Golf is played with passion in North Carolina. So when the most authoritative statewide source of golf course rankings comes along and selects a trio of yours among its bests, golfers should take note. This year, as in several ones past, the Outer Banks has proven itself once again to be a supplier of some of the game’s most highly coveted courses in the Tar Heel State.

In the Carolinas, you have some of the best choices of fairway wonders in the world. According to the esteemed North Carolina Golf Panel – now in its 26th year – three courses remained among the Top 50 You Can Play in North Carolina: Featured at No. 18 is The Currituck Club, followed closely by Kilmarlic Golf Club at No. 23 and Nags Head Golf Links at No. 33. All three, in addition, rank among the state’s overall Top 100, when taking into consideration both public-access and private venues.

Golf around the storied Outer Banks represents an outstanding selection of enjoyable and affordable yet quality golf courses. Lists like the North Carolina Golf Panel’s are intended to tempt you with some sort of understanding of North Carolina’s golfing mentality and thus add to your golfing pleasure. These headliners, along with a handful of others, have helped transform the Outer Banks into an outdoor sportsman’s paradise. Throw in spacious accommodations and a plethora of off-course activities and you have a destination unlike any other.

From true barrier island links courses to modern parkland marvels located inland, the region is chock full of variety. The challenges at The Pointe Golf Club, The Carolina Club, Nags Head, Kilmarlic and Currituck Club are as spectacular as the coastal views they possess. There may be no better location for a true golf vacation than the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Afternoon drives take on a whole new meaning along the coast just minutes north of Rees Jones’s 18-hole gem known as The Currituck Club, now No. 57 in North Carolina’s Top 100. The Corolla keeper is the grandest design along the coast “sculpted on the type of land where golf began” among 600 acres of dunes, wetlands, maritime forests, and sound seascapes.

Every time golfers tackle historic Nags Head – also included in North Carolina’s Top 100 at (what No. 99?) – they find themselves facing a different challenge. Crafted by Bob Moore, Nags Head plays hard along the inner waterway on the southern end of the Outer Banks, where capricious breezes off sound-side waters create a unique golfing experience each and every day. With its coastal winds, rugged shoreline, island holes, seaside vistas, and tees and greens separated by rolling dunes and wild sea grass, Nags Head bears far more than a passing resemblance to the famed Scottish golf links.

Home to various golf cottages located near its entrance, Kilmarlic is a popular Tom Steele design nestled along the marshland of the Albemarle Sound. North Carolina’s No. 77 course in the Top 100 is a wonderful mainland design amidst 605 beautiful acres of maritime forest providing a pure OBX layout with water and wetlands virtually in play at all times.

Located just across the Wright Memorial Bridge, The Pointe is the first in a sequence of championship golf courses — layouts close to the sounds and ocean but more parkland in settings. The course is also said to be the first in the country to have the A-1 bent grass — a dense, disease-resistant strain — installed across its corridors. Meanwhile, The Carolina Club’s positioning as the first design heading into town from the north and last one on the way out makes it the ideal play on either side of your OBX golf getaway.

Three Days and Two Nights on the Outer Banks

The region known as the Outer Banks is home to the morning drive. You wake up early, eat a hearty meal at one of the multitude of breakfast nooks around town, hop into your car and head to the first tee.

But this is not where the drive ends. In OBX, it’s where the pedal-to-the-metal, grip-it-and-rip-it excitement begins.

Each year this renowned beach resort destination attracts thousands of golfers of all over the country and from all skill levels in search of playing the wind-swept game along the North Carolina coast. With eclectic accommodations to be found up and down the waterfronts and top-of-the-line golf courses scattered among them, the options are limitless.

As golf courses of the Outer Banks become more dominant attractions, there is a need to organize trips built specifically around playing them. To make things a little easier, we have put together a trio of tried-and-true golf itineraries – each one a little bolder than the next.

