North Carolina’s best golf courses

Golf is a difficult game to play well, so why should anyone think that ranking golf courses is easy? Well, to sum it up: It’s not.

Just as the way you like your steak grilled is a personal preference, so is one’s taste in golf courses. That’s why, when I’m reviewing the annual ballots submitted by members of the North Carolina Golf Panel, I don’t blink when one panelist ranks a particular course, say, fourth in the state while another judge it 44th. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

When the Golf Panel was founded in 1995 by public-relations executive Bill Hensley, the intent was to garner worthy attention for the best courses in a state chock-full of them. What is now a list of the top 100 courses in the state began as the top 50. If we expanded the rankings again, no one would object.

There are more than 500 golf courses in North Carolina, and I believe half of them would be worthy of ranking in the top 100 in all but a handful of states. Golfers in North Carolina are that blessed. And those of us who rank courses are that cursed. Course construction, after peaking nearly a decade ago, has leveled, but the new designs typically are outstanding.

That brings consequences, of course, for the other courses on the ranking. The top-25 polls in college football and basketball can change dramatically each year because the teams change–either player turn pro or exhaust their eligibility. That’s not true of golf courses. They’re going to stick around, often in much the same condition as the year before. New courses–or major renovations to old layouts–generate the changes.

In 2007, panelists played two new courses (Bright’s Creek and Leopard’s Chase), two that had undergone extensive renovations (Cape Fear Country Club and Cardinal Golf & Country Club) and three where the group previously had limited exposure (the North Course at Forest Creek Golf Club, the Cliffs at Walnut Cove and Willow Creek Country Club). Panelists left all with favorable impressions.

Ours is not an exact science and never will be. There are a handful of golfcourse rating panels worldwide, and each uses rankings criteria. Since the North Carolina Golf Panel’s inception, our top 100 has been determined by averaging vote totals, with one stipulation: Our approximately 150 panelists statewide could vote only for courses they had played. While we won’t change that requirement, we are evaluating how we rank courses, and we hope to have a new system in place later this year.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the stories and course rankings on the pages that follow. And if you have a steak to toss on the grill for me, I’d like it medium rare.

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