NAGS HEAD, N.C. - A time ago, the Outer Banks was known for its Grouper, Snapper, and Sea Bass, not its eagles, birdies and pars. These days, however, you are just as likely to find a set of golf clubs and a pair of golf shoes in the back of visitors' trunks as you are fishing rods and tackle boxes.
It's not that the Outer Banks golf scene has changed dramatically in recent months - a core group of courses has been in place for almost a decade, and a couple of tracks have been around since the 1960's. Rather, the American golfer's proclivity for the eco-golf road trip has increased dramatically as popular golf-dominated destinations like Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head fill up tee sheets faster than Cirque du Soleil fills up circus tents.
"Folks in North Carolina are starting to view the Outer Banks as a golf destination," says Lyndi Bascue, Golf Marketing Director for the Outer Banks Golf Association. "It has always been a fishing destination, but our courses are totally full in the summer now. People are learning to bring their clubs with them, even if they plan on doing dozens of other things."
In summers past, Bascue says that golfers from Virginia and the Washington, DC area have dominated the tee sheets because of the easy access from the north, and the area's balmy spring and fall. But Tar Heel state golfers willing to make the trek from the Triad, Triangle, and even Charlotte will find a good mix of traditional and modern courses, and inland and seaside links style layouts. And Old Dominion golfers will still find a red carpet paving the 45-minute drive from the Norfolk metro area.
"We still cater to our Virginia golfers, because they have been our bread and butter for years," Bascue says."
Short and tight is the name of the game in these barrier island venues, so bring a solid iron game and a limitless imagination. The longest track in town is the Russell Breeden-designed Carolina Club, which plays to a Piedmont-esque 7,000 yards. Most the courses, even the brutally arduous Nags Head Golf Links, play between 6,100 and 6,500 yards from the cranks. None of the courses, from Goose Creek to the Pointe Golf Club, will disappoint when it comes to quality and service.
"In general, all the courses have stepped up their quality of maintenance and we feel we can compete with the best," says Keith Hall, President of the Outer Banks Golf Association. "All the courses out here have bentgrass greens, and as high of quality conditions as you'll find. We've kept a rigorous remodeling schedule, and we even have a new course in the works."
The new kid on the block is the Kilmarlic Golf Club, slated to open in late October. The course was designed by Tom Steele, and will play as a Scottish seaside links layout (thus the name). The Currituck Sound will provide the primary setting, but Hall says it will also duck into the woods on a number of holes, offering golfers two distinctly different feels.
Kilmarlic will offer five sets of tees ranging from 4,800 to 6,500 yards, and will even sport an island green on the par three 11th. The course, by way of ownership, will play sister act to the area's second oldest venue, the Sea Scape Golf Club. The Art Wall-designed layout plays over 6,500 yards from the tips. On 6,499 of those yards, the coastal winds are a factor, making it one of the sternest local tests of the low arching, knock down shot.
The oldest course in the area is Duck Woods Country Club in Kitty Hawk. Duck Woods is an Ellis Maples designed inland course that opened in 1968, but underwent a major green renovation project in 1996. The only semiprivate facility in the Outer Banks, tee times at Duck Woods are doled out to the public on a limited basis. Since its 900 some odd members have to live somewhere, the course is surrounded by a good bit of housing. Fortunately, the built environment is rarely a concern or a distraction because of generous setbacks.
The course that has created the biggest buzz of late is the Currituck Club off NC 12 in Corolla. Not just because of the golf, although Golf Magazine thought enough of the six-year-old layout to hit it with a "Top 10 You Can Play," in 1997, and Golf Digest ranked it in the Top 25 Courses of North Carolina, but because the scope and scale of the 600-acre development are like nothing the Outer Banks has seen before: tennis courts, bike paths, basketball courts, sand volleyball courts, five residential communities, a trolley system that connects it all, and 70,000 square feet of upscale shopping space and an 80-room Inn in the long range plans.
The course opens to the south on the sand dunes of the property, makes its way north along the Currituck Sound, turns south again toward the Dunes to open the back nine, and then finishes dramatically along the sound on the last four holes. Jones brought the 18th right up to the edge of the water, with the clubhouse nowhere in sight. As you'd expect, there's plenty of water on the course, most of it sneaking into play on the front nine where holes four, five and six flirt with the local lagoons.
The Carolina Club is one of the aforementioned facilities that are under the knife these days. Architect Bob Moore and the JMP Golf Design Group are redesigning the course's ninth and 18th holes, and Hall believes the latter, with its new risk/reward opportunity, will become the best finishing hole in the Outer Banks. Having opened in 1998, the course is the newest in the Outer Banks until Kilmarlik opens this fall. Yet, Hall says the fairness of the ninth and the 18th came into question all too frequently over the course of three years.
Rounding out the Outer Banks lineup are the Nags Head Golf Links, one of the most Scottish feeling courses in the entire state; the Pointe Golf Club, another Breeden designed layout and the first course in the area to feature A-1 bentgrass greens; and Goose Creek Golf and Country Club, a forgiving course on the inland side of the Currituck Bridge. Nags Head was designed by Moore, and until the opening of the Currituck Club, the course was considered the area's top offering. The Pointe, which Hall owns and operates, has more of a traditional feel than its Outer Bank brethren and offers golfers awesome views of the Currituck Sound.
"We've had the same courses for seven to ten years or longer," says Hall. "I think it is just now being discovered as a golf destination, and in light of the events of 9-11, people are looking for drive destinations and a place that has the clean, natural feel to it. We've always been a getaway from it all, a place to fish and just explore the beach, but now we're also a place to tee it up for a few days."
Carolina Club (252) 453-3588
Currituck Club (252)453-9400
Duck Woods Country Club (252) 261-2609
Goose Creek Golf and Country Club (252) 453-4008
Nags Head Golf Links (252) 441-8073
Pointe Golf Club (252) 491-8388
Sea Scape Golf Club (252) 261-2158
The Outer Banks is stocked with historic inns and charming bed and breakfasts, and Advice 5 cents (800-238-4235) will satisfy even the most discerning B and B critics. Advice opened in 1995 and offers four guest rooms and one suite. All rooms have private baths (not always a given at B and B's), rocking chairs, and decks. The suite has cable television (for those who need to seek refuge in technology amid this Spartan, wildlife hotbed), a stereo and a Jacuzzi. Nags Head is the epicenter of the Outer Banks golf realm, and the Nags Head Inn (800-327-8881) is smack dab in the middle of it all. Did we mention it's on the ocean, too? The Inn houses 100 rooms and amenities include an indoor/outdoor pool, in-room refrigerators, and one master suite is available with a wet bar and Jacuzzi.
June 12, 2002