One of eight private courses in the Carolinas operated by McConnell Golf, the layout here at the Old North State Club is a Tom Fazio gem that snakes its way across rolling ground and the peninsula wildlife sanctuary wetlands known as Uwharrie Point. This aesthetically pleasing setting has allowed Fazio to create perhaps the most exciting clutch of waterside closing holes in North Carolina.
Unhindered by real estate considerations between the fairways or around the perimeters of the course, Fazio was able to lay out the holes to fit the land as best as possible. To that end, the inland holes sit quietly within the dense forest adjacent to Badin Lake before the routing heads to the water for a thrilling three-hole climax to the round.The 427-yard 16th plays downhill to a narrow green bordering the lake, followed by the all-carry 17th where the green sits on the other side of an inlet. The 568-yard closing hole then sweeps left round the lake shore where golfers can either lay-up with their second shot before approaching the green or attempt the hero shot across the water in pursuit of a grandstand finish.
It has been a privilege to write reviews for so many wonderful courses on this website, especially some of my personal favorites. While I always try to provide write-ups that provide pros and cons, the courses profiled here are generally very strong, and therefore, my own reviews are generally very positive. However, any interviewer worth their salt should have a spread of opinions, and unfortunately, of the 210 courses I have played, I consider Old North State to be the most overrated.
For years, I had seen Old North State ranked as one of North Carolina’s top 5 courses in various well-regarded publications. As a McConnell course, information on the property was limited online; most of my exposure was actually through photographs from the Men’s ACC Golf Tournament. When I finally received the chance to play Old North State in a tournament, I immediately hopped on the opportunity.
As I have mentioned in previous reviews, Tom Fazio is admittedly not my favorite architect. The word that I believe best describes his architecture style is “middling” – none of his courses stand out as being particularly notable positively, or negatively.
When I think about some of my favorite golf courses, especially those that I jumped to review first on this website, I was amazed at how well I remembered certain holes – rolling fairways, strategic bunkers, notable green complexes – all without any online assistance. Reflecting on Old North State, I cannot remember a single hole from #1 - #15. Only after looking through Google Maps did I remember enjoying the lakefront approaches to the par five 4th, and par 3 7th. Otherwise, each hole in this stretch felt like it could have been found in virtually any housing community golf property in North Carolina. Flat fairways, blasé greens, and houses everywhere take away from the truly spectacular rolling property in this remote location.
Of course, the final three holes are fantastic. The 16th bounds down a mountain and forces the player to seriously confront Badin Lake. The 17th, a par three, also requires a precisely executed shot to reach the green or bail out properly. And, finally, the 18th, swinging around Badin, provides endless excitement.
However, the last time I checked, having three moderately compelling holes on a generally muddy lake is not reason to travel hours into a rural part of the state when 15 other holes are totally bland. Furthermore, the only other two holes I could remember were only standout for the lake, not for the course architecture; the lake was really barely in play for both, too.
McConnell golf properties are highly regarded for their immaculate course conditioning, and to add insult to injury, the spring day I played Old North State was an anomaly in my McConnell experience. The greens were slow, the fairways shaggy, and the rough non-existent. Perhaps the course had not been well-prepared for our tournament, or perhaps they have struggled with harsh winters. Either way, this did not help with my poor first impression.
While I hate to write anything negative about the fine golf courses listed on this site, I must be truth in stating that from an architecture standpoint, Old North State was a true letdown. I can barely remember the golf holes there and do not feel it is worth an excursion to experience.
Read your comments on Old North State and appreciate your admittance in not being a fan of Tom Fazio courses. However, since you did not point out the total number of his layouts you have personally played it's hard to know what sort of sample size is involved. You use the word "middling" and I do concur there are a number of Fazio layouts I have played over the years (closing in on 100) -- that would fall into that description. But, to be just as fair, when Fazio has truly engaged himself the net result can be far, far different. How does one explain that? That's something I am baffled with but not every architect hits home runs with each design and larger size firms can often fall victim to simply using tried and true past versions of holes that have gotten a bit stale in their recreation.
On the flip side check out the likes of Victoria National, Martis Camp, Karsten Creek, Pronghorn, Estancia, Whisper Rock (Upper), John's Island Club / West, Black Diamond / Quarry, Gozzer Ranch, Dallas National, Fallen Oak, to name just a few on the flip side.
I do concur with your overall assessment on Old North State -- there's far too little provided -- and memorability certainly matters. Waiting till the final trio of holes is not enough to save the day there.
Thank you so much for the thoughtful comments. They mean so much coming from the Top Reviewer on the website and such a prolific golf writer, especially as I just kick off my personal golf journey. Please excuse my very slow reply – I just figured out how to respond to comments this week!
You are correct in that my overall experience on Fazio courses is limited relative to other architects. That said, other Fazio designs (such as UNC Finley in Chapel Hill) with inferior topography and scenery have left significantly stronger impressions on me that Old North State. Perhaps that should have been the focus of my write-up.
As I continue on this architecture adventure, I look forward to visiting some of Fazio’s more renowned designs. A good friend is from Idaho, and I would love to make a trip there to see Gozzer Ranch. Wade Hampton and Mountaintop here in North Carolina are also comfortably towards the top of my bucket list.
Thank you again for the thorough response. It means a lot, and I greatly appreciate your guidance, wisdom, and support!
I've played the course twice and frankly the main storyline for me is the opening few holes and clearly the closing trio which ends the day in high drama. The middle portion is simply vanilla from a design standpoint. If one were to assess the overall Fazio portfolio there's little doubt, in my mind, that the talented architect has done much better with layouts that are on a much higher level of interest for the duration of a round. When I think of such Fazio gems as Gozzer Ranch, Victoria National, Martis Camp, Glenwild, Pronghorn, Galloway National, Karsten Creek Wade Hampton, to name just a few -- the caliber of the golf remains high throughout the 18 holes.
Old North State is generally in tip top shape and no doubt when you add the views of the nearby lake the facility will secure a few more brownie points from people fortunate to play the course.
The Tar Heel State has clearly blossomed over the last 25-30 years and the new course additions have clearly added to the competitive scene.
Old North State has its moments but there's also plenty there simply going through cruise control. Play the first couple of holes and then skip to the final trio -- at that point you've seen the whole movie.
M. James Ward