CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The roller coaster up and downs of the Golf Club at Ballantyne have recently been lasered and honed, with the course reopening in 2008 after several months' renovation. The par-71 championship course is still a hilly test, but the changes are definitely an improvement.
Punctuated by stands of trees, ponds, undulating fairways and streams with some challenging risk and reward holes, the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge's golf course first opened in 1998. It has a reputation as one of the harder courses in the area, and locals who play it often seem pleased with the upgrade.
Michael Montigo, who was playing with his teenage son, said he loved the new-look Golf Club at Ballantyne.
"When you play from the blues, it's very, very difficult," Montigo said. "This course can challenge anyone's game. You have to know how to read the greens - they can be hard to hold and tend to fall off."
Take the eighth hole, a par 4, 435-yarder. It's a definite risk and reward hole, with a very active creek running in front of the green and facing you on your second shot.
Behind the green, the bank rises up like a double diamond ski run with plenty of moguls. Holding the surface isn't easy. Jam your putt from the back and your ball may scurry off the front, down the bank, into the creek.
It's a good thing the green was enlarged here; it's hard enough just getting to it, and staying on is another matter. A new greenside bunker confounds the challenge.
It becomes quickly obvious that a keen ability to read greens is essential for good scoring at the Golf Club at Ballantyne. In addition to being fast, greens may have severe undulations, some caused by spines running through the center, like midway through at the ninth.
The centerpiece of the 214-room Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge, the golf course is tightly tucked between office condos, homes and other buildings - which, like Ballantyne, have been developed by the Bissell Family of Companies.
Clever mounding and optimal utilization of what land there is saves the track from feeling too closed in. If you catch the sun kissing the landscape, you can see how incredibly mogul-like the terrain appears.
Consider the fifth hole, lined by office condos on the right. Here your ball tends to roll right to left into a gully, so you need to keep right, a task made easier thanks to banking there. Head to the next hole and the reverse is true; the fairway slopes left to right with buildings on left.
As you play, you can hear traffic - you know it's there, but the trees and shrubbery still impart a feeling of country solitude. On the seventh hole, for example, brilliantly blooming azaleas lend sharp contrast to cars motoring by and a backdrop of brick office buildings.
The Golf Club at Ballantyne's 12th hole, a par 5, uphill climb (formerly a par 4), is another good example of this course's "Beauty & the Beast" aspect. A pond, ducks, grasses, and flowering shrubs are juxtaposed against a parking garage and office buildings looming ahead.
The par 3s are well designed, with good balance between long and short distances and long carries. The 10th, perhaps the prettiest hole of the lot, is a 160-yard carry over water, while dogwoods and azaleas ring the fourth hole, which plays at 185 yards.
The final hole, a dogleg left playing down from an elevated tee towards the resort, provides a fun finish, with a pond on right protected by a long beach-like bunker and trees looming on the left.
I played the Golf Club at Ballantyne after a night of heavy rain. Although the ground was soggy in spots, for the most part the course had drained well and was very playable.
With four tee boxes and careful placement, tee positions are fair, allowing average golfers to enjoy a reasonably challenging game and reach greens in regulation.
Although the cart paths were excellent and the course in great shape, there were a couple of places - such as the 15th hole - where steps leading from the green up a hill to the cart path would have made sense. A map of holes on the tee boxes would also be helpful.
Those who prefer to walk the golf course can do so on weekdays and after noon on Sunday. We were out on a holiday weekend, and it seemed to be playing slow with players on tee, mid-fairway and green on most holes. As it turned out, we got through in about four hours.
Course upgrades included lasering the tees and driving range, redoing all the bunkers (adding new sand and liners), and planting several trees and shrubs like those on the 17th.
A new putting and chipping green were constructed, and the golf course was mapped for SkyCaddie, while the tops of the flag sticks were fitted with sensors for laser range finders.
The Golf Club at Ballantyne's second hole was lengthened from 365 yards to 430 yards, and a new green was constructed. The next hole, formerly a par 5, was shortened to a par 4. A new tee box was built on the 10th and some trees were removed along the left side of number 12.
Up the hill from the first tee is the resort's new four-bedroom cottage, designed in the craftsman-style. It is typically used by visiting VIPs and comes equipped with a private golf cart.
One huge advantage to staying here are the upscale rooms and amenities of the resort proper, a perfect retreat for non-golfing companions. The Spa at Ballantyne offers more than 60 treatments and services and the elegant, 30,000-square-foot clubhouse is spruced up with antiques. On site is also the Dana Rader Golf School.
There is a halfway house serving sandwiches and snacks and on-course restrooms, while the Gallery Restaurant Bar offers dinner, drinks and terrace seating. Naturally, there's also a golf shop, equipped with the latest fashions in the game and accessories.
Rental clubs are Nike V Red irons and Sasquatch drivers. Green fees range from $69.98 to $89.98 including cart.
Rangers are an active bunch and come around regularly. One of the rangers, Tom Tait, we saw more than once. "We want everyone to go away happy," he said. We did.
October 7, 2009