We’ll start with what we call our “Par Saver” schedule, designed for less serious golfers not wanting to venture too far from home base. From there we advance to the “Birdie Chaser” itinerary, tailored to the needs of the more adventure-seeking players. Finally we have the “Tour of the Shore” lineup, crafted for the really serious players looking to take a really deep dive into the Outer Banks golf experience. Of course these are just a few examples on how to formulate an outstanding buddy golf trip to the region (mixing and matching can be achieved). Any way you shape it, you’ll be on your way to an unforgettable adventure.

Itinerary:  The Par Saver

For those looking to stay close to their accommodations while venturing out to play golf, the Par Saver may be just the ticket. A foursome staying in a fully-equipped Kilmarlic Golf Cottage will have not only have access to three great golf courses without all the traffic of the main drag, but they will have an array of in-between golf activities to partake in as well. Highway 158 through Grandy and Powells Point features a trio of popular, upscale layouts that provide an inland diversion to the truly ocean-side adventure golfers will discover on the next two itineraries. With Kilmarlic, The Pointe and The Carolina Club situated just minutes apart each right off U.S. Highway 158, they provide affordable golf with not a lot of time spent behind the wheel.

Day 1:

Check into your luxurious Kilmarlic cottage early afternoon still with plenty of time to enjoy an evening round at The Pointe. The Pointe – located just a few minutes from the Kilmarlic cottage neighborhood – is the ideal course to begin your trip as it is generally wide open and forgiving with some of the finest turf conditions and one of the largest practice ranges in the region.

Afterwards, a dinner at the one of the nearby barbeque places along Highway 158 (Currituck Barbeque is just up the road) is a treat. Or if it happens to be a Thursday night, Kilmarlic may be hosting a barbeque feast outdoors in the cottage courtyard. There are also many delicious culinary treats about 15 minutes away just across the Wright Brothers Bridge.

As a wind down to the day or to get the juices flowing for day two, golfers can play a few games on Kilmarlic’s par three short course – “The Killie” – and lighted putting green right off their cottage front porch.

Day 2:

You really don’t have to look far for a great breakfast options as all three golf course clubhouses offer great menus. The Pointe is particularly inviting, especially if you want to spend more time afterwards practicing out on the range.

A short drive up the road will have you at the Carolina Club ready to tee off in minutes. Grab some grub at the turn and enjoy your day on this imaginative layout with its inviting island green.

You’ll want to schedule some sort of beachy activity that afternoon or perhaps take in a history tour at the Wright Brothers National Memorial where the brothers first discovered flight in Kitty Hawk.

Dinner afterwards at Awful Arthur’s Oyster Bar, Barefoot Bernies, Black Pelican, Ocean Boulevard or The Kill Devil Grill are always a pleasure on your way back to the cottage.

Day 3:

This day should be reserved for the total Kilmarlic experience. The course, designed by award-winning architect Tom Steele, sits surrounded by 605 acres of historic maritime forest and among sprawling wetlands. This “unique partnership between golf and nature” is truly something to be savored and not rushed.

A short walk to breakfast in the clubhouse can be followed by some putting or chipping games on the facility’s fine practice area. Round these out with a pro-style warm-up on the range and then head out for a golfing experience as memorable as any you will find in OBX.

Part Two of our itinerary series features the “Birdie Chaser” itinerary, tailored to the needs of the more adventure-seeking players. 

The Birdie Chaser

A stay on the island featuring three rounds of golf all along the beach. If your group prefers to be closer to the shore, you can choose from a vast array of beach- or sound-side homes that range from one-bedroom condos to multiple bedroom estates. You can rest up between rounds at any number of privately-owned vacation residences with luxuries such as private pools, pool tables, high-definition televisions and much more.

Courses include the Currituck Club up north and Nags Head Golf Links to the south.

Things to do: The shifting sands of Jockey’s Ridge, the largest natural sand dune on the East Coast (located in Nags Head), provide for lots of laughter and plenty of soft landings. Whether you choose to run down it or hang glide off it, a dose of the “Ridge” will leave some lasting impressions. While there, take advantage of your early tee time. The sunrises over the ocean and sunsets over the sound from atop Jockey’s Ridge are spectacular.

