cardinal By Pete Dye
McConnell Golf
Public
The Cardinal By Pete Dye
Greensboro
3.6
23 Panelists
Formerly a part of Sedgefield Country Club, The Cardinal by Pete Dye is now semi-private. Set along a countryside stream in Greensboro, this par-70 Pete Dye design boasts crowned greens that repel even slightly offline approach shots. As you walk up to the par-3 12th, a plaque, quoting Dye, reads, “The hardest par 3 I ever designed.”
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Duke University Golf Club
Photo by Russell Kirk/Duke University GC
Public
Duke University Golf Club
Durham, United States
3.8
52 Panelists
Home to the Duke Blue Devils, a top NCAA Division I program, the Duke Golf Club features significant elevation changes and forced carries over narrow winding creeks. The track also has a fascinating history—it was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1957, and it was soon honored as the host of the 1962 men’s NCAA Championship. Rees Jones, eldest son of the esteemed designer, played for Yale University in the championship that year. He went on to renovate the course himself in 1994.
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Pinehurst Resort: #9
Pinehurst Resort: #9
Pinehurst, United States
3.9
106 Panelists
Differing in style from the eight other Pinehurst courses, No. 9 is a Jack Nicklaus signature design featuring bentgrass greens, forgiving fairways and five sets of tees. Several holes favor left to right shot shaping, and the putting surfaces are often multi-tiered.
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Sequoyah National Golf Club
Public
Sequoyah National Golf Club
Whittier, NC, United States
3.3
27 Panelists
In the era of social media, it’s rare to find a true hidden gem these days. Sequoyah National might be the last of a dying breed. Located 45 minutes west from Asheville, this Robert Trent Jones II design is built on dramatic terrain with incredible, panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains. Though measuring at 6,600 yards, the elevation changes provide a strong ball-striking test. A recent bunker renovation and conversion to zoysia fairways has this 2009 design in as good of shape as ever. Just minutes away from the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, Sequoyah National is a great destination for a buddies escape.
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Bryan Park Golf & Conference Center: Champions
Courtesy of the club
Public
Bryan Park Golf & Conference Center: Champions
Browns Summit, United States
4
30 Panelists
With green fees listed at $60 and below, Bryan Park features two 18-hole championship courses: The Champions and the Players. The Players was the first course, designed by George Cobb in 1974 and renovated by Rees Jones in 1988. Jones got his own design with the Champions course, which opened in 1990 and was the runner-up in Golf Digest’s Best New course survey. The championship layout, with 97 menacing bunkers and seven holes along Lake Townsend, hosted the 2010 U.S. Amateur Public Links.
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Pinehurst Resort: #7
Pinehurst Resort: #7
Pinehurst, United States
3.4
116 Panelists
Surrounded by Pinehurst’s famed No. 2 and No. 4 championship courses, this track challenges all levels of play with undulating Rees Jones greens and frequent elevation changes. Like the other resort courses, playing No. 7 is like navigating a piece of history: Tiger Woods secured his only Pinehurst victory here at the 1992 Big “I” Junior Classic.
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Rivers Edge Golf Club
Public
Rivers Edge Golf Club
Shallotte
3.4
31 Panelists
Golf Digest has given many accolades to this Arnold Palmer design over the years: It made America's 100 Greatest Public courses list in 2005 and 2007, and in 2010, Golf Digest named Rivers Edge as a top-10 course on its Best of the Myrtle Beach area (Rivers Edge is located about 20 minutes over the border in North Carolina).
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Tot Hill Farm Golf Club
Brian Oar
Public
Tot Hill Farm Golf Club
Asheboro, United States
3.7
45 Panelists
Architects are usually only as good as their sites, or at least their budgets—Tom Fazio would certainly agree with that, which is why he only agrees to projects that give him the resources to push the land around until it’s the way he wants it. Strantz was just getting to that level of prestige when he passed away, but Tot Hill Farm, opened in 2000, was a relatively low-budget design on a central North Carolina property that was too rugged and rocky to yield a Tobacco Road-level course. Strantz used what he had to shape some of his wildest greens, working around the site’s obstacles the best he could. The course is a staggered mix of daring, often outrageous holes (the par-3 13th) dotted with moments of sublime brilliance like the par-5 eighth and the par-4 17th. Golf Digest named the third hole, a downhill par 3 with a green wrapped around a rock outcropping, the best third hole built in the U.S. since 2000.
