Up Front: April 2007

Charting the best courses

I’ve been playing golf only 10 years — long enough to know that, although I love the sport, I stink at it. That seeming contradiction is common among players I know.

I didn’t take up the game until I was 27. Armed with some 1950s Sam Snead blades my grandfather had given me, I set out on a golf trip to the Sandhills. For most of the weekend, I hacked it up and didn’t have any fun. We had split into four-man teams and were playing “best ball” — only the lowest score of each team counted.

It was a drag watching some of the others put the ball exactly where they wanted, seemingly without much effort. I swung as hard as I could and ended up making a big mess of the tee boxes and my hands, as well as my self-confidence. Finally, on a par-3 hole, I hit a tee shot from 145 yards out that landed 6 inches from the cup. Our team won the hole, and I was hooked. I am still waiting for that shot to show up on a regular basis. It does now and then, but it has never been as much a thrill to see as that first time.

What has been an ongoing thrill is discovering how spoiled we are in North Carolina. Great golf courses are everywhere. It would take such an investment in time — not to mention membership fees — that nobody could afford to play them all. But great golf in this state is not reserved for the wealthy. Where else could you find reasonably priced municipal courses, as you will in Wilmington and Asheville, designed by Donald Ross?

Not only is golf a great way to conduct business or relax, it’s an important industry in this state, bringing in millions of dollars each year. Even if you don’t enjoy the sport, you must admit the media exposure our state receives from tournaments held at places such as Pinehurst and Quail Hollow is priceless.

Because of the economic role golf plays — and the number of our readers who play golf — it was a no-brainer for Business North Carolina to decide to publish a special section spotlighting the state’s best courses. We partnered with the North Carolina Golf Panel, which since its founding in 1995 has become the authoritative source for ranking courses in a state where some of the nation’s best are found. For information on the panel and its makeup, check out its Web site: ncgolfpanel.com.

The 138 members who voted in this year’s ranking range from club pros and course designers to sportswriters and corporate CEOs, their common bond being a passion and appreciation for the game. Each year, panelists vote on the courses they’ve played to compile up-to-date rankings of the top 100 in the state, as well as the top tier in six regions and a few specialty categories. In our special section, which begins on page 26, you’ll also find stories relating to a sport that not only can test us but reward and frustrate us — often all three within one hole.