Charlotte, North Carolina, one of the most vibrant cities in the country, is a huge sports town where the NFL's Panthers, NBA's Hornets, the U.S. National Whitewater Center and the Charlotte Motor Speedway, draw thousands of fans. It also has more than 80 golf courses, many designed by revered architects such as George Cobb and Tom Fazio, Donald Ross, Dan Maples and Arnold Palmer.
While more than a third of the courses are private, there are still around 50 good tracks open to the public typically offering green fees that won't break the bank. Here are five of the best.
Golf Club at Ballantyne
The Golf Club at Ballantyne's fairways ride up and down a well manicured, hilly site punctuated by stands of trees, ponds and streams with some challenging risk and reward holes. The Ultra Dwarf greens are on the tricky side including some of the steep banks that flank putting surfaces as found on the eighth hole, a definite risk/reward test with a very active creek running in front of the green.
The centerpiece of the 199-room Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge, the golf course is tightly wedged between office condos, homes and other buildings. What saves the track from feeling too squashed in is clever mounding to better utilize what land there is. Indeed, if you catch the sun kissing the landscape, you can see how incredibly mogul-like the terrain appears. An Audubon-certified course, the landscaping along with water, stone walls and flowers enhances the beauty of this pretty track. On site you'll find the Dana Rader Golf School and a full-service spa.
Larkhaven Golf Club
Set on the eastern edge of Charlotte, Larkhaven Golf Club, the oldest public course in the city, dates from 1958 when it was laid out as a parkland-style course. Family owned and operated, Larkhaven offers memberships to singles and families, and green fees for the public are very affordable, making it a popular play for locals.
Recently the greens were upgraded with MiniVerde grass. Characterized by narrow fairways and water hazards on about half the holes, Larkhaven is overseeded in the winter making it one of the greener tracks to play in the area. With four tee boxes and playing more than 6,700 yards from the tips, it's a good choice for all levels of golfers.
Renaissance Park Golf Course
Renaissance Park Golf Course is the longest (at more than 7,300 yards) of the five Ratcliffe Golf Services-managed Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation public golf facilities. Designer Michael Hurdzan worked magic with the land here, a former landfill in southwest Charlotte that he turned from an ugly duckling into a swan.
Somewhat hilly with a more-open front nine and tighter back, Renaissance Park appeals to families and new golfers. There is also a three-hole, par-3 course on site. While another good bet for family outings is Paradise Valley, a quirky little par 3 with a lot of treacherous water lurking at the edges of small, roll-off greens.
Other courses in the Ratcliffe group include Charles T. Myers, a true public golf course reminiscent of the oldest of traditional classic layouts and designed by Bill Love; the recently renovated nine-hole Charles L. Sifford Golf Course at Revolution Park; and Sunset Hills with a regulation 18-hole track and a nine-hole Learning Course where the holes run pretty close together so it helps to be alert.
Rocky River Golf Club
Designed by Dan Maples, Rocky River Golf Club, northeast of Charlotte in the shadow of the Charlotte Speedway and near Embassy Suites Resort, is carved out of rolling hills with the back nine well nestled into the wetlands area. It's one of the more challenging courses around with rugged rock outcroppings, water, feathery fescue and large, rolling green complexes and bunkers.
With some serious elevation changes and wide landing areas, Rocky River gets high marks for its pace of play, friendly staff and conditioning, including the greens that have been resurfaced with Mini Verde grass. It helps to play the first time with a local, as there are some blind shots.
Birkdale Golf Club
As an Arnold Palmer design, Birkdale Golf Club, north of Charlotte in Huntersville, has received some good reviews for its layout and routing.
During the past couple of years, it has suffered from some maintenance issues, particularly on the tee boxes, bunkers and range. Still its good "bones," with a lot of elevations changes and water hazards, make it an interesting play, especially when the course conditions are favorable. The attractive clubhouse is often the venue for various events.