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Great Golf

Carolinas Home to 16% of Top 200 U.S. Golf Community Courses

By Larry Gavrich, Founder & Editor,
Home On The Course, LLC


Cliffs at Keowee Vineyard, Sunset, SC
Photo Credit: Larry Gavrich

Golfweek magazine, one of the few publications that ranks golf community courses on an annual basis, recently released its ranking of the 200 best courses inside the gates of communities that offer golf.  Sixteen courses in North and South Carolina were named to the top 100, and another 16 to the next 100.  Wade Hampton Golf Club in Cashiers, NC, designed by Tom Fazio, topped the entire list as the single best golf community layout in the U.S.


Champion Hills, Hendersonville, NC
Photo Credit: Larry Gavrich

The Carolinas stretch from beach to mountains, and the Golfweek list is studded with Carolina courses in both geographies, as well as some inland, lake-oriented layouts.  Wade Hampton is one of the nation’s most exclusive clubs, with rigorous admission policies (in other words, figure out a way to get to know a few of the existing members and you will have a chance).  A few miles from Wade Hampton, also in Cashiers and also designed by Tom Fazio, Mountaintop snagged the #10 position on the list.  It is an upscale community of million dollar homes and a six-figure golf membership in its highly regarded club.


Wexford Golf Club, Hilton Head Island, SC
Photo Credit: Larry Gavrich

At #14, Long Cove on Hilton Head Island, one of Pete Dye’s more classic layouts, isn’t exactly in the low-rent district, but homes start just under $400,000.  Also on Hilton Head, Wexford Golf Club (designed originally by Willard Byrd but the beneficiary of a beautiful renovation by Brandon Johnson and the Arnold Palmer Design Company a couple of years ago), just made the top 100 at #98.  The community and its marina and unique lock system appeal to boaters as well.


Briar’s Creek, Johns Island, SC
Photo Credit: Larry Gavrich

Other coastal layouts were well represented on the top 100 list, including Old Tabby Links at Spring Island; the Cassique and River Courses on Kiawah Island, SC; Colleton River’s Nicklaus course; and the Club at Brier’s Creek on John’s Island, outside Charleston.  Old Tabby in Okatie, SC, originally designed by Ed Seay and Arnold Palmer, received a major facelift a couple of years ago from Brandon Johnson and the Palmer design team, making a course that was already a darling of architecture enthusiasts even better. 

With seven golf courses on Kiawah Island, and another two on neighboring Seabrook Island, these two spits of land may offer the best array of courses per square mile in the eastern U.S.; and only the famed Ocean Course (no homes beside it) features a better layout on this part of the coast than does Cassique (Tom Watson) and The River (Tom Fazio).  The way the pair of layouts meander through and around the thick marshland makes it seem a bit of divine intervention should get co-architect credit.


Colleton River Plantation, Jack Nicklaus Course, Bluffton, SC
Photo Credit: Larry Gavrich

Five years ago, when I visited the Colleton River community in Bluffton, SC, just off Hilton Head Island, the greens on the Jack Nicklaus layout were the fastest I had played in the previous 10 years.  For those who care about such things, the club’s superintendent indicated greens speeds were above 13 on the stimpmeter, which measures such things.  To put that in perspective, the pros typically play on greens that stimp at speeds up to 12, and they often complain about those.  I loved the speeds as I have a tendency to take the putter head too far back on short putts; no need to do that on linoleum.  

Brier’s Creek, an upscale community close to both Kiawah and the city of Charleston, suffered some financial issues when it first opened 10 years ago, but there was no faulting the Rees Jones golf course design, perfectly suited to the surrounding marshland.  The developers of the community and club were so smitten with Jones’ layout that they commissioned a huge portrait of the architect to hang in the clubhouse foyer.


Cliffs at Mountain Park, Travelers Rest, SC
Photo Credit: Larry Gavrich

Nine of the Carolina 16 on the Top 100 list are located away from the coast, in the mountains and in the Sand Hills area that most of us know as Pinehurst.  The list includes such classics as the wonderfully named Grandfather Golf & Country Club (#21) in the mountains of Linville, NC, and designed by Ellis Maples; Diamond Creek (#26) in Banner Elk, NC, also in the mountains in the western part of the state; the Cliffs at Mountain Park (Gary Player), the most recently opened layout on the list (2011), ranked #41 and especially notable for its use of sand and the creation of dunes more suited to the coast but looking absolutely at home in this 200-acre patch of Travelers Rest, SC; Tom Fazio’s Forest Creek courses, the North (#45) and the South (#74), in the community of the same name and located in the golf infested Sand Hills area of central North Carolina; another Cliffs communities course, this one on beautiful Lake Keowee at Keowee Vineyards (#51), another Fazio design and notable, in my opinion, for the best par 3 in the state of South Carolina, a 250-yarder that plays from an elevated tee box to a green jutting out into the lake; and to end the Top 100 on a note of repetition, there is Tom Fazio again, whose funneled fairways and elevation changes at Champion Hills, in his hometown of Hendersonville, NC, is worthy of the #94 position on the list.

For the full list, including the second 100, please click here. For more information on any of these communities, their golf courses and what it is like to live and play there, please contact me at