Dining: Ask any regular visitor to OBX and he or she will most likely clue you in about breakfast at Sam and Omies. Or lunch at the Lucky 12. Or dinner at Owens’ Restaurant. These are just a sampling of the timeless dining experiences you’ll discover along the main OBX strip.

Part Three of our itinerary series features the “Tour of the Shore” itinerary, which has been crafted for the really serious players looking to take a really deep dive into the Outer Banks golf experience.

Eclectic accommodations can be found all along the OBX, ranging from Sanderling Resort and in Duck, the always-favorite, four-bedroom Kilmarlic Club Cottage featuring golf course views over the mainland standout.

Day 1:

Start with a round at Kilmarlic or one of the other two inland courses from the Par Saver itinerary on your way into town.

Day 2:

Currituck Club, a Rees Jones-designed layout winds through a premier, gated community in Corolla, features diverse coastal terrain (including sand dunes, wetlands, maritime forests and sound-side shoreline) and glimpses of the Currituck Sound, particularly on signature holes at the par-5 seventh and par-3 15th. Like all the great links courses abroad, the Currituck Club can change complexion according to the wind speed and direction. Play it on three consecutive days and you’ll likely enjoy three different experiences.

As unique an après-golf excursion to be found anyway is in the form of 12 miles of beachfront that is only accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles. Known as “beach riding,” this one-of-a-kind activity leads you to nothing but sun, sand, ocean, some vacation rental homes and those wild Spanish mustangs that can be found grazing in an untamed area called the “Corolla Outback.” Spotting the feisty horses is a popular OBX pastime.

There’s always a fresh catch of the day at any number of other fine eating establishments (i.e., North Banks Restaurant and Raw Bar in Corolla) that will keep you coming back for more.

Day 3: 

Nags Head Golf Links features holes routed right along the Roanoke Sound with winds that seemingly change by the minute. The front nine’s fifth and ninth and the back nine’s 15th and 18th holes actually play right along the water in opposite directions, making club selection more art than science. Though not located directly on the water, the well- bunkered, 160-yard, par-3 17th hole (with sound waters lapping just beyond the dunes that surround the green) provides a quintessential British golf feel.

Post round, there are many spirits to enjoy at the likes of Outer Banks Distilling Company (home of Kill Devil Rum), Outer Banks Brewing Station or TRIO Restaurant & Market.

So you are playing (in your head) the state’s “Dream 18” as decreed by North Carolina Tourism a few years ago. You have already teed off in the Sandhills on the treacherous fifth hole at famed Pinehurst No. 2, dragged your clubs through the shadows of majestic mountains to the eighth green at High Hampton Inn & Country Club in the west and struck memorable approach shots from Tanglewood Park near Winston-Salem in the north all the way to the southern coast at The Reserve Club at St. James Plantation in Southport.

Your brain whirls as it conjures up images of timeless moments where the state’s natural canvass and the brilliance of some of the world’s finest golf course designers collide in cosmic wonder. That’s when you (finally) step up to the 15th tee box at Nags Head Golf Links. You’ve arrived, perhaps, at the hole you have anticipated most. The sound-side par three is a true marvel and it welcomes you to of one of the finest stretches of seaside golf to be found on the planet.

Described as “the cruelest” of Nags Head’s five par 3s, No. 15 is a 200-plus-yard brute and played into a gust of wind can find your ball either on the green or into a pond on the left or possibly the Roanoke Sound on the right. From there, a par-4, par-3, par-5 finish next to waters that constantly slap onto the land will have you convinced you are playing links golf in the British Isles.

“Playing Nags Head Golf Links is a different challenge everyday based on the direction and intensity of wind,” says General Manager Patrick Kelly. “This is especially true on the closing holes on both the front and back nines. Golf Digest once called the holes along the sound, ‘among the most beautiful in the United States.’ The 15th hole is truly something special as well. The length alone would make it a tough hole on any course but put a pond in front and a large body of water to the right and a wind that changes all the time and you have the makings of a classic golf hole – one you will never forget.”

