10 best public golf courses around Charlotte, ranked

10 best public golf courses around Charlotte, ranked

Eagle Chase golf course No. 13. Photo: Chris Beeman/Axios

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This guide was updated in May 2022 updated with our 2022 rankings.

There are more than 45 public and semi-private golf courses within an hour’s drive of Charlotte. Chris Beeman has played them all and collected other golfers’ reviews for the past two decades.

  • Beeman lives in Uptown Charlotte and runs The B-Man’s Guide to Golf, a site founded in 2002 that was built “for the golfer, by the golfer.”
  • He plays on TheGrint Tour, a PGA-style amateur golf tour for players of all skill levels. He also does web and social media marketing for TripCaddie.com, Homestretch Golf and several other golf brands.

He uses four criteria to determine the top 10 courses:

  • The “Wow” Factor: something about the course that is unique, makes you want to come back and that you tell your friends about
  • Conditions: consistently great year-round conditions (especially on the greens) are a must for this list
  • Layout: a mix of fun, challenges and good design throughout 18 holes
  • Amenities: practice area, restaurant/bar, clubhouse facilities, etc. that make your entire golf experience great

Tidbits: Verdict Ridge, the No. 1 course on this list the past three years, is now closed to the public on weekends, and it’s been bumped down a notch this year. So there’s a new No. 1.

  • Charlotte also lost its one and only true resort golf course at the end of 2020: The Golf Club at Ballantyne (#5 on the 2020 Top 10 list). The golf course at the resort has been redeveloped as part of “Ballantyne Reimagined” and is now a park, open daily to the public.

Six of the Top 10 golf courses in the list below are more than a 40-minute drive from Uptown Charlotte. Here they are:

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1. Rock Barn Golf & Spa (Jackson Course)

With Verdict Ridge now private on weekends and Ballantyne’s resort course closing last year, Rock Barn ascends to the top of public access courses in the Charlotte area.

Rock Barn hole 15

Rock Barn No. 15. Photo: Chris Beeman/Axios

Location: Conover, about an hour north of Charlotte

Rates: $55 weekdays, $65 weekends

Type: Semiprivate

Description/Analysis: The trip is well worth it. Conditions are pristine here and kept like a resort course, with quick and well-maintained bentgrass greens. The golf carts include GPS video screens with interactive hole maps to plot distances to hazards and contour “heat maps” of the greens to help with approach shots.

  • The layout includes risk-reward scoring opportunities that will increase your heart rate. Almost all of the five par 3s and several other holes require carries over water.

Toughest hole: The par-5 10th hole is this course in a nutshell – a visually stunning elevated tee shot to a dogleg left fairway some 50 yards below the tee box. On the second shot, you can choose to challenge the large pond between you and the green and reach in two (minimum 170 yard carry) or play it “safer” down the right side of the pond and try to avoid the fairway bunkers guarding the layup route.

  • Whichever route you take and no matter your score, you will talk about this hole after your round and want to play it again.

Extras: This club offers memberships giving you full access to the Jones course as well as the Jackson course, the spa and the Champ’s Bistro. The Jackson Course is still one of the best weekend public golf values around at $65 with cart and range balls included.

2. Verdict Ridge Golf & Country Club – Denver

One of the most visually stunning courses in the area, Verdict Ridge offers beauty, challenge, conditions and amenities on par with nearby private clubs.

Verdict Ridge No. 9

Verdict Ridge No. 9. Photo: Chris Beeman/Axios

Location: Denver, about 30 minutes north of Charlotte

Rates: $54 weekdays, $74 weekends

Type: Semiprivate, closed to the public Friday through Sunday.

Description/Analysis: For the first time since these rankings were first published in 2019, Verdict Ridge drops out of the top spot.

  •  It’s not the course’s fault. It’s still spectacular. But as of April 1, the club dropped down to only weekdays for the public, in an effort to keep the course clear for members on weekends.

Verdict Ridge plays like a mountain course, with steep hills and valleys throughout. It’s kept in great condition year round with fast Champion Bermuda greens. You’ll want to play your first round here with a veteran of the course to give you some tips.

Favorite hole: The 347-yard par-4 9th. It’s one of the most beautiful in all of Charlotte. With water all along the right side, it’s best to play an iron from the tee off the left slope. Then you have a short iron approach into a green guarded by a small creek on the left and the pond on the right — with a waterfall behind the green offering a scenic backdrop.

Extras: Spend some time in Guilties Bistro after the round for dinner and drinks. If you live nearby, check out their different membership options.

3. Rocky River Golf Club

It’s within earshot of Charlotte Motor Speedway and paired with the Embassy Suites hotel and spa. It offers resort-like amenities and course conditions in the midst of NASCAR country.

