“Western Carolina” is both a university in Cullowhee, N.C. (go Catamounts!) and a colloquial term for an expansive, two-state region containing the country’s most dramatic stretch of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
While most of its area lies within the Old North State, a five-county swath of “Upstate” South Carolina is also part of Western Carolina’s expanse. The two Carolinas converge at the famed “Blue Ridge Escarpment,” the precipitous drop-off from the mountains to the piedmont that’s home to crystal clear lakes, towering waterfalls and rolling foothills.
If this dual-state setting sounds near-perfect for outdoor pursuits like hiking and biking, it most certainly is. And for nearly 12-months out of the year, it’s also one of the Southeast’s most unheralded collections of world-class golf.
For have-clubs-will-travel golfers, there’s no roadmap or playbook on how to approach this ad hoc territory’s golf wares. Unlike name-brand Carolinas golf hotbeds like Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach and Pinehurst, golf tourism (and its promotion) isn’t centralized in Western Carolina.
Instead, a laptop, tablet or smartphone and a few hours of due diligence are needed to plot a “golf course” (pun intended) across the land the Cherokee once regarded as a mystical convergence of land and sky.
A pro tip during the holiday season: look for courses, resorts and clubs in northern South Carolina and southern North Carolina below 3,000 feet that offer year-round golf. Pressed for time? Here’s a primer to get you started.
Cherokee Valley Course and Club
The oft-awarded small city of Greenville, S.C. is home to Cherokee Valley Course and Club, the Upstate’s premier golf destination. Its P.B. Dye designed, mountain-style golf course and collection of on-site cottages make for an enjoyable and efficient stay-and-play experience.
With wrap-around front porches and all the comforts of home, the cottages are conveniently located just a few steps from the golf shop and first tee. Full cottage rentals start at $400 and single rooms at $130, per night (tax not included). Golf can be added for $30 or $50 all-day subject to availability.
Cherokee Valley’s routing is fascinating, and Dye effectively provides golfers three courses within a single layout. The first six holes are relatively flat and laid out in proximity to the soon-to-open new golf shop and restaurant, Core 450. Seven through 10 take players right up to the base of the Glassy Mountain, while 13-18 features more than 300-feet of elevation change.
Ideally located 30 minutes north of award-winning downtown Greenville and 45 minutes from the craft beer capital of Asheville, N.C. Cherokee Valley is the perfect basecamp for exploring the beauty and adventure of this amazing four-season corner of the Palmetto State. For those who fall in love with the cub and community, affordable memberships are available across a variety of categories.
And only a short drive from Cherokee Valley are two of the state’s best college courses, the Furman Golf Club in Greenville and the Walker Course at Clemson University. Both are open to the public and are incredible values. Located 45 minutes apart, visitors can spend the night in Greenville or Clemson and soak up fall in two of the Upstate’s most eclectic cities. For purists, both tracks are eminently walkable. Especially Furman, a parkland style design that is continually updated and enhanced by the university’s Director of Planning Scot Sherman, lead architect for Love Golf Design.
Rumbling Bald Resort
Rumbling Bald, the 36-hole golf resort on North Carolina’s stunning Lake Lure is just an hour-and-a-half north of Greenville and an hour east of Asheville. Open year-round, the resort offers golf packages customized for golf groups of any size and is ideal for “set it and forget it” buddy trips.
Starting at $345 per person, Rumbling Bald’s “Hole-in-One” package features a two-night stay, two rounds of golf, breakfast both days and complimentary, unlimited range balls. Lodging options include the recently updated Apple Valley Studios and two- and four-bedroom Fairway Villas.
Two contrasting, 18-hole layouts grace the property: W.B. Lewis-designed Bald Mountain and the Dan Maples-designed Apple Valley, which reopened in August with new Champion Bermuda greens. Apple Valley is Rumbling Bald’s marquee offering, stretching to nearly 6,800 yards and offering jaw-dropping views of Bald Mountain and the surrounding Lake Lure area.
Bald Mountain, at 6,300 yards, is more of a true mountain-style layout with numerous doglegs, up and downhill fairways and diminutive greens. The course is renowned for its unique configuration of five par 5s and five par 3s, as well as its par-3 16th hole, the setting for a scene in the moving Dirty Dancing.
Golf packages combine rounds at both courses with 150 sparkling clean vacation rental homes, condos and studios. Ideal for social distancing, they feature golf course and mountain views. Golfers can eat-in or grab to-go meals from Legends on the Lake, the resort’s casual dining restaurant on Lake Lure.
Western Carolina might be one of the Southeast’s best-kept golf travel secrets. But word has spread that it’s a wonderful place to retire, semi-retire or simply relocate. For years, the Greenville to Asheville corridor has attracted new residents from nearby Charlotte and Atlanta. But lately its gravitational pull extends as far away as New York, Texas and even California.
Smack dab in the middle it all is bucolic Hendersonville, N.C., one of the state’s most charming “main street” towns. While it clearly exists in the impressive shadows cast by the neighboring “villes,” Hendersonville has quietly been making a name for itself on the national scene over the past decade.
Financial Technology website Smart Asset named it the top place to retire in North Carolina, and Southern Living selected this settlement of nearly 14,000 as one of the Tar Heel State’s best small towns. Golf course architect Tom Fazio was bullish on Hendersonville back in the late 80s, opening his office on Main Street and forging one of his seminal designs at nearby Champion Hills.
Situated just minutes from downtown, Champion Hills is a private golf community offering an optimal blend of luxury resale homes and building lots. Its magnificent, mountain-style clubhouse sits atop one of the area’s highest points, affording members and guests unobstructed views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains.
For avid golfers, or those who yearn to be, Champion Hills is nothing short of the promised land. Fazio’s brilliant routing pitches and rolls through heavily forested hills, deep ravines and cool mountain streams. He and his all-star team of shapers deftly pulled ridges into valleys and filled hollows to create “playing platforms” that provide golfers with level lies amid 350-feet of elevation change.
New Champion Hills residents from points north are often pleasantly surprised by how much home they can afford in one of Western North Carolina’s most exclusive mountain communities. Building lots typically range from .5 up to 1.5 acres, with prices from $50,000 to $300,000. Move-in ready luxury residences range from $500,000 to $2 million featuring golf course, mountain and wooded views.
The saying around Champion Hills is “visit for a day, stay for a lifetime.” This moniker holds true for Western Carolina, where many a traveling golfer ends up parking their golf clubs and soft spikes for good.