In all, wind, water and wetlands come into play on the majority of holes at Nags Head. The course also has a magical way of changing almost by the minute. If your golf travel plans take you anywhere near North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a round at Nags Head and a shot at one of the state’s premiere holes as it begins its classic finishing stretch is a must.

Course review by golf writer Bill Kamenjar

Of all the prime real estate golf courses located on or near the Outer Banks, Kilmarlic offers the most distinct in terms of inland feel. Of course, as they like to say in these parts, you can play a round on this challenging design and have your “toes in the ocean in ten minutes.”

Despite its secluded nature, Kilmarlic actually plays nears the Albemarle Sound which is visible on a number of holes. Primarily tucked away in a maritime forest, the routing puts nearly every shot in peril as a ball struck here travels across sprawling wetlands and ponds. Award-winning course architect Tom Steele’s classic design creates stimulating challenges with an outstanding layout in top-notch condition. Golf your way through canopies of giant oak, pine and dogwood that exemplify the natural beauty of North Carolina’s Outer Banks and you will start to understand Kilmarlic’s unique partnership between the game and nature.

The landing areas at Kilmarlic have always been generous as they lead to gently sloping greens surrounded by contoured approaches and deep greenside bunkers. These days, golfers will discover a little less playing surface but a much more aesthetically pleasing Kilmarlic.

According to Director of Golf Bryan Sullivan, “We’ve been doing a good amount of renovation out on the golf course this year. We have taken out 25 acres of Bermuda grass and turned them into natural areas, mainly around tee boxes and along the back of bunkers. These high grasses give it a really cool contrasting look and it doesn’t affect the playability of the course. In essence, it frames the layout better.”

Having devoted most of its focus on the areas golfers deem most important: tees, fairways, greens, Kilmarlic is now going the extra mile.

“We started looking at areas we felt we could improve upon all the while preserving the layout’s integrity and playability.” Sullivan added. “So we have turned some spots that really aren’t in play into natural grassy areas. Not only are we helping the carbon footprint, but it allows our staff to spend more time concentrating on the areas golfers truly want to see in the best possible condition.”

Other improvements to the design include the subtraction/addition of a few bunkers and the development of a number of new championship tee boxes to extend the layout’s overall length to nearly 6,700 yards.

“We are still working to get the complete look that we want,” Sullivan said. “It is really starting to look good. People like the contrast.”

 

Course Review by golf writer Bill Kamenjar

It may have been a long time arriving, but once North Carolina’s Outer Banks finally joined the big leagues of golf destinations on the East Coast, there have been no thoughts of laying up at any point since. But if there is just one name – well make that two – that is synonymous with golf’s true arrival along this strip of ocean-front real estate it has to be the Currituck Club. The other is Jones. Rees Jones.

Together, Jones (son of classic golf course architect Robert Trent Jones Sr.) and his mid 1990s Currituck creation formed the big-block engine that continues to drive golfers to this seaside sanctuary. Sure there were others before it, but once in the batter’s box, the Currituck Club became the cleanup hitter for rest of the lineup. In fact, it was recently named as one of the Top 9 Best Public Golf Courses in North Carolina by TravelAwaits.com (a list that includes several Donald Ross designs from Pinehurst and around the state).

Jones, known as the “Open Doctor” due to his time sprucing up U.S. Open venues across the nation, took natural surroundings and crafted a fantastic golf challenge, creating a wonderfully undisturbed course that will astound even the most discerning golfer. Situated along the last bastion of undeveloped land on the Outer Banks proper, Currituck has developed into a magnet along Route 12, the only main road north from the Wright Memorial Bridge to Corolla. The 600-acre sliver of land, once owned by the Currituck Shooting Club, has turned into something special. It is truly a prime example of a modern golf course blending within natural surroundings.

“It’s a great piece of property and a great layout,” says Currituck Club General Manager Richard Beetle.

