The North Carolina Golf Panel's annual rankings of golf courses in North Carolina is out, and I have a few interesting—at least to me—observations. If you want to follow along at home, find the rankings at http://www.ncgolfpanel.com/.
In the list of the Top 100 Courses for 2017, the third course—Mountaintop Golf and Lake Club in Cashiers—wasn't ranked in 2016 or ever before though the course is at least 12 years old. The Panel's voting policy is simple: Members of the Panel can only vote for courses they've played, and the course must appear on 40 ballots to be considered. There are about 150 members of the Panel.
Mountaintop Golf and Lake Club—designed by Tom Fazio—is very private so the chances of 40 Panelists playing there were few and far between until last fall when the 2016 annual meeting was held nearby. Those attending had the opportunity. I was not among them but reviews from those who played there were somewhat jaw-dropping. I consider Grandfather Golf and Country Club in Linville the top course in North Carolina, ahead of perennial top-ranked Pinehurst No. 2, but nearly the first words from everyone who played were, "Mountaintop is as good or better than Grandfather."
Grandfather is ranked second, same as in 2016. For more on Mountaintop Golf and Lake Club, visit the website: http://mountaintopgolfclub.com/. And for more on Grandfather Golf and Country Club, visit http://www.grandfatherclubnc.com/.
Mountaintop was not the only course on the 2017 list that was not on the 2016 list, but it was the only one in the top 66. There were five in the lower part of the rankings: No. 67—Thistle Golf Club, Sunset Beach; No. 86—North Ridge Country Club (Lakes course), Raleigh; No. 93—Carolina Trace Country Club (Lake course), Sanford; No. 95—Southern Pines Golf Club, Southern Pines; and, No. 99—Stoney Creek Golf Club, Whitsett.
The six in 2017 replaced these six from 2016: Nags Head Golf Links, Nags Head; Jefferson Landing, Jefferson; Forest Oaks Country Club, Greensboro; Seven Lakes Country Club, Seven Lakes; Mount Mitchell Golf Club, Burnsville; and, Mountain Air Country Club, Burnsville.
In recent years, statistics show reduced participation in golf. In other words, overall play is down and has been headed that way for years. Much of that has to do with the cost of playing golf, such as the price of equipment, membership in clubs and even the price of daily greens fees. The Golf Panel also has a list of the Top 50 Courses You Can Play, which simply means these are not private clubs. These 50 courses have public ways for golfers to "get on" sort of like affording health insurance. You can get insurance but the monthly premium and the annual deductible may be a bit pricey.
"Getting on" does not necessarily mean low greens fees. For instance, the list starts with seven courses that can have a hefty price tag. Pinehurst's Nos. 2, 4, 8 and 9 are in that top seven as are Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club and Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club. And, there's Linville Golf Club. Each of these allow non-hotel staying players to play, but the price tag may get to be a little pricey, to put it bluntly.
As you work your way down the list, prices can go down and in many cases the quality of the golf courses is not diminished whatsoever. For instance, the Wilmington Municipal Golf Course was degisned by Donald Ross who also designed Pinehurst No. 2 and many other courses in North Carolina. The weekend greens fee for walkers at the Muni is $30. If you must ride, the cart fee is $12. You'll have to check with Pinehurst for the rates for No. 2. There are plenty of "packages" from which to choose for overnight accommodations, meals and golf, but there is always a $195 fee to upgrade to play No. 2. Caddies are additional.
Of the Top 50 courses You Can Play, 16 of them are not in the Top 100 Courses and these courses are not shabby; they just don't show up in the overall rankings of the top 100. And neither do all of the Top 20 Favorite Donald Ross Courses in North Carolina. The list is fun to review. I've played 18 of the 20, many prior to joining the Golf Panel about 12 years ago. The last four—Roaring Gap Club, Country Club of Salisbury, Blowing Rock Country Club, and Mimosa Hills Golf Club in Morganton—are not in the Top 100.
On a more personal note, I play most of my golf at Lonnie Poole Golf Course (LPGC) at NC State University in Raleigh. For the second year in a row, LPGC is ranked 65th. It's ranked 12th in the Triangle Region behind many excellent courses, some of which I disagree with the ranking. To each their own.
However, LPGC is ranked No. 1 in the Triangle when it comes to the Most Challenging Tee Shots, an interesting category to say the least. As someone who likes to hit away, I have a different opinion about that ranking. It comes down to the set of tee markers you use. I guess I've played there enough to know the best positioning for the next shot. On the other hand, sometimes, just standing on any set of tees and looking down the fairway, you can be intimidated and you can consider the tee shot challenging.
There are additional rankings on the Golf Panel's lists this year such as the best courses for senior men and senior women and the Hidden Gems section. And, if you have a chance to pick up the April issue of Business North Carolina magazine, you'll find interesting stories about: the PGA Golf Management program at Methodist College; two other Fazio courses—Wilmington's Eagle Point Golf Club where the Wells Fargo Championship is being played in May and Charlotte's Quail Hollow Club, site of the 2017 PGA Championship in August; The First Tee organizations in North Carolina (I wrote it); and golf travel company PerryGolf.
Enjoy the NC Golf Panel Rankings for 2017, and then get out and play a round or two!