Having lived in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill (the Research Triangle) for over a decade I have a firm grasp on the places to go and the places to avoid. The Triangle is littered with golf courses and many are in the “must avoid” category. In this resource I will give you my top five public golf courses in the Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill area. You may have to drive up to an hour or two to get to some of the golf courses listed but it is well worth the trip.
1. Heritage Golf Course
Heritage is located in Wake Forest, North Carolina, about 20 miles north of downtown Raleigh. This course is, by far and away, the best public course I have played in the area. They recently put in championship bermuda greens and the fairways and rough are bermudagrass. The course can play as long as 6900 yards from the black tips and as short as 5800 from the senior golds. The ladies tees play 5050 yards. Most amateurs will play it between 6500 and 6700 yards.
The course starts with a par 5 and ends with a par 5. Both are getable for the long hitters. There are a few snakelike par 5s in the middle of the course that play much harder. There are two par 3s in which water comes into play with the par 3 12th being completely over water. Do not worry, it plays less than 150 yards. If you like a course with relatively open tee shots and a fun layout you will love Heritage. Give it a try. You can play for $55 with a member during the week.
The one downside to Heritage is that it gets a significant amount of play. There are times I have played the course and have run into many groups of foursomes. This is something I am not used to being a member at Hasentree. That said, it is still worth it to play Heritage.
2. Chapel Ridge
Chapel Ridge is located in Pittsboro, North Carolina and it can be a hike for some of those that live in North Raleigh or Wake Forest. Even though it can be an hour drive it is well worth it. Chapel Ridge is owned by the same company that owns Falls Village and The Preserve but it is nothing like those courses. In fact, I would strongly suggest you avoid the other two courses unless you want to play target golf with very difficult tee shots.
Chapel Ridge can play as long as 7100 yards from the black tips and as short as 6200 from the Yellow seniors. I tend to play about 6700 yards at Chapel Ridge. The ladies tees play around 5200 yards. Even though this course plays longer, on the scorecard, than Heritage I think it plays shorter in terms of total distance. Chapel Ridge has a few tee shots from elevated tee boxes which makes the course significantly shorter. That said, there are a few par 5s that play over 550 yards. Bring you big stick when playing these holes.
There are a few holes that have water but nothing that is a forced carry over the water. The water tends to be along the side of the fairways. If you can hit the ball relatively straight you should have no issues losing balls in the drink. If you can get out around noon or 1:00 you are going to see very few people. The course is basically in the middle of nowhere in Pittsboro which means it gets much less play than Heritage. I have played Chapel Ridge without running into a single foursome on a weekday.
3. UNC Finley
UNC Finley is located about two miles from the UNC campus and about one mile from where I live in Meadowmont. If you live anywhere near Chapel Hill, North Carolina you absolutely must play UNC Finley. The course is very similar to Hasentree in that it was designed by Tom Fazio with bentgrass grass and bermudagrass fairways and rough. The unique thing about UNC Finley is that it plays much shorter than the other university (NC State and Duke) courses.
The Tar Heel tees play as long as 7200 yards and the senior white tees can play as short as 5650 yards. The ladies tees play around 5000 yards. Overall, I would say the course does not play as long as the Tar Heel tees suggest. In fact, the Tar Heel tees are not available many times as these are the tees that are used during college tournaments.
There are a few holes in which water comes into play but do not expect to lose a dozen balls on this course. If you can keep the ball in the fairway you will have lots of fun. Much like all Fazio designs, you do not need to be dead straight out of the tee box to enjoy the course. I have yet to figure out the greens so if you do please feel free to let me know.
4. Lonnie Poole Golf Course (NC State)
This course is a ball buster. It is one of the newest courses in the Triangle and they achieved their goal of making it challenging. This is a course you will lose balls. This is a course that will test your patience. This is a course you can easily shoot in the triple digits. All that said, this is a course you need to play at least once to bring you back down to earth.
If you are getting close to the single digits as far as a handicap this course will bring you back to reality. No matter how well you hit the ball, there are going to be shots that handcuff you on this course. The course is not only difficult, it is super long. The NC State competition tees play around 7350 and the seniors will play at 5500. Most amateurs will play the black tees which are 6900 yards and all of it. The ladies tees will play 4850.
The first three holes of Lonnie Poole will set you straight. At one point the third hole was a par 4. It is 525 yards uphill with a forced carry on the second shot of at least 200 yards. I am not kidding. This hole is now a par 5 and it is one of the most challenging par 5s I’ve ever played. As you navigate the course you will be slapped in the face with multiple tough shots.
Before deciding to go to Lonnie Poole, make certain to grab a few dozen balls. You may not want to hit your Pro-V1s on this course. You will lose a handful. Take a picture of downtown Raleigh on the 11th tee box and try not to let this course get you down too much. You can always go back to easier courses after playing this ball buster.
5. Keith Hills Golf Club Orange Course (Campbell University)
Head down to Buies Creek, North Carolina to play the Campbell University courses. Buies Creek is pretty much the middle of nowhere so you won’t have too much trouble with getting a tee time. In all the times I played at Keith Hills I never played a five hour round. I cannot say the same for some of the other courses in the Triangle.
I have played the Orange Course every time played at Keith Hills but there is also a Black Course and White Course. This means you should have no issues with slow play. From what I remember, the tee shots were pretty wide open but there are a lot of wastelands and water that could swallow your ball. If you can keep the ball in the fairway you shouldn’t have that much trouble with this course.
Courses to avoid: Lakeshore, Wil-Mar, The Preserve, Falls Village, RGA, Zebulon Country Club, Wendell Country Club, Wildwood Greens, The River Country Club and many more!