Oldest Golf Course in North Carolina
Story by Bill F. Hensley
Legend has it that the first person to play “gawfe” in North Carolina was a Scotsman named Alex McGrain who was seen swinging a stick at a feathery ball in a cow pasture near Fayetteville in 1872.
|Linville Golf Club was the first golf course in North Carolina
Whether or not the event actually occurred is pure speculation, but one thing is for sure: the would-be golfer wouldn’t have a course to play on for another twenty years or so.
By all accounts, North Carolina’s first golf course was the Linville Golf Club which was built in the mountain village in 1895. The following year, the seven-hole Cape Fear Country Club in Wilmington appeared, along with a nine-hole layout in Asheville—called the Swannanoa Hunt Club.
One man—Hugh MacRae of Wilmington--had a hand in founding both the Linville and Cape Fear courses. His dream for a mountain resort materialized in 1892 when he created the Eseeola Lodge. By 1894, several holes were under construction along the river and play began the following year. In 1896, the Port City native helped create the Cape Fear course for his hometown.
The Swannanoa course later became the Country Club of Asheville and is now the Grove Park Inn course. Ironically, Donald Ross, the renowned Scotsman who moved to Pinehurst in 1900 redesigned the state’s first three courses, coming up with new layouts for Linville and Grove Park in 1924 and Cape Fear in 1928.
|Linville golf course features lots of water and beautiful scenery. Below: Golfers pause in front of the Linville Golf Clubhouse
In his history book on Linville, author Howard Covington cites 1895 as the year the Linville course first appeared. Hugh MacRae II of Wilmington, grandson of the Linville/Eseeola founder, recalls his grandfather saying that work on four or five holes was begun in 1894 and finished the following year. By the end of the century, Linville had 14 holes.
The first 18-hole course was Pinehurst No. 1 which opened in 1898, shortly after James W. Tufts created the resort on 5,200 acres in the state’s Sandhills area. The first nine holes were designed by an amateur designer, Dr. LeRoy Culver. The club’s professional, J. D. Tucker, added another nine and made modifications to Culver’s creation, including the addition of numerous bunkers. After Ross arrived, he made notable changes to the existing layout.
The Pinehurst Resort staged the state’s first tournament--the North and South men’s amateur—in 1901, and the North and South Open a year later. The amateur event is still being played and this year will be the104th annual. The Open, which was won by such legends as Ben Hogan and Sam Snead, was ended in 1951.
Ross unveiled his No. 2 course in 1907. As he did on No. 1, he tinkered with the design constantly throughout his 48-year stay at Pinehurst. The course is generally regarded as his masterpiece and ranks with the best courses in the world. It is the site of the 2005 US Open championship June 16-19. No. 2 also hosted the 1999 Open which was won by Payne Stewart.
During his career Ross designed 383 courses, 44 of which are in North Carolina. His last creations were the Raleigh Country Club and the Mooresville Golf Club in 1948, the year of his death.
There was very little course construction in the decade from 1900 to 1910. The records show only a second nine at Cape Fear in ’03, the No. 2 course, and a second nine at the Country Club of Asheville (now Grove Park Inn) in ’07. The rumor of a nine-hole course in Southern Pines around this time has not been confirmed.
The Charlotte Country Club came on the scene in 1910 with nine holes, designed by Fred Laxton. The same year, Ross created nine holes at Overhills on the Ft. Bragg military reservation, and the No. 3 course at Pinehurst. The following year, Forsyth in Winston-Salem and Greensboro CC made their debuts.
In 1913, Ross redesigned the front nine at Charlotte and added an additional nine. A year later he introduced No. 4 at Pinehurst. The Tryon CC appeared in 1916 and a second nine was built at Overhills in 1918. This course was owned by the Rockefeller family and has been abandoned.
As the game became more popular by the day, golf course construction took off in the decade from 1920 to 1930, giving rise to many courses that still claim lofty rankings and prestigious reputations.
|A challenging par 3 on the Linville golf course
1922—Biltmore Forest, Benevenue, Blowing Rock, Ryder course at Ft. Bragg
1923—Southern Pines CC, High Hampton
1924-- Linville (redesign) Waynesville, Wilmington Municipal, Grove Park Inn (redesign)
1926-- Richmond Pines, Roaring Gap, Sedgefield, Hope Valley
1927—Pine Needles, Asheville Municipal, Salisbury CC, Hendersonville CC, Monroe
1928—Pinehurst No. 5, Burlington, Carolina (Charlotte), Highlands, Lenoir, Mimosa Hills, Cape Fear (redesign)
(Note: dates may vary a year or two. Some courses list the date design work began while others list the date the course opened. Much of the information for this article was obtained from a book by Donald Ross, and there may be some omissions).
From a modest beginning over a hundred years ago, North Carolina has 565 golf courses today, including 384 that are open to the public. The state ranks tenth nationally, according to the National Golf Foundation. Florida leads all states with 1073 courses, followed by California, Texas and Michigan.