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The best courses you can play in North Carolina

When you think golf 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 Courses You Can Play in North Carolina. Be sure to explore our new Places to Play hub for course reviews and insights from our experts.

Pinehurst Resort: #2
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Pinehurst Resort: #2
Pinehurst
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
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Pinehurst Resort: #4
Pinehurst
The No. 4 course at Pinehurst has always been something of a Mulligan Stew. Created in the 1950s using parts from other resort courses, it’s undergone a succession of renovations over the years by Robert Trent Jones, Rees Jones and Tom Fazio. The most recent version attempted to differentiate the design from the other Pinehurst offerings with a garden-like presentation studded with pot bunkers. Hanse and Wagner’s new iteration ties No. 4 into the resort’s long-established genetics with exposed sand, provocative green contours, broad fairways and contiguous short grass recovery areas. While it looks at home in the Pinehurst sand hills, it functions as an extroverted counterpoint to the No. 2 course’s subtler stateliness.
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Tobacco Road Golf Club
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Tobacco Road Golf Club
Sanford
The late Mike Strantz was the game's most unconventional course designer, and Tobacco Road was perhaps the best example of his unorthodoxy. In the horse-drawn-carriage neighborhood of Pinehurst No. 2, he created a landscape more suitable for motocross racing, with mammoth hills and deep craters. Each hole looks intimidating from the tee but reveals plenty of elbow room for tee shots and approaches, as well as spin-outs and crash landings.
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Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club
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Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club
Southern Pines
Whenever golfers visit Pinehurst, they always book rounds at Pinehurst No. 2 as well as the others at the resort. Pine Needles, just down the highway, often gets overlooked. It shouldn't, especially since its Donald Ross heritage has been reinforced by a recent restoration. Pine Needles has hosted three U.S. Women's Opens, so was it being overlooked when the 2014 U.S. Women's Open was conducted at Pinehurst No. 2? Eight years later, the USGA brought back the Women's Open to Pine Needles in 2022, when Australia's Minjee Lee cruised to victory.
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Pinehurst Resort: #8
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Pinehurst Resort: #8
Pinehurst
Located not within the Pinehurst Resort complex but about a mile north, 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.
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Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club
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Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club
Southern Pines
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 now features acres of exposed sand instead of traditional rough and marvelous naturalized bunkers protecting small, perched putting surfaces.
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Pinehurst Resort: #9
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Pinehurst Resort: #9
Pinehurst
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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Duke University Golf Club
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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The Cardinal By Pete Dye
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The Cardinal By Pete Dye
Greensboro
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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Bryan Park Golf & Conference Center: Champions course
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
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Pinehurst Resort: #7
Pinehurst
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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The Bald Head Island Club
Private
The Bald Head Island Club
Southport
Only accessible by passenger ferries and private boats, Bald Head Island Club is a secluded getaway just a short journey away from both Wilmington and Southport, N.C. Routed through freshwater lagoons and natural sand dunes, this coastal course was designed by George Cobb in 1974 and recently restored by Tim Cate.
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Scotch Hall Preserve
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Scotch Hall Preserve
Merry Hill
Arnold Palmer’s design team created a surprising amount of elevation at Scotch Hall Preserve, a ninth-place finisher in Golf Digest’s Best New survey in 2009 under its old 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).
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Rivers Edge Golf Club
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Rivers Edge Golf Club
Shallotte
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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Cape Fear National At Brunswick Forest
Built in 2009, Cape Fear National is a fun resort style course that's playable for all handicap levels. but challenges better players with native wetland areas and water hazards. The course, which tips out at about 7,200 yards, is a good option for anyone visiting the Wilmington, N.C., area.
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Rock Barn Country Club & Spa
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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Ocean Ridge Plantation: Leopard's Chase
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Ocean Ridge Plantation: Leopard's Chase
Ocean Isle Beach
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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Mid South Club
Public
Mid South Club
Southern Pines
Though Mid South Club measures just 6,577 yards from the back tees, the Arnold Palmer design plays longer than that with a significant amount of elevation. 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
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UNC Finley Golf Course
Chapel Hill
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.
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Tot Hill Farm Golf Club
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Tot Hill Farm Golf Club
Asheboro
You’ll find this hidden gem designed by Mike Strantz tucked away in the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness. The course embraces its backcountry vibes and rocky terrain to create 18 unique and wildly challenging holes. Though the conditioning is not what you'd expect from a course on a "Best of" list, this is one of the best value courses in North Carolina.
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Carolina Trace Country Club: Lake
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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Southern Pines Golf Club
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Southern Pines Golf Club
Southern Pines
Kyle Franz, who completed a restoration at nearby Mid Pines in 2013, was hired by Southern Pines once the facility was acquired by the same management company. Franz studied old aerials from this Donald Ross original, which was one of the great architects original works. Part of his work was restoring a lost par 3 from Ross’ work, and fittingly his team also built a secondary sand green, which were typical of many courses in the area back in the day.
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The Omni Grove Park Inn
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The Omni Grove Park Inn
Asheville
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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Lonnie Poole Golf Course At NC State University
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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The Currituck Club
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The Currituck Club
Corolla
A previous Best in North Carolina course on Golf Digest’s biennial list, the Currituck Club is a good semi-private Rees Jones design on the Currituck Sound. Jones incorporated the natural features—sand dunes, woodlands and wetlands—in strategic ways to challenge the better player, but there are options for the more resort type player.
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