It seems less than coincidental that North Carolina State University is the only such institution to host an Arnold Palmer Design Company route. Perhaps that employees Erik Larsen and Brandon Johnson are both graduates played some hand in the decision? At any rate, Lonnie Poole is a fine course for Wolfpack faithful to enjoy.
That is, if they can remain patient through the first three holes, which offers one of the toughest opening stretches at any golf course. The first hole is a 580-yard brute that defends par with ample bunkering as well as distance (there are “firm handshakes” and there’s bone-crushing handshakes!), which is followed by a 235-yard par three that features a 60-yard deep green. Finally, the No. 1 handicap hole comes at No. 3. This second par five is “only” 550 yards and all the more toothy for it. Once past this initial stretch, players can ease into their regularly-scheduled handicap expectations.
This course, like The Warren at Notre Dame, titles its holes after alumni who have made significant contributions to the school over the years.
In an area loaded with higher education institutions, North Carolina State University has always managed to stand out. With so many excellent academic programs, particularly in engineering, technology, and other niche natural sciences, NC State has arguably played the most critical role in the Research Triangle’s exponential expansion.
It is fitting that Lonnie Poole Golf Course has this same, distinctive spirit. The Triangle region does not boast our state’s most notable courses, but instead provides a breadth of solid options. With its audacious layout and enormous scale, Lonnie Poole breaks from the norm of so many other area designs.
Opened in 2008, Lonnie Poole has a very modern feel. The course was built by the Arnold Palmer Design Company; two of the key contributing architects were NC State graduates Brandon Johnson and Erik Larsen. Lonnie Poole may be one of, if not the only university course in the country designed by alumni. On the Lonnie Poole website you can receive an inside glimpse into the architectural thought processes employed on each hole from Brandon and Erik themselves. In that video series they display infectious energy and meticulous attention to detail.
The most prominent theme of Lonnie Poole’s routing is the visually intimidating features found on almost every single hole. While the scale of most corridors is massive, so too are the flashing waste areas that block the players line of sight. Gargantuan cross bunkers can play tricks with your depth-perception. Most fairways at Lonnie Pool have mixed width, so it can often feel like you are playing to pocketed, island landing zones en route to the green, even when there is no forced carry. Any player who does not find excitement in blind shots over large hillcrests need not visit Lonnie Poole.
A second standout aspect of Lonnie Poole is the property itself. The layout takes advantage of some sharp topography. While it is easy to single-out the par five 11th, which features a fabulous view of the Raleigh skyline, many of Lonnie Poole’s holes maximize the rolling knolls around the site. Like the Old Town Club in Winston Salem, Lonnie Poole requires that every player “read” the fairways like a green complex. Landing zones and hole corridors are tilted, twisted, and sometimes crowned. More often than not, a perfectly straight shot is insufficient to find the short grass. The terrain movement is simply spectacular.
Strong conditioning is paramount in maintaining the playability of these features. Benefitting from its position as an NC State turfgrass research facility, Lonnie Poole accomplishes two key elements in its presentation. The first is generally well-draining, tight surfaces that allow the ball to be played on the ground. The second is the incorporation of natural wiregrasses which give the course an exceptionally natural and rustic feel. Errant players may find their ball in some thick patches of unkempt, but beautiful high grasses. The phenomenal work done by the superintendent and staff allow every inch of this property to shine.
At one time, Lonnie Poole was quite a bit more expensive than its university course neighbors. The course should be commended for maintaining its pricing structure and not gouging like many peer courses during the pandemic. With that said, if you would like to play, be sure to book well in advance. Demand for tee times is high.
Lonnie Poole is not a course to miss the next time you are in the Triangle. Its modern layout captures the beauty of the region while testing both your physical and mental abilities as a player. It is undoubtedly among the finest courses in the Raleigh-Durham area.
Off the top of my head, I know that Cornell (RTJ), Michigan State (Bruce Matthews), and Ohio State University (Jack Nicklaus...assuming you give him more credit for current Scarlet layout than MacKenzie) all have alum-designed courses...I'm sure Princeton is irritated that back-stabbing Raynor took his talents to Yale instead!
Thanks for the response Ryan. Wow! That is a select group. Must be a real privilege for those architects to give back to their alma maters in such an impactful way. Appreciate you sharing.
Pete Dye has an honorary degree from Purdue, if that counts. ;)