At some point, avid golfers in sizable communities come together to create a club that focuses entirely on their preferred sport, and nothing else. There were many such hobbyists spread among North Carolina’s “Research Triangle,” and they came together to buy a wooded plot in the Raleigh area for the pursuit.
Rees Jones was chosen to create the layout, which is guarded tightly along the forest-lined fairways by large (and deep) sand hazards that all but guarantee green-in-regulation will be out of the question. Even those who hit every fairway may not be assured of a birdie opportunity, as the course can be extended to nearly 7,250 yards. Although the location limits the wind on any given day, Jones routed the course as to ensure no consecutive hole faces in the same direction.
As an organization dedicated to golf, Old Chatham also takes pride in its caddie program, and it has a great wellspring for talent. The same “Research Triangle” features a number of universities with noteworthy golf programs, and the players on these squads lend advice (and muscle) at Chatham.
Nestled near the Chatham County line near Jordan Lake, Old Chatham feels worlds away from the quickly growing bustle of the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill metropolitan areas. Indeed, in many other ways, Old Chatham breaks expectations for a modern, North Carolina piedmont club. Thanks to its superb setting and focus on golf, Old Chatham easily falls into the mix of courses that could be considered ‘best in the Triangle.’
Should you ever receive an invitation to play Old Chatham, allow yourself plenty of time to arrive early and enjoy the many amenities. The driving range is absolutely massive and immaculate, and the chipping green nearby provides the rare opportunity to practice half and three-quarter swing wedge shots. While sophisticated inside, the locker room and food areas at Old Chatham manage to walk the fine line of being lavish with an air of casualness. For a club this exclusive and prestigious, I found every member and staff member at Old Chatham to make me feel quite at home – like one of their own.
In my mind, the most essential element to the Old Chatham success formula is its unbeatable conditions. Of my 99 courses played in North Carolina, Old Chatham has the most impressive maintenance I have encountered. The course is firm throughout which lends to strategy on many holes. Additionally, by keeping the rough at a modest length, players are penalized for missing the fairway without having to spend hours looking for their ball. This keeps the pace of play up, another bonus.
Holes which stand out to me at Old Chatham include:
• #1: The par five opener tests a wide range skills. From the tee, it is possible to shape a shot between two flanking bunkers to gain a distance advantage. This may come at the price of a downhill lie. Players must be careful to avoid additional bunkers on the lay-up, and to not miss long on this hard sloping back-to-front green.
• #3: Among my favorites on the course, the short par three third may be drivable depending on your tees. Most, however, will opt to find a guarded, canted fairway and hit their favorite wedge yardage into this undulating green.
• #4: With some classic architecture taste, the fourth green complex is a stunner. Unlike the previous three holes, players can run balls up to this green from the left. However, one must be careful to avoid a tough chipping area long-left, and a sharply sloping fall-off on the right.
• #9: The ninth sits on a really fascinating piece of the property. Turning sharply to the right, this hole almost feels like a racetrack, banked into the hill. Turning the ball from left-to-right here can provide one with some serious distance advantage but beware, the best angle to most pin placements will be from the left portion of the fairway.
• #10: The short par four tenth presents options. The fairway is fairly wide for a more conservative tee shot, but pinches closer to the green. The putting surface is perched and blind from the fairway, and is quite shallow, so playing to a controlled wedge distance far exceeds the importance of hitting a bomb with driver.
• #14: On the surface, the par five fourteenth appears to be a brute. With massive bunkers off the tee and a pond down the left side of the approach, there is plenty of trouble to avoid. However, there are still options for the average player. One can take advantage of the gentle downward slope off the tee and on the approach to pick up extra yardage, there are some wider portions of fairway in the lay-up landing zone, and the green welcomes run up shots.
• #16: Many holes at Old Chatham roll over the natural topography gorgeously, and in doing so, visually intimate the player. With a massive pronged bunker left and a knoll, the tee shot at the fifteenth is enthralling without unnecessary manmade construction.
In so many ways, Old Chatham is an anomaly. It is convenient to every city in the Triangle yet feels totally secluded; hole corridors are cut from forest yet never feel narrow; the layout is bold and brawny yet is a very gentle, enjoyable, and short walk; and, the hospitality and relaxed atmosphere feels more like a community than an elite retreat. For these reasons and so many more, Old Chatham is a model course and private club which captures the most important elements of the spirit of our game.