Rocky River No. 3

The famous rock on third hole at Rocky River. Photo: Chris Beeman/Axios

Location: Concord, about 15 minutes north of Charlotte

Rates: $52 weekdays, $72 weekends

Type: Semiprivate

Description/Analysis: You can hear drivers making practice runs at the racetrack from the first few holes.

  • The Dan Maples design was renovated with Bermuda grass greens in 2012.
  • Several holes require well placed tee shots, as water hazards, wetlands and thick pines will swallow errant shots. Those challenges along with elevation changes and thick Bermuda rough can make this a difficult course to score on. You’ll need to take advantage of the easier holes, like the short downhill dogleg right par-4 14th hole with those wetlands on the left but out of play.

Favorite hole: Par-5 3rd features a humongous boulder in the middle of the fairway. (I’ve seen a tee shot bounce off the top and leave less than 150 yards in for the approach!)

  • The boulder, “Gragg’s Rock,” is named in honor of Floyd Gragg, one of the area’s longest-serving golf professionals who oversaw the opening of the course in 1997.

4. Carolina Lakes Golf Club

Always pristine, this course and offers fun challenges for all ages and skill levels with a great practice area and excellent restaurant as well.

Carolina lakes No. 15

Carolina Lakes No. 15. Photo: Chris Beeman/Axios

Location: Indian Land, S.C., about 30 minutes south of Uptown Charlotte

Rates: $59 weekdays, $79 weekends

Type: Semiprivate

Description/Analysis: Just across the state line, Carolina Lakes is one of the few public courses in the Charlotte area to still feature bentgrass greens. Those greens are very large and several are two tiered, making your approach shot accuracy very important.

  • With the residential homes lining most of the holes, there is a ton of out-of-bounds to go along with many natural hazards. I consider this course to be one of the most “bunkered” ones around town — hopefully, your sand game is solid.
  • The layout features a wide variety of holes including doglegs, elevation changes, shorter risk-reward par 4s and reachable par 5s.

Sneaky-tough hole: Watch out for the par-3 16th hole with its intimidating 175-plus-yard carry over water and bunkers from the back two tees.

Extras: The practice areas are large and perfect for lessons and clinics. The Tavern on the Lakes restaurant looks over the practice area and is also top notch.

5. Skybrook Golf Club

Since a 2019 renovation and change in ownership, Skybrook’s upgraded amenities and course conditions have carried it into the Top 5 on this list.

Skybrook No. 15

Skybrook No. 15. Photo: Chris Beeman/Axios

Location: Huntersville, 17 minutes north of Uptown Charlotte

Rates: $57 weekdays, $70 weekends

Type: Semiprivate

Description/Analysis: Skybrook opened in 2000 and after a few years of struggle, it’s roared back under new ownership (Pinnacle Golf Properties, which now managers several other former Carolina Trail golf courses in Charlotte) and renewed community support.

  • It has a distinct mountain course feel to it, similar to Verdict Ridge, with large elevation changes tee to green, sloped fairways and undulating greens. Like many Charlotte area courses, Skybrook switched over from bentgrass to mini-verde Bermuda grass in 2019.

Toughest holes: The closing four-hole stretch here one of the best in Charlotte public golf: a short but well-bunkered par-4 15th, a long par-3 16th over water, a scary pond-guarded par-4 17th, and finally the S-shaped signature par-5 18th.

Extras: The upgraded clubhouse features the Skytop Grill with large screen TVs and outdoor patio seating overlooking the 9th hole.

6. Deer Brook Golf Club

The best value in the Top 10. 

Deer Brook No. 18

Deer Brook No. 18. Photo: Chris Beeman/Axios

Location: Shelby, 50 miles west of Charlotte

Rates: $35 weekdays, $47 weekends

Type: Public

Description/Analysis: Deer Brook Golf Club jumps into the spot vacated by the now-closed Ballantyne Resort course. The scenic layout has great views, and the difficulty lies in the typically fast, tiered and sloped bentgrass greens.

Closing strong: The finishing holes pose great risk-reward challenges. The par-5 17th tempts you to go for the green in two, but your approach will have to carry water. The long par-4 18th also has an approach shot over water to a sloped green that sits right in front of the clubhouse where your buddies can watch you finish.

Extras: This semiprivate club offers affordable memberships starting at only $85/mo. The clubhouse restaurant Mulligan’s serves a full lunch and dinner menu with outdoor seating.

7. Eagle Chase Golf Club

Hidden among the farms of Union County, with no houses or other forms of civilization intruding, Eagle Chase Golf Club is now widely known for its challenging and fun layout and some of the best-kept greens around.

eagle-chase-golf-course-north-carolina

Eagle Chase. Photo: Chris Beeman/Axios

Location: Marshville, about 45-60 minutes east of Charlotte

Rates: $44 weekdays, $60 weekends

Type: Semiprivate

Description/Analysis: Eagle Chase is all about the golf, with just a simple clubhouse and snack bar to accompany the practice area and 18 hole layout. The course features Diamond Zoysia grass greens (installed in 2013) that are typically in immaculate shape.

