Dream 18: Top-Rated North Carolina Golf Courses You Can Play

With its wealth of golf opportunities, North Carolina can offer every player a chance to step onto a top-level course. Here are the 18 top-ranked courses open to the public, based on the North Carolina Golf Panel’s 2023 top courses you can play:

1 Pinehurst No. 2

Pinehurst No. 2 flag waving during sunny day

1 Pinehurst No. 2

PinehurstSee on mapSee on map

The venerable Pinehurst No. 2 refuses to relinquish the top spot, having perched on high since the first Golf Panel list in 1995. The Donald Ross masterpiece accepts the challenge of any and all players, and seldom gives in, even to top professionals. In fact, as the first US Open anchor site, the championship will return to No. 2 in 2024, 2029, 2035, 2041 and 2047. To get the full experience and possibly improve your score, let one of the resort’s capable caddies guide you.

2 Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club

Greens on Pine Needle Lodge & Golf Club course

2 Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club

Southern PinesSee on mapSee on map

Ask most members of the Golf Panel, and you’ll likely hear Pine Needles characterized as one of those special courses you wouldn’t mind playing every day. A wonderfully fair Donald Ross classic, this is a meandering trip among the pines that always delivers pleasure but requires full attention to every shot. A favorite of female players, Pine Needles hosted the women’s US Open Championships in 1996, 2001, 2007 and 2022.

And part of the same resort is another Ross gem, Mid Pines Golf Club (see the 5th-place ranking).

3 Pinehurst No. 4

Pinehurst No. 4 bunkers on sunny day
photo: Pinehurst Resort

3 Pinehurst No. 4

PinehurstSee on mapSee on map

Redesigned in 2018 by renowned golf course architect Gil Hanse, Pinehurst No. 4 is a companion to No. 2, but it’s not a tribute to it. Hanse returned the original landscape to the course, making it an expression of classic Carolinas Sandhills golf with its slopes and greens locations, giving the golfer the chance to contemplate different approaches to each hole. No. 4 and No. 2 cohosted the 2019 US Amateur Championship.

4 Pinehurst No. 8

Bunkers and golf cart trail on Pinehurst No. 8

4 Pinehurst No. 8

PinehurstSee on mapSee on map

Tom Fazio carved this gem out of the rolling, sandy terrain just outside the village, paying homage to Donald Ross with the characteristic swales, slopes and false fronts that mark the master’s work. Graced with the playability that makes Fazio a favorite of the average player, the course is also very walkable, another blessing in these days of lengthy layouts. Reflecting its beautiful natural setting, No. 8 was the first project in North Carolina to achieve certification through the Audubon International Signature Program.

5 Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club

5 Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club

Southern PinesSee on mapSee on map

A riddle: Why did the golfer at Pine Needles cross the road? Answer: To play Mid Pines, another historic Donald Ross 1920s gem situated just across Midland Road. Though maintained impeccably to modern standards, it’s a pine-drenched stroll through history since this is a Ross design that remains virtually unchanged. Maybe not as daunting as its mate on the other side of the road, Mid Pines remains an always fair and fun test that makes it a favorite on many lists.

6 Pinehurst No. 9

6 Pinehurst No. 9

PinehurstSee on mapSee on map

Combine the Sandhills and Jack Nicklaus, and there’s little doubt something special will happen. Pinehurst No. 9, formerly known as National Golf Club, is the Pinehurst area's only Jack Nicklaus Signature course, which challenges players with the expected Nicklaus architecture – wide fairways, strategic bunkers and undulating putting surfaces.

7 Mid South Club

7 Mid South Club

PinehurstSee on mapSee on map

Arnold Palmer issued a straightforward challenge to players at Mid South Club, with few visual tricks and a mixture of risk/reward from virtually every tee. Like the man, this is a course on which to hitch up your trousers and charge. A favorite of locals and considered one of Palmer’s best designs, the private Mid South is worthy of making the effort to get on via an area golf package.

8 Bryan Park (Champions Course)

8 Bryan Park (Champions Course)

Browns SummitSee on mapSee on map

A highly regarded public course and always a player favorite, the Champions Course is considered a Rees Jones masterpiece of design with enough bunkers, humps and hollows to keep you thinking – plus seven holes that border scenic Lake Townsend. Graced with four stars by Golf Digest, the course hosted the country’s best amateurs in the 2010 US Public Links Championship.