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Mid South Club
Mid South Club
Southern Pines, United States
4
55 Panelists
Mid South Club can play a lot longer than its yardage from the back tees with the significant amount of elevation present on this Arnold Palmer design. The rolling terrain and mounding provide options for the player to use the slopes to work the ball, though six green complexes require forced carries over water.
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UNC Finley Golf Course
Ryan Montgomery
Public
UNC Finley Golf Course
Chapel Hill
3.8
34 Panelists
Originally built in 1949, UNC Finley was redesigned by Tom Fazio in the late 80s and shortly after became home to the Tar Heels golf program. Host to numerous collegiate tournaments, including the 2015 NCAA Men’s Regional Championships, this challenging course has no shortage of bunkers or water. In 2023, Mark and Davis Love III, along with architect Scot Sherman, revamped the entire course, adding a new practice range and putting course for the UNC golf teams, adding five new holes, shifting bunkers and tees and giving the greens and hazards more of an old time, "Tillinghast with a twist" look.
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Rock Barn Country Club & Spa
Courtesy of the club
3.6
15 Panelists
Host of the Greater Hickory Kia Classic, a former Champions Tour event, Rock Barn is home to two championship tracks. The Jones Course is part of the private club, but the Jackson Course is a sprawling design opened to the public. Hilly terrain and undulating fairways define this historic, wooded facility.
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The Omni Grove Park Inn
Omni Golf & Resorts
Public
The Omni Grove Park Inn
Asheville, United States
3.3
48 Panelists
Donald Ross' design at Grove Park leverages the rolling terrain very well with holes that traverse up the mountain and many that go down. The rough and the undulating greens provide some difficulty even though the course measures only 6,700 yards from the back tees (par 70). The backdrop of the N.C. mountains and the historic Grove Park Inn are beautiful and provide for a lovely environment with which to play.
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Carolina Trace Country Club: Lake
Courtesy of the club
Public
Carolina Trace Country Club: Lake
Sanford, United States
3.8
39 Panelists
Host to the U.S. Women’s Open sectional qualifier from 2009-'14, this Robert Trent Jones Sr. design is a solid test of golf along the shores of Lake Trace. A renovation in 2015, which brought significant improvements to the bunkers and putting surfaces, helped restore classic Jones features to the course.
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Lonnie Poole Golf Course At NC State University
Photo by Roger Winstead/Lonnie Poole Golf Course
Located in the heart of NC State’s Centennial Campus, Lonnie Poole is home to the Wolfpack’s golf teams and their leading PGM and turf management programs—so count on pristine conditions. The Arnold Palmer design tips out at 7,358 yards and offers great skyline views of downtown Raleigh.
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Ocean Ridge Plantation: Tiger's Eye
Public
Ocean Ridge Plantation: Tiger's Eye
Ocean Isle Beach, NC
3.6
52 Panelists

Located just over the South Carolina border, the courses at Ocean Ridge Plantation are worth considering for any North Myrtle Beach-centric trip. The Leopard's Chase course was ranked 15th in Golf Digest's best 60 courses you can play in Myrtle Beach, and the facility's Tiger's Eye course was ranked 19th. (All four courses at Ocean Ridge Plantation made our top 60.)

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Occano
Public
Occano
Merry Hill
3.9
16 Panelists
Arnold Palmer’s design team created a surprising amount of elevation at Occano (formerly Scotch Hall Preserve), a ninth-place finisher in Golf Digest’s Best New survey in 2009 under its first name (Innsbrook Golf and Boat Club). The layout maximizes the land along the Albemarle Sound with 11 holes on the water. The course calls itself the “Jewel of the Inner Banks,” a worthwhile stop for anyone traveling to or from the Outer Banks (though we hear a bunker project is underway, so check with the golf course). In 2022, Arnold Palmer Course Design co-vice president and designer Brandon Johnson completed an extensive remodel of the course that take the bunkers in a dramatic new direction and included the expansion and recountouring of the greens and green surrounds. The results give vibrant new playability to a course that already had rare aesthetic advantages.
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