Hardest Hole: The par-4 2nd hole is one fo the toughest par-4s in the area. It’s 412 yards from the elevated back tee with a large pond along the left side and a creek along the right. If you’d give me a bogey on that hole, I’d take your offer and skip on every time.

  • One the other hand, the par-4 13th hole is only 334 yards from the elevated back tee with a carry over the pond – a great birdie opportunity, with a view!

Extra: Eagle Chase is located in the hometown of country singer Randy Travis. The course will complete a bunker renovation this spring that will see the red dirt replaced with white, fluffy sand – a welcome and significant improvement.

8. Warrior Golf Club

Built around the beautiful 52-acre Lake Wright and convenient to both I-77 and I-85 north of Charlotte, Warrior has beautiful views, rolling terrain and immaculate Bermuda greens.

Warrior No. 9

Warrior No. 9. Photo: Chris Beeman/Axios

Location: China Grove, about 45 minutes north of Charlotte

Rates: $51 weekdays, $68 weekends

Type: Semiprivate

Description/Analysis: Warrior Golf Club’s greens were renovated to Champion Ultra Dwarf Bermuda in 2018. There are very few flat holes, and lake comes into play several times. The layout includes many scoring opportunities via reachable par 5s and with three of the five par-3 holes only requiring mid-iron approaches.

Favorite hole: The short downhill par-4 15th. Avoid the strategically placed pot bunkers in the fairway and you should have a great view and a short approach shot into the green which backs up to the lake.

  • I despise the 7th hole. This quirky 407-yard par 4 requires a very precise, 175-plus-yard forced carry tee shot from a turf mat (impossible to get a tee into) and then an approach guarded by a hazard.

Notes: The renovation in 2018 also included removal of almost 2,000 trees to improve sunlight and airflow to each green complex. The golf carts now feature touch screen GPS to aid your distance measurements and course strategy.

9. Mooresville Golf Club

A former municipal course has transformed into a must-play, with country club amenities and a superior practice complex.

Mooresville No. 7

Mooresville No. 7. Photo: Chris Beeman/Axios

Location: Mooresville, about 30 minutes north of Charlotte

Rates: $46 weekdays, $58 weekends

Type: Public

Description: After a $5 million renovation in 2016, Mooresville Golf Club now has a 17,000-plus square foot clubhouse. The course, easily walkable and reasonably priced, features slick, challenging TifEagle Bermuda greens. Overall this is a challenging course with tricky greens that are kept in great shape year-round.

Hole to watch: The par-4 9th hole features a dramatic elevation drop and a long, difficult approach shot over a creek to the green, with the clubhouse in the background.

Notes: The original layout of nine holes was designed by Donald Ross and opened in 1948. The renovated clubhouse has On the Nines Bistro and banquet space for 150-plus guests. The club offers membership plans that give you unlimited access to the impressive practice complex.

10. Edgewater Golf Club

Among the majestic pines of the South Carolina countryside, Edgewater was built in 2008 within a retirement community that has been developed very slowly — meaning there are still few civilized intrusions on the quaint and natural setting.

Edgewater No. 7

Edgewater No. 7. Photo: Chris Beeman/Axios

Location: Lancaster, S.C., about an hour south of Charlotte

Rates: $49 weekdays, $59 weekends

Type: Semiprivate

Description: You can hear the birds chirping, fish jumping and turkeys gobbling. Edgewater’s greens are similar to the A1 bentgrass at Augusta National and they are typically smooth and felt-like all year round.

Favorite hole: Just based on my scores (eagle and birdie in my last two rounds), I love the short par-5 17th hole.

Notes: The service here is top notch and the club offers frequent player discounts and affordable memberships.

Honorable Mentions:

Emerald Lake Golf Club, Matthews. A former home course of mine, this club is back to top-tier status with new superintendent Mike Stell (former assistant at Quail Hollow) making several improvements and keeping the bentgrass greens in great shape.

Stonebridge Golf Club, Monroe. A great choice for those living south of Charlotte, the practice area and regular golf clinics are some of the best in the area. The course is home to PGA Master Professional Nick Jacobi.

Charles L. Sifford Course at Revolution Park. (Editor’s note: This is a Michael Graff add to the list.) Play this nine-hole course and feel connected to this city’s deep history with golf. Sifford, a Charlotte native, was the first Black man to play on the PGA Tour.

River Oaks, Statesville, very scenic and challenging course near Rock Barn. Make a 36-hole day of it and play both courses!

You can follow Chris Beeman on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook: @charlottegolfer.

 

 

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