In its “Golf Town USA” series, GolfGuide.com is highlighting the cities and towns across the U.S. in which golf is a way of life. We’ll feature must-play daily fee and resort courses, premier private clubs and other indelible connections to the golf industry.
Word has spread over the years that Asheville, N.C. and neighboring Hendersonville are wonderful places to retire, semi-retire or simply relocate to enjoy the good life. For golfers in particular, the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains are home to dozens of highly-acclaimed private golf communities and several of the country’s highest-ranked courses.
But this Western Carolina region is also one of the Southeast’s best kept secrets when it comes to golf travel, with a handful of multi-course golf resorts and top-notch daily fee courses. And with the area’s golf wares within a day or half-day’s drive of major metro areas like Charlotte, Atlanta and Nashville, getting here is a short-putt.
Must Play: The Lake Lure area is just under an hour from Asheville and Hendersonville, and for local and traveling golfers alike, Rumbling Bald is the place for a pure 36-hole mountain golf experience. Apple Valley, the retreat’s marquee track, was designed by Dan Maples and sports brand-new Champion Bermuda greens. Maples estimated around 75% of the layout is level or downhill, rare for a mountain course, and rendering Apple Valley eminently playable.
Bald Mountain is the older of the two courses, but the W.B. Lewis design is reopening in April 2021 following a major enhancement to its tee boxes, green approaches, landscaping and tree lines. With five par 5s and five par 3s, Bald Mountain is a unique par 72 routing that measures just 6,233 yards from the tips. Collectively, Apple Valley and Bald Mountain offer golfers two decidedly different, yet complementary, playing experiences.
For stay-and-plays, Rumbling Bald offers mountain home vacation rentals and Fairway Villas for groups of any size, and Apple Valley Studios for groups of two to four. There’s casual dining onsite at Legends on the Lake, where gofers can grab a pizza or burger, a cold drink and enjoy the view. Really, there’s no reason to leave “campus.”
Solid Second: The Omni Grove Park Inn, tucked amid North Carolina’s spectacular swath of the Blue Ridge Mountains, can name drop with the best of them. Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Henry Ford, Jack Nicklaus and President Obama, F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Taylor have all graced the property. And it’s “solid second” placement due only to the fact it’s an 18-hole venue.
The Inn’s 6,400-yard Donald Ross-designed layout is diminutive by today’s standards but has a reputation for being enjoyable and in impeccable condition. What is lacks in distance, it makes up for in strategy, creativity and unapologetic fun. The tee box on the 332-yard 15th hole is an ideal spot to crack open a beer from one of Asheville’s myriad craft breweries.
Hidden Gem: The Asheville Municipal Golf Course, designed by Donald Ross, is one of the oldest courses in Western North Carolina. Opened in 1927, “Muni” (as it’s known to locals) was the first racially integrated course in the state. For history buffs, it’s also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There’s even an excellent documentary, produced by Callaway Golf and directed by Paul Bonesteel, covering the course’s rich history and colorful characters.
Preferred Private: If it’s good enough for golf course architect Tom Fazio, it’s good enough for any diehard golfer. While he spends winters in Florida, Champion Hills in Hendersonville is Fazio’s summer “home club.” His mountain masterpiece, here, is a seminal design in his illustrious, hall-of-fame career that helped put Western North Carolina on the golf map in the late 80s.
The 730-acre private community is home to 300-plus members and 352 homes with a number of lots still available for custom building. Other than the golf course, the centerpiece of Champion Hills is its mountain lodge-stye clubhouse, perched atop one of the highest points on the property. Inside, members enjoy casual and fine dining, including the recently updated Fazio Pub.
The member-owned club is operated by Troon, and several membership plans are offered ranging from full equity golf and social to the club’s new Equity 55, designed for those 55 and under. Once a haven for second homes, Champion Hills is attracting more and more year-round residents. After all, golf is a 12-month affair along this southern slice of the Tar Heel state.
Dine out: Whether it’s downtown Asheville or Hendersonville, golfers will find just about any cuisine their hungry hearts’ desire. Asheville’s Biltmore Commons neighborhood is a nice alternative to downtown and its numerous restaurants and bars are hemmed together by a pedestrian friendly network of sidewalks.
And then there’s the craft beer, and plenty of it. Highland Brewing Company and Green Man Brewery are the elder statesmen of the Asheville microbrewing bunch, and West Coast behemoths Sierra Nevada (in Henderson County), New Belgium and Oskar Blues have all opened East Coast headquarters around Asheville in recent years.
411: Accessing the area is easy with dozens of direct and connecting flights available into the Asheville Regional Airport, which along with Greenville-Spartanburg International (S.C.) is one of the fastest growing airports in the U.S. The region is accessed by vehicle via Interstates 40 and 26, making it easy to get to from all points of the compass.