Of course with Jones’ blessing – calling the land he was gifted as “one of the best pieces of golfer course property on the East Coast” – the Currituck Club has evolved into somewhat of a traditional Scottish links-style playground (although it may be a bit more wooded than the originals from overseas). Very few courses developed near the Atlantic Ocean can claim natural elevation changes. But the back nine here offers massive undulations along the fairways and elevation changes that reach 80 feet above sea level. Thanks to natural rolling dunes, several holes offer a challenge rarely heard of along typically flat, barrier islands. In addition, the Currituck Club possesses six of the more spectacular sound-view holes on the Outer Banks, including its signature hole par-3 No. 15 that plays over inlet marsh to a well-protected green.

Despite having long established itself as the flagship course (with its location, design and designer pedigree) for the OBX destination, the Currituck Club is not content to rest on its laurels.

“Over the last several years our golf course staff has resodded nearly all of the tee boxes and put out more than eight acres of new sod which is equivalent to about eight football fields,” adds Beetle. “The staff has also resodded the fringes around most of the greens. These efforts are designed to make improvements to the overall condition of the fairways and add to the playability around the green complexes for golfers to enjoy.”

 

Course Review by golf writer Bill Kamenjar

Tourism has always been king on the once barren, now booming strip of land known as OBX. For the golf tourist, perhaps the most welcoming layout of all is the Russell Breeden/Keith Hall designed course known as The Carolina Club. In fact, the venue has no choice but to be welcoming as it is the first course you will pass when entering the region as you drive into town.

There is something to be said to being first. Though Carolina Club is actually one of the last entrants into the OBX golf market, its prime location makes it an easy choice for those coming into or on their way out from the popular beach resort.

Also the longest course (stretching beyond 7,000 yards) in the area and the sister design to The Pointe, The Carolina Club banks its reputation on having been crafted with the use of all the tools of modern golf course design. Over this 18-hole wonder is an island green, a hole-long bunker and plenty of water to provide players with all kinds of challenges. A creative mix of three par 3s and three par 5s characterize the front nine with the sixth and seventh holes forming a unique coupling. The par-5 sixth is the longest hole on the course and features marshland stretching across the fairway while the seventh hole (the course’s shorty) showcases the area’s premiere island green.

The back nine also boasts several well-designed holes including the 10th and 13th delivering good examples of modern golf design. The closing stretch of pars 4-3-5 is also thrilling with the 17th serving as The Carolina Club’s arguable signature hole (some would remain steadfast with the island green seventh) with its stadium-like setting. The Carolina Club is a winner of the “Locals’ Choice” award for great golf on the Outer Banks. Meticulously manicured, this meaty par-72 championship golf course may well be the highlight of your stay on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Course review by golf writer Bill Kamenjar

As one of the more forgiving golf courses in the OBX arsenal, The Pointe located in Grandy is a favorite among the locals. From the time players have eaten a home-style breakfast in the grill, warmed up on the newly redesigned practice range, teed off on the 528-yard, par-5 No. 1 to their final putt is holed out on another par 5 at No. 18, the experience at the Pointe is a round to remember.

Routed by big-name designer Russell Breeden back in the mid 1990s, The Pointe opened to strong reviews due to its heritage as a former turf farm. With experimental turf installed during its formulation (the course was the first in the country with lush A1 bentgrass) and having since become well rooted, the course stakes its reputation on excellent playing conditions. The Pointe is a somewhat short (6,343 yards), fairly open design featuring some of the best putting greens in the area. Shots into the greens are also fun watch as plush fairways ensure ideal lies upon impact. Nestled along the Currituck Sound, the design is a unique blend of traditional and links style design built for speed of play. With the wind once again being the great equalizer, The Pointe provides a never ending challenge and is located just minutes from the beach on the west of the bridge.

Since the Outer Banks frequently attracts once-a-year players, The Pointe also serves the visiting golfer well in that his or her game can be a little off the mark yet still survive and even thrive. Several parallel fairways provide greater visual comfort for higher handicaps, though good players will also enjoy the stroll across the picturesque rural landscape.

