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Top Carolina golf resorts: Start at Pinehurst, then go coastal

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

"Carolina golf" has actually been absorbed into golfers' lexicon, a term for golf courses characterized chiefly by dramatic elevation changes and floral flourishes.

Pinehurst Resort
And the winner is - to no one's surprise - Pinehurst Resort, thanks to legendary courses like Donald Ross' No. 2.
Pinehurst ResortKiawah Island's Ocean CoursePine Needles Resort

I can't tell you how many golf pros throughout the South have told me I'll "feel like I'm in Carolina" when I play their golf course.

But Carolina golf isn't just about hills, mountains, valleys and fall foliage. There's that big coast to the east, for one thing. Both North and South Carolina have some terrific golf resorts. Here are TravelGolf.com's picks, with setting given only slightly less emphasis than quality of golf.

1) Pinehurst Resort, Pinehurst, N.C.: If we chose anywhere else for No. 1 we'd be run out of our trailer, and rightly so. Known as the home of American golf, Pinehurst is as serene as it is sublime.

Motoring toward the fabled North Carolina Sandhills, you start running into the resort's golf courses as you pass into Moore County, and you never seem to stop bumping into them.

Pinehurst combines a rural, get-away-from-it-all feel with a whopping eight courses, including the famous No. 2. Nos. 4, 7 and 8 are also excellent courses that have garnered various awards through the years.

2) The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Kiawah Island, S.C.: The name is fitting: The Sanctuary is even more out of the way than Pinehurst, stuck way out on a South Carolina barrier island. It's a beautiful place that would seem almost primordial but for the multi-million-dollar homes placed oh-so-tastefully around the island.

The star of the resort's five golf courses is the Ocean, which has hosted a Ryder Cup and is scheduled to host this year's Senior PGA Championship and the 2012 PGA Championship.

Of the other four, Turtle Point, an early Jack Nicklaus design, is probably the best.

3) Sea Pines Resort, Hilton Head Island, S.C.: Hilton Head stands today as one of South Carolina's twin towers of golf, and Sea Pines is where it all started.

Sea Pines' Ocean course was the island's first track. The resort has three courses now, among which Harbour Town reigns supreme. A perennial PGA Tour stop, this iconic Pete Dye/Jack Nicklaus collaboration is one of the top courses in the country, and, some say, one of the most difficult.

4) Barefoot Landing, North Myrtle Beach, S.C.: Another sprawling, multi-course resort, the class of Myrtle Beach boasts a gaudy collection of architects: Dye, Tom Fazio, Greg Norman and Davis Love III.

There is considerable disagreement as to which is best. My vote goes to the Love course; others plump for the Fazio or the Dye. No matter which direction you head at Barefoot Landing, though, you can't go wrong.

5) Pine Needles Country Club, Southern Pines, N.C.: Pinehurst No. 2 notwithstanding, Pine Needles is a favorite of many Sandhills golfers. Its trump card is a vintage 1927 Donald Ross course that has remained true to the master designer's vision.

Transformed into a bear for tournaments (only Annika Sorenstam emerged unscathed when the U.S. Women's Open was held here), Pine Needles can also be a relatively player-friendly resort course. Women in particular seem to love it, and the practice facility is one of the best in the country.

6) Daufuskie Island Resort & Breathe Spa: A ferry from Hilton Head takes you to this island of secluded cottages, beachfront villas and fancy vacation homes.

The resort has two courses, Bloody Point" and Melrose. The latter is generally considered the better layout, a Nicklaus work with three of the most dramatic closing holes in South Carolina, all running along the Atlantic Ocean.

7) Wild Dunes, Isle of Palms, S.C.: "Charleston's Island Resort" is about 20 minutes from the historic city's downtown. Wild Dunes has two Tom Fazio courses: The Links, which winds through large dunes, and the Harbor, which gets familiar with the Intracoastal Waterway.

8) Fripp Island Golf and Beach Resort, Fripp Island, S.C.: Also off the South Carolina coast, this private island once served a base for pirates. The resort's Ocean Creek course, another Davis Love track, is surrounded by salt marshes and rolling dunes; Ocean Point, designed by Carolina favorite George Cobb, has four holes that skirt the Atlantic and Fripp Inlet.

Honorable mention: Legends Resort, Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Palmetto Hall, Hilton Head, S.C.; Mid Pines Club, Southern Pines, N.C.; Sea Trail Plantation, Sunset Beach, S.C.; Grove Park Inn, Asheville, N.C.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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