Cape Fear Country Club was established in 1896 and is the oldest private country club in North Carolina. In the early days the club relocated twice, however, the course in play nowadays is a 1922 Donald Ross creation which Ross subsequently revised more than once.
The club’s rolling property has seen more than its fair share of tournament action down the years. Cape Fear was the permanent site for the PGA Tour’s Azalea Open from 1945 until 1970, counting Arnold Palmer and Jerry Barber among its winners.
The course has undergone numerous modifications: John LaFoy (1986), Willard Byrd (1993) and Kris Spence (2006). But it’s Andrew Green’s $5m restoration, which returned Cape Fear to prominence in 2019.
Andrew Green takes up the story: “The existing greens were struggling to drain and had bentgrass on them. In order to switch to Ultradwarf bermuda putting surfaces and solve the drainage problems, it was determined that the greens needed to be rebuilt.”
The ground game has returned to Cape Fear. All greens have been lowered “to get them back to a Ross-like elevation and allowing players that don’t spin the ball to be successful. The greens have been shaped in a way to pick up a lot of the Ross-inspired character in their shape and surface. Using the interesting shapes on Ross’s plans as a guide, we have putting surfaces with a wide variety of hole locations.”
Bunkers have also been rebuilt. “The bunker style is inspired by Ross, which I feel is unique and fun without being penal. The bunkers are of a modest depth in accordance with the Ross notes. Most are 3.5-4 feet deep, but they look intimidating and have tremendous character.
The property is a great rolling piece of ground and once held encampments and batteries from the Civil War – we have tried to accentuate those landforms left by time.”
Cape Fear Country Club is a truly charming Ross gem situated on a perfectly rolling property for golf. Though I have only played once, back in 2017, the club left a strong impression and fit many of my criteria for the type of course I could enjoy playing every day.
CFCC is a classic private club with a lot of Ross flare. The fairways are very wide in most places, and with such large greens, there is a premium on giving yourself the proper angle into each hole. Many of the rumbled putting surfaces are also surrounded by short grass and interesting chipping collection areas, too, which is just not present enough at so many North Carolina championship designs. Course conditioning is excellent, and the entire practice facility was top notch, not to mention a wonderful locker room with Ross’ original hole maps.
Some of the most memorable holes for me include:
• #3: An uphill par 5 that incorporates a shallow creek, bisecting the fairway and adding a tough decision if you play the proper tees.
• #11: Another strong par 5 with a blind tee shot and a fun opening to a green that is receptive both to aerial and ground shots on your approach.
• #13: Typically, I do not prefer holes with ponds that feel ‘gimmicky’, but here, Ross did a great job of providing players with a lot of options off the tee. I found that cutting off too much actually hurt in the long run since this very undulating green required a wedge with more spin to control.
• #16: A classic, stout Ross par 3.
CFCC is the type of place that fits the phrase “the sum is greater than the parts.” While it will not receive any ‘best ever’ rankings, it is the type of place I would love to belong to and play every day. I am excited to see the recent restoration work completed.
It starts with the clubhouse, impressive! Service is top notch, everyone was friendly, courteous and professional. Course was in great shape, a classic old throwback. You definitely want to fly the bunker on 3 and cut as much of the corner as possible or face a long approach over water. Number 11 stay right to avoid the bunkers on the left side. It is a wonderful golf course and we had a wonderful day