Review by golf writer Bill Kamenjar

I used to think wild horses couldn’t drag me away from the golf course. Or the sight and sounds of the ocean. Though that’s never been the case with the burning hunger a round of golf can produce.

But things have changed. As a devoted visitor to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, it didn’t take long for me to learn that the descendants of Spanish Mustangs survived 16th century shipwrecks. They swam ashore and have roamed the white sandy beaches ever since. An adventure horse tour across these creatures’ natural dune and seaside habitats, consequently, has had a way of occasionally enticing me away from the sea of green fairways along the Northern banks.

Then, of course, there’s the beach. There’s nothing quite as soothing as digging one’s toes (sans the wedge) into the soft sand while the pounding surf slows – at the very spot where every wave’s long journey across the Atlantic Ocean comes to an end and the sea retreats into itself.

The one great temptation, however, that has always acted as a magnetic pull away from the fairway has been the primal craving for some grub. And after a round of golf on a course like the Currituck Club, there’s no place more special than the place where “North Carolina’s barbeque culture meets fresh coastal seafood.”

When I (along with my playing partners) decide to serve up a four-course golfing delight in Northern OBX, it begins at one of these clubs: Currituck, Kilmarlic, The Carolina Club or The Pointe. But one thing I have noticed through all of my times of swiping my way across these delightful designs is the tremendous appetite that any one – or all in the same trip – seem to create.

Reasons to Dig In

Golf, it has been said, is a whole different bag of shag balls. And because of that it has its own unique way of developing a scandalous hunger – especially that played along the coast. Maybe it’s the fresh salt air. Or the time spent lining up putts. Or hacking out of waste bunkers. There’s just something about the four hours spent with good companions playing a game that we all love. While a hot dog and a pack of orange-colored peanut butter crackers (a snack, incidentally, that is a North Carolina invention: Lance Cracker in Charlotte!) at the turn can usually contain those hunger pangs for a while, it’s not until you have packed up your sticks, stuffed them in the trunk and headed for your favorite après golf destination that some real savory pleasures unfold.

When my group pulls out the stops and heads for OBX, we like to experience a variety of options over the course of several days and rounds. No matter what the score, we rarely have to travel very far to score the perfect meal.

To begin with, there are plenty of dining options when golfing along coastal Corolla or mainland Currituck, or both. Seafood, of course, is a virtual no brainer on most barrier island menus. At places like The Oceanfront Grille in Corolla, local catch can be had, complete with fantastic views of the Atlantic surf. For more customary palates, steaks, chicken and other non-seafood items are prepared daily.

Over on the mainland, there’s the Pass the Salt Café, with its alternative, down-home-cooked menu to enjoy. As for the traditional barbeque side of the hunger chart, you roll up on it quickly at Currituck BBQ. Situated on Rte. 158 almost halfway between the border of Virginia and North Carolina and Outer Banks, this timely location has become a favorite stopover for many locals and beach goers since 2006. Using only fresh ingredients, Currituck BBQ specializes in hickory-smoked, slow-cooked Pork BBQ, Beef Brisket, Pork Ribs and BBQ Chicken. With a variety of great sauces and sides, a drop in here is a must on every golf adventure into or out of the Outer Banks.

There are, naturally, other barbeque variations to be had in northern OBX including Corolla Village BBQ and B.J.’s Carolina Café. For the stay-and-play lovers, both the Point Golf Club’s Greenside Bar & Grill and the Carolina Club’s Tuckers Sports Bar & Grille offer scrumptious barbeque of varying ingredients and presentation. On Thursday nights during the season, in addition, sweet barbeque aromas have been noticed wafting from the courtyard of the stay-and-play Golf Cottages at Kilmarlic Golf Club.

But barbeque and creatures from the sea aren’t the only treasures to be found along the northern Outer Banks. And, of course, a few southerly excursions to places along the beach like Kitty Hawk and even into Nags Head (home of the Nags Head Golf Links) are also in play. In my next blog post I will feature a complete rundown of some of my and my golf buddies’ favorite places to refuel the body after a day of traversing OBX’s choice fairways and greens.