A golf trip to Raleigh might make you wish you were back in college. Within the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill), there are three outstanding university courses where Division 1 teams actively compete. The good news is that you don’t have to fork over the tuition to get schooled on these courses—all are open to the public. Even better, all area courses stay open year-round with only occasional closings due to wintry weather.
Lonnie Poole Golf Course at NC State University
Home to the men’s and women’s golf teams at North Carolina State University, this Arnold Palmer design has six sets of tees ranging from a sensible 4,869 yards to a whopping 7,358 from the N.C. State Competition Tees (PGA Tour pros Carl Pettersson and Marc Turnesa are former Wolfpackers). Despite Raleigh’s tell-tale hilly terrain, the course design has a traditional Scottish accent. It’s also an Audubon International Signature Golf Sanctuary and a habitat for monarch butterflies, honey bees, foxes and more. As a lab for N.C. State students and faculty doing turfgrass research, as well as a training ground for the university’s golf management program, this design is always in great shape and features cutting-edge grasses (419 Bermuda on the fairways and an A1/A4 Creeping Bentgrass mix on the greens). Post-round, enjoy a relaxing moment on the clubhouse patio for a sweeping view of the golf course, the campus and the Raleigh skyline. lonniepoolegolfcourse.com
UNC Finley Golf Course
The University of North Carolina home course (Davis Love III is a famous onetime Tar Heel) is certainly a test for big hitters, maxing out at close to 7,300 yards, but with five sets of tees, it’s very playable for a variety of skill levels. The original course, laid out in 1949, was commissioned by Raleigh businessman A.E. Finley and totally revamped by Tom Fazio in 1999 (he basically built a new design on the original site). As you might expect from a championship course, the par-4 18th is a tough finishing hole, and you’ll have to play your best to finish on a good note. Even from the tips (447 yards), par is an excellent score here. The practice facilities are top-notch with target greens, bunkers, short game chipping area, and two large, tiered greens. Add in a nice clubhouse and UNC Finley certainly makes the grade. uncfinley.com
Duke University Golf Club
With its upscale amenities, historic collegiate environment and a classic layout designed by Robert Trent Jones Senior (later revamped by his son Rees Jones), the Duke University Golf Club is in a class by itself and feels more like a private club than a public course. For starters, the layout is a traditional Southern Belle with gracious tree-lined fairways, greenside bunkering, streams, hardwoods, tall pines and flowering shrubs. With five sets of tees ranging from 5,288 to 7,154 yards it’s very walkable, but there are GPS-equipped carts to guide you just in case you’re not up to it. The golf club’s state-of-art practice area boasts a driving range, six putting and chipping greens, seven sand bunkers and eight target greens. The course shares the property with the Washington Duke Inn (the university’s founder), an elegant hotel with a beautiful spot for a post-round drink outside on the terrace or inside the clubby Bull Durham Bar. golf.duke.edu
Heritage Golf Club
With five sets of tees, the semi-private Heritage provides an all-around enjoyable experience for players of all abilities (non-members can book tee times up to a week in advance). But no matter what tee you choose to play from (they increase in manageable jumps from 5,053 to 7,016 yards, made longer by the a few uphill holes), you’ll be flirting with bunkers all day long. Pot bunkers are scattered strategically throughout the tree-lined course to add visual punch and plenty of risk-reward scenarios. This being the Raleigh area, there are also lots of ups and downs, and it’s the downhill holes that make rounds here really fun. The most dramatic hole is the par-5 14th, a downhill double dogleg. It’s just the start of the demanding finishing holes, which are capped by 18, a dogleg-right where players have to contend with trees, a lake and more bunkers. playheritagegolf.com
Tobacco Road Golf Course
Many golfers consider Tobacco Road a Pinehurst-area course (40 minutes away), but this much-praised track in Sanford is actually only a 45-minute drive south of Raleigh on US1. It would be a shame to miss an opportunity to play this truly unique track, which is ranked No. 55 on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses, if you’re that close. A Mike Strantz design, Tobacco Road is a great adventure with craters, blind shots, hills and majestic greens that offer up surprises around every corner, and the gorgeous setting is worth the trip alone. tobaccoroadgolf.com
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