9 UNC Finley Golf Course

9 UNC Finley Golf Course

Chapel HillSee on mapSee on map

Tee off on a course that was totally renovated in 2023 and offers a championship test to the university's golf teams, members and the public alike. Begin your round with a rare starting-hole par 3, and expect a challenge on every hole after. There's also an expansive new putting course, practice tee and short-game area available to the public.

10 Grandover Resort (East)

10 Grandover Resort (East)

GreensboroSee on mapSee on map

Grandover Resort’s pair of courses, known as East and West (ranked 24th in 2023), are ranked annually on the Golf Panel list, demonstrating the level of quality reflected in both. Designed by David Graham and Gary Panks, the duo wind through oaks, pines and dogwoods amid the resort’s 1,500 acres. Fairness abounds, combined with hospitality and attention to detail that makes these courses always good choices for a daily double.

11 Pinehurst No. 7

11 Pinehurst No. 7

PinehurstSee on mapSee on map

When designer Rees Jones describes it as “one heck of a course,” it’s a pretty good indication that No. 7 at Pinehurst is worthy of your time. This is perhaps the most dramatic layout at the resort with rugged terrain and looming trees creating enough natural obstacles to minimize the need for heavy bunkering. Doglegs and uphill approaches to elevated greens contribute to the suspense and give No. 7 a different and refreshing essence compared with most of its resort brethren.

12 The Cardinal by Pete Dye

12 The Cardinal by Pete Dye

GreensboroSee on mapSee on map

In order to increase activity on this course, McConnell Golf announced in early 2019 that The Cardinal would become semiprivate, meaning nonmembers can play on a conditional basis. With two lakes, wooded glades and windy streams, The Cardinal is a challenging test for golfers, and the par-70 course – which was redesigned in 2007 – features a 12th hole that Dye himself calls the hardest par 3 he ever designed.

13 Lonnie Poole Golf Course

13 Lonnie Poole Golf Course

RaleighSee on mapSee on map

Designed by the legendary Arnold Palmer, Lonnie Poole leans heavily on traditional Scottish elements gracefully blended into the natural terrain of the surrounding campus. It gets right down to business with an opening par 5 that features two bunkers waiting for misaligned tee shots. The closing hole resembles a geometry exam, with a passing grade dependent on a study of the best angles.

14 Duke University Golf Club

Flagstick on Duke University Golf Club hole

14 Duke University Golf Club

DurhamSee on mapSee on map

Take a magnificent layout created by one of the deans of American course design, Robert Trent Jones, combine it with a loving restoration by son Rees Jones, and you have an outstanding facility known as Duke University Golf Club. Unique elevation changes and mildly rolling terrain amid mature trees provide nuance on every shot. Adding to the property’s ambience is the gracious Washington Duke Inn.

15 The Currituck Club

15 The Currituck Club

CorollaSee on mapSee on map

Another Rees Jones design, this semiprivate course sports 6,885 yards of bent grass greens, rolling dunes, seaside vegetation and views of the sound. Meant to satisfy the whole family with a putting green and driving range, The Currituck Club also offers junior and family clinics in the summer months.

16 Occano

16 Occano

Merry HillSee on mapSee on map

Billed as a collaboration between Arnie and Mother Nature, the Arnold Palmer Signature Course at Occano plays as beautifully as it looks. There’s an orderly flow to the holes over rolling topography that borders the historic Albemarle Sound. And Arnie made certain any member of his army will have a pleasant experience here, no matter the skill level.

17 Forest Oaks Country Club

17 Forest Oaks Country Club

GreensboroSee on mapSee on map

The country club underwent an ownership change in 2019, and the new management has helped bring the course back to life. Breaking into the top 18 this year, Forest Oaks Country Club offers excellent value, challenging greens and a great course layout that brings people back again and again.

18 Leopard's Chase

18 Leopard's Chase

Sunset BeachSee on mapSee on map

Leopard’s Chase is a Tim Cate showpiece in what’s known as the “Big Cats” collection at Ocean Ridge Plantation. Expect the unexpected on a course that traverses more than 220 acres of natural coastal terrain resplendent with native grasses, and culminates in an 18th hole with an elevated green guarded by a spectacular waterfall splashing over coquina boulders.

 

Updated April 5, 2023
About the Author
Gary Carter

Gary Carter

Gary Carter is an Asheville-based writer who covers a range of topics for magazines, online publications and blogs.

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