The state bird of North Carolina is the cardinal, and this early Pete Dye design takes its name from the avian icon. Not “The Cardinal Golf Club,” but just “The Cardinal.” Granted, many American states share the cardinal as their official bird, but few have the architectural depth of North Carolina. Pete Dye is another feather in its cap. And, as of 2019, the club has opened its doors to the public (contact in advance for tee times).
Although birds are the theme, perhaps frogs or salamanders might be more descriptive, due to the prominence of the property’s creeks throughout the routing. In fact, thirteen holes run along (or across) these waterways.
The signature hole does run alongside the largest of the creeks, but players will be more focused on a larger pond, which they must hit over. Dye returned to The Cardinal during 2007 and, upon completion of his renovations, dubbed No. 12 as “the hardest par three I ever designed.” There are many other worthwhile nominees among Dye’s par threes but there’s no doubt that the 220-yard forced carry to a green hanging on the water’s edge is a candidate.
Some believe cardinals are good luck. You’ll need it if you want to see birdies here.
Adam Tomasiello's review of the course effectively captures the essence of The Cardinal. While I am not a huge fan of Dye layouts, this course is fun, challenging and offers great variety. The conditioning of the course has improved significantly over time but drainage on the low lying holes will continue to be an issue- this keeps me from rating higher. Overall a really solid test just northwest of Greensboro.
I have a lot to agree with in the previous review. Many classic Pete Dye elements here but this is in general and enjoyable and fun layout. The front nine was pretty tight and the driving lines were difficult to appreciate. This led to some shots that I thought were pretty decent getting into a bit of trouble. On the other hand the back nine opens up a bit but still presents quite a challenge. Definitely worth playing in you are in the area
The Cardinal by Pete Dye, formerly the Sedgefield Dye Course, was on my bucket list for many years. With McConnell Golf’s decision restructure access as semi-private in February of 2019, I finally had the opportunity to check it off. While Dye layouts can often be polarizing, I found The Cardinal to have solid variety, capture its topographical features effectively, and present fair challenges. The routing at The Cardinal runs over a handful of ridges closer to the clubhouse, and on the flatter holes, around tributaries Brush Creek. For that reason, the round feels like a bit of a roller coaster, with strategy and styling changing frequently.
Many holes at The Cardinal stood out during my round, including:
• #2: Short par-threes, where a player actually has a club lower than an 8 or 9 iron in hand, are just too rare today. Placed early in the round, this one shotter is gentle, but still punishes the lackadaisical player. While not long, the ideal shot shape for many pins will be left-to-right. Any overcooked shot might find the creek, while any conservative bail-out left will have a fast chip back down toward the stream.
• #3: On the scorecard, the par-four third seems drivable, but realistically, there is virtually no room to go at this green. However, thinking through the tee shot is still interesting. The best angle into this perfectly perched putting surface is from the right side, though players must be careful to avoid overhanging trees.
• #7: The tee shot at the par-four seventh needs to avoid the creek at the end of the fairway. To find the best angle, one must also challenge the water on the right, too. This putting surface was exciting, as players can spin balls back off a shortgrass hill.
• #8: The green complex at the par-three eighth is terrifying, but actually provides significant options. The green runs almost right into the creek on the right, separated only by signature Dye railroad ties. With a few tiers present between the front, middle, and back, the wise player can use the slope on the left to boomerang balls to the proper portion of the putting surface.
• #9: The ninth is a brute, requiring both exceptional shaping and a long ball to conquer. Off the tee, players face a very narrow chute. If one cannot curve the ball from right-to-left, they will likely need to lay-up with a long iron or metal and probably have the same club into the green, a near impossible prospect for regulation. If one does play more aggressively, curvature is a must to avoid a fairway bunker. Adding insult to injury, any shot too conservative will be blocked by a tree. This slippery putting surface features pot bunkers and a number of dips and hollows to short-grass collection areas. The play is to the center of the green which initially slopes away from the player. In this particular case, the sheer difficulty of each shot required to make a par (or bogey…or double bogey!) is compelling.
• #10: Players arriving at The Cardinal get a peek at the tenth’s tee shot from the entryway, and it is a stunner. The fairway is gorgeously canted on both sides and appears bowl like, leading to a number of interesting potential sidehill lies. This par five is not particularly long, but a thoughtful approach is needed to reach the putting surface in two. The green is deep, but with firm conditions and steep drop-off long, ensuring that one uses the contours of the land properly to roll the ball up is essential.
• #11: Cascading downhill back towards the creeks, the moderate length par-four eleventh is sensational. Standing on the tee, one feels on top of the world. There appears to be significant width, and the impulse to take driver is almost insurmountable. However, peril can await tee shots that are slightly awry. Drives which catch either of the two massive sandy areas flanking the peninsula leading to the green leave a very awkward distance to a fairly small landing area. Even shots in the fairway must be placed on the left if they are to hold the green from the downhill lies. In this sense, Dye builds your confidence from the tee, only to test your nerves a few hundred yards later.
• #12: A plaque at The Cardinal’s twelfth commemorates Pete Dye’s thoughts that this was the toughest par three he ever designed. There is no good miss here. Pond left and long, bunkers and creek right, and all hazards in your mind if you find yourself chipping. Did I mention that it plays to over 200 yards from the tips?
• #14: This subtly excellent par four incorporates a hilly knob in the middle left portion of the fairway. This ridge makes the green blind from the tee, yet it is also provides the best angle. Playing too conservatively to the right brings tree blockages and Brush Creek into play; taking on the knob may lead to an awkward stance. The crowned, diagonal green drops sharply off the right.
• #15: The long par-five fifteenth is a very unique three shotter. After a pretty straightforward drive, options abound. One can lay up to the left, safely, but the third shot will then face a very narrow putting surface that is nearly impossible to stick. One can go for the green, but must challenge Brush Creek and still take on this same brutal angle. I believe the best play is actually to challenge the creek to the lay-up area short right of the green, A sharp left-to-right shot is needed to find this space, but it provides a very reasonable up-and-down for birdie.
• #16: Though not a true Redan, the multi-tiered, angled putting surface allows for players to hit a right-to-left shot, either aerially or on the ground, to best cozy a tee shot towards the hole.
The wildly undulating and often crowned green complexes at The Cardinal are beguiling. Hitting controlled shots to the proper portion of each putting surface was critical to avoid finding pot bunkers and collection areas. Despite receiving five inches of rain the week prior to my visit, the greens were especially firm. While some of the lower-lying parts of the course were expectedly wet, conditions were solid overall, especially for the very modest price we paid to walk on a weekend.
It is my understanding that Ross Jernigan, former superintendent at Wakefield Plantation, is now leading the team at The Cardinal. Having seen his tremendous work in Wake Forest, I know he and the McConnell staff will find ways to continue improving the turf, corridors, and drainage in Greensboro. The Cardinal is well worth the stop next time you find yourself in the area. In terms of value, this may be the best public course in the Triad.