Golf course designer Ron Garl has created over 250 golf courses around the world and Sapphire National Golf Club is certainly one of his finest. It has received a 4 ½ star golf course rating from Golf Digest. Garl has stated that his goal at Sapphire National “was to design an exciting, innovative and unique golf course that artfully employs the natural characteristics of the mountainous terrain and waterfalls yet adheres to sensitive land design where both the environment and man can not only coexist- but also thrive.” I’ll go along with his statement for the most part although in some parts of the Sapphire National layout, it’s the course that does the thriving!
Sapphire National Golf Club is the only 18-hole golf course in the Highlands, Cashiers, and Sapphire region that is open to the public and doesn’t require a hotel stay. Sapphire National offers players five sets of tees that play anywhere from 6,724 (Black Tees) to 4,686 (Red Tees). Choosing the right set of tees is critical to the amount of enjoyment you will derive from Sapphire National Golf Club. The rule of thumb is: Right tees are delightful, wrong tees are frightful! And, in the event your round’s not going well, step back and look at the beauty God has surrounded you with. That’s what I did; come to think of it, I spent a lot of time looking at nature!
Sapphire National plays to a par of 70 on bent grass tees, fairways and greens. The front nine features three par 3s, four par 4’s and two par 5s and only one par 5 on the back. As you make your way around this 18-hole championship mountain course, you can’t help but admire the beauty and splendor of the location. Scenic mountain views, dramatic elevation changes both up and down and lush forests give way to water features and picturesque bunkering throughout the layout.
Most Memorable Hole: Number 2: Par 3, 225 yards (Black tees). This is one of the most intimidating par threes you will ever face. Even though the green is less elevated and more than twice its original size, it is still a challenge to hit and hold off of a tee box that sits over 100 feet above it. The rocks to the left add not only aesthetic value but can also offer the occasional friendly carom; unfortunately, not for me! Avoid the pot bunker on the right side or face a tough up and down. Back right pin placements can be exceptionally challenging. It’s not often that a par 3 is rated one of the 3 hardest holes on a golf course.
Favorite Par 3: Number 15, 170 yards (Black tees). In addition to being known for creating replica holes from famous golf courses around the world, Ron Garl loves to throw in the occasional island green. Although it’s not an exact copy of Number 17 on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, it is very reminiscent of it. The island green sits 70 feet below the tee box and the pot bunker on the front left side brings on an added challenge. Find it off the tee instead of the green and your par just became a whole lot tougher. With the lake surrounded by woods, this hole looks like it belongs on a Hallmark card!
Favorite Par 4: Number 13, 410 yards (Black tees). Not only is this one of the most famous and photographed golf holes in all of North Carolina, it also rates as the toughest on the inward 9. It’s a dogleg left that requires you to hit a long tee shot to make it to the turn; trees guard both sides of the fairway making it that much tougher. Your approach shot plays up a rise of about 50 feet to one of the smallest greens on the course and is protected on the right side by a beautiful waterfall. There’s also small pot bunkers that sit several feet below the putting surface in the front left and front right of the green as well as another in the back. Par is an outstanding score here.
Favorite Par 5: Number 1, 595 yards (Black tees). Nothing like getting the longest hole out of the way quickly. Your first shot of the day – provided you’re not playing in a scramble – requires a decision: try and carry the creek off the tee or not. Your second shot requires some accuracy in order to avoid the two fairway bunkers on the right and one on the left in the landing area. Success so far means all that’s left to do with your approach shot is to fly the creek and strategically placed bunker that guards the front of a small green and make your putt. Is there a better way to start your day?
After your round, be sure to stop by the Sapphire Mountain Brewing Company, conveniently located in the clubhouse. This family-friendly establishment is a full-service restaurant and bar, showcasing over 100 of the area’s finest craft beers. The restaurant and adjoining patio overlook the 8th and 18th greens. The food is outstanding and not your typical clubhouse fare. Appetizers such as Soft Pretzel bites, which are served with their homemade beer cheese sauce, or Hillbilly peppers, fire-roasted jalapeno peppers filled with fresh cream cheese and wrapped in applewood bacon, served with a smoky coulis. Their “Pub Grub” features an Angry Bird sandwich; it’s grilled chicken with sriracha mayo, pepper jack cheese, jalapeno peppers, lettuce, tomato and onion served on a soft bakery bun. Good thing you’ve got ice cold beers to wash down all those hot ingredients. They may not cool down the fire in your belly, but those craft beers will sure have you feeling good! In case you’re extra hungry SMBC’s Baby Back Ribs or 12 oz Ribeye steak dinner is sure to satisfy the biggest of appetites. Sapphire Mountain Brewing Company also offers wood-fired pizzas and calzones with that one-of-a-kind wood fire flavor. Their signature pies are handcrafted, rolled and tossed the old-fashioned way and then baked in a wood-fired oven. They offer 12 varieties or you can create your own. Whatever your palette desires, you won’t be disappointed.
The golf course at Sapphire National underwent extensive renovations several years ago and now it’s the Brewery’s turn! Renovations and expansions are planned for the Sapphire Mountain Brewing Company that will make it the most happening nightspot in the area. There are also plans to greatly expand the practice facilities. On your next visit, take a look at the pictures of the proposed expansion. And, in case you want to play the course multiple times, lodging is available nearby.
No matter the state of your game, Sapphire National will prove to be a worthy adversary. For more information on this breathtaking mountain golf course, visit their website at www.sapphirenational.com. You can also book your tee time online from the website.