Host venue for the short-lived Durham Open when Byron Nelson won the fourth of his eleven consecutive PGA victories in 1945, Hope Valley Country Club was formed in 1926 and it's home to a Donald Ross layout, where the architect not only set out the routing for the fairways, he also visited the property on a number of occasions during the build to make sure his plans were being followed exactly as specified.
In fairness, the course has been modified a number of times since it was first laid out. Perry Maxwell redesigned several holes in the late 1930s and then both Dan Maples and John La Foy were subsequently called in at different times to alter the layout. New millennium improvements have since been carried out by Brian Silva, when all the tees and greens were rebuilt and bunkers were restored to their original appearance.
Today, the course stretches to a modest 6,692 yards, playing to a par of 70. Feature holes include short par fours at the 7th and 13th, with both the par fives at holes 8 and 15 offering a good chance of picking up a birdie. A round at Hope Valley concludes on a hole where a lot can happen – a long, uphill par three playing to a false-fronted home green that rarely ever yields a closing birdie.
Hope Valley is without question (in my mind) the best course in the triangle area. Include the triad and it falls short of Old Town. Include Pinehurst and it falls short of #2. But in the triangle, where you have a lot of solid but nothing overly great, HVCC is the cream of the crop.
Always has perfect greens - the champion Bermuda really brings these greens to life.
Donald Ross masterfully routed this course - it's in a neighborhood but not what you think of as a modern residential course. The homes rarely encroach on play and add to the ambience.
False fronts and uphill shots are the primary defense of the golf course - at 6700 yards Par 70, don't fall into the trap of thinking it is a short course...it's not.
It's a charming facility with history and a truly excellent layout that one never tires of playing - better make sure you can work the ball, because more of the holes call for fades than draws, but there are also a couple holes where a draw will really serve you nicely.
If you get an invite to this course, don't turn it down. If I was traveling to Pinehurst, I'd try to stop on the way in our out of RDU at Hope Valley.
Hope Valley is rich in golf history. Designed by Donald Ross, the course has been influenced by other notable architects including Perry Maxwell. The former annual host to the Durham Open, Ben Hogan cites the 11th as one of his favorite holes, and Byron Nelson won at Hope Valley during his lengthy win streak.
Interestingly, Bradford Becken, current President of the Donald Ross society, was inspired to play all 350+ Donald Ross courses in existence after a round a Hope Valley. There are many interviews with him online that I would highly encourage any Donald Ross fan to read – Bradford’s depth of perspective is unmatched.
- #1: Many Ross courses are known for the ‘gentle handshake’ opening hole. While it does play straight downhill, the opener at Hope Valley is somewhat tight with a creek bisecting the fairway in a treacherous landing zone. From the first shot, precision is demanded.
- #5: My favorite hole on the property, Ross’s routing expertise shines through at the 5th. The fairway hugs a number of mounds and knobs like ocean waves, leaving nature to determine ones lie. The green complex is daunting without the unnecessary use of sand.
- #8: The artistic fairway bunkering on this par five is beguiling. If the golfer plays the proper tees, they will strategically need to shape their tee and approach shots in opposite directions, or aggressively challenge the traps.
- #11: Despite changes over the years, this hole still feels like it was discovered rather than constructed. Both the tee shot and approach are challenging thanks to strong slopes in the land. This type of reliance on what nature has provided is simply not found in many modern designs.
Hope Valley exudes a traditional country club vibe. With holes running through the most historic, wealthy neighborhood in Durham, warm staff that epitomize southern hospitality, and classic amenities, it is no wonder the facility has such an elite and exclusive membership. While Hope Valley certainly belongs in the esoteric conversation of “best course in the Triangle,” it does not emerge as my winner. However, having seen Kris Spence’s work on other Carolinas Ross designs, I would welcome the privilege of visiting the property again to review the renovations in more detail.
Things are not as they used to be at Hope Valley. For example the white Los Angeles style house just left of the ninth tee was once owned by two men who delighted in opening their bedroom window to provide passing golfers a full view of the two of them in flagrante delicto.
More germane to the subject at hand is the dumbing down of Donald Ross’s original design. Ross’s field drawings clearly show undulations on every green, all of which have been removed over the years. My favorite is a depression that ran across the entire width of the 14th green from 10 o’clock to 4 o’clock. The only other Ross course where I’ve seen this feature is at Sandy Burr in Massachusetts. Alas, #14 now looks like most of the other greens at Hope Valley, running down to the front of the green in a single uninspiring plane.
Nor is there much strategy involved before one gets to the green. The 11th hole once featured two creeks and is said to have been a Ben Hogan favorite when the Durham Open was a regular stop on the PGA tour. Both creeks have been covered over, removing the strategic challenge. There are a few tee shots where the golfer needs to think how much risk to take on for more reward (e.g. # 12 and #16) but for the most part one side of the fairway is as good as another.
The club hired Kris Spence and he produced a plan that would restore many of the challenges Ross included. It remains to be seen when, or even if, this work will be undertaken. The course could certainly use it.