Laid out among the maritime forests and sand dunes of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, the 18-hole layout at The Currituck Club is a Rees Jones design where non-members can now play on payment of a daily green fee.
There are countless reasons to visit the Outer Banks. History buffs can enjoy the Wright Brothers Memorial and nautical museums; nature buffs can traverse dune ridges, pristine beaches, and gorgeous waterways; and those looking to simply escape will enjoy the OBX’s refreshing lack of high rise hotels.
Despite these appealing qualities, the barrier islands of North Carolina are a difficult place to build golf courses. There is little acreage to begin with and the landscape is constantly on the move due to cyclical erosion. Combine that with the competition of real estate and, sadly, golf has not emerged as a priority.
M. James Ward’s description of the Currituck Club below is spot on. Even though housing took precedence in the project, Rees Jones and his team did a phenomenal job of creating what is arguably the best course in the northeast corner of the state. With holes routed in a variety of directions, players are tested throughout the day by the same winds that inspired Orville and Wilbur a century ago.
Aerial shots of the course used in advertisements give the impression that the standout holes will showcase views of the sound. During my first round there this fall, I was surprised to find that high reeds blocked the intracoastal waterway vistas. However, I was equally surprised that the inland holes, routed over the highest points of the dune ridge, were actually the most compelling architecturally. This is best illustrated by the rolling topography in the middle of the round.
Playing uphill towards the clubhouse, the fairway at the 9th is canted from right-to-left. The preferred angle to the green complex is from the harder-to-find right side, forcing the player to challenge the natural slope and out-of-bounds. Continuing to take advantage of the terrain, the par four 10th plays up and over a large knoll while the par three 11th features a blind green atop a hill. At the 12th, the best angle to the green is from the right side which is guarded at the dogleg corner by pot bunkers and a natural sandy waste area. The par five 13th drops significantly from the tee to a fairway flanked by a preserved maritime forest. The ideal layup zone is peppered with treacherous hazards that distort the line of sight. This exciting stretch is capped by the potentially reachable par four 14th which features wild swales in the landing zone.
In hindsight, to be most captivated by the inner holes routed over dunes should not have come as a surprise. After all, a similar type of ecosystem inspired the games founders overseas. It does beg the question of whether or not there are more properties on the Outer Banks that might be open to supporting a true links style layout. Then again, with the environmental and erosional hurdles that would need to be overcome, the OBX may be better left alone as a beach retreat.
The main anchor that weighs down The Currituck Club is the sheer number of housing sites that engulf far too many holes. The developers saw fit to maximize out as many units as possible and the golf therefore suffers accordingly for the straight jacket