The Outer Banks islands that buffer the northern coastline of North Carolina are known for incredible white sand dunes, yet these islands also harbor seven impressive golf courses.
Even in the summer, when everything is buzzing nonstop, you can stay in a place like the Hilton Garden Inn in Kitty Hawk or in one of the many home rentals and drive to each course in less than 30 minutes.
This gives you time to stop for a cup of Joe along the way in Duck's Cottage, a gray-shingled coffee shop and bookstore, or The Shack Coffee Shop & Beer Garden in Corolla -- or in one of the many other local staples.
Fueled up and ready to go, the question is where to play? The Outer Banks is blessed by a diverse collection of tracks from seaside links to parkland-style courses.
To ease into the swing of things, you might start with Duck Woods Country Club. As well groomed as your grandmother's garden, Duck Woods, designed by Ellis Maples, is a pleasure to play for all levels. With water on more than half the holes, it certainly holds your interest.
Find sea level at Nags Head Golf Links. Designed by Bob Moore, the facility is managed by ClubCorp. Standing on the back tee of the first hole, a blind plunge downhill, all you know for sure is there is water and reeds out there. Getting to your ball you realize there is a lot more landing area then you had originally thought. And so it goes.
Running through dunes, sea grasses and along the Roanoke Sound shoreline, Nags Head can be strongly affected by wind and water as well as distracting scenery.
"We have done a lot of clearing to open up views to the water, especially on holes six through eight and 15 through 18," said PGA professional Patrick Kelly, talking about recent renovations.
Nags Head shares its turf with several new houses built along the fringes, but they do not intrude. A peculiar feature that does come into contention is a line of trees running across the fairway on hole No. 7.
Heading north to Corolla, home to the famous wild mustangs, Rees Jones spun his magic at The Currituck Club, which is characterized by high sand dunes, wetlands and a wide-open feeling despite groves of maritime trees.
"Wind is always a factor," said the starter. "It's in your face going out and in your face when you come back."
Still, Jones knew he was dealing with a windy site so he allowed for generous landing areas off the tee and many roll-up greens.
"Look at the tops of the trees to see how hard the wind is blowing," said Patrick Damer, general manager for this ClubCorp facility.
Good advice, especially on hole No. 15, a par 3 where you typically need one or more clubs to carry the wetlands.
On the seventh tee box at the edge of the grass, Damer pointed out a simple rustic wooden cross decorated by flowers and the ground covered by fresh white rose petals marking the spot where a couple recently exchanged wedding vows. With Currituck Sound as a backdrop, Damer said, "It's a million dollar view."
Taking a proactive stance to attract families, The Currituck Club offers kids 16 and under free play Friday and Saturday after 11:30 a.m. when accompanied by an adult.
You'll face a lot of risk-and-reward challenges at Kilmarlic Golf Club, a course that can generate a lot of thinking as you play around wetlands and maritime forests, 15 coastal ponds and lakes.
Host to past North Carolina Opens, this scenic classic track was designed by Tom Steele. On site is the Kilmarlic Club Cottage, a four-bedroom house with a large living room, kitchen and dining room, an ideal rental for golfing groups.
With superb bent grass greens, a popular place to play -- and one of the longer tracks on the Outer Banks -- is The Carolina Club in Grandy. It's known for its buttressed par-3 island green, often-whimsical ocean breezes and impeccable conditioning. The ninth hole is a beauty, a dogleg left that crosses water twice. The back nine is more dramatic with water hazards that can be game-changers.
Another solid bet is The Carolina Club's sister course, The Pointe Golf Club. It's a well conditioned track with slick A-1 bent grass greens and a fine practice facility. A traditional layout, The Pointe opened in 1995 and continues to evoke a wee bit of Scotland with few trees, run-up greens and the ever-present wind factor.
Sea Scape Golf Links in Kitty Hawk, designed by former Masters champion Art Wall, features significant elevation changes that afford stunning ocean views from several holes.
The Outer Banks may not have the huge number of courses golf-rich destinations like Scottsdale or Myrtle Beach enjoy, but what these islands lack in numbers they make up for in diversity, value and ease of accessibility.
The Outer Banks unquestionably has enough top tracks to make a golf trip here well worthwhile no matter your skill level. The pace is easy, the lifestyle quiet, the beaches superb and the seafood outstanding. In the "offseason" (when everything slows down) prices are even lower, so it's a win-win any time of year.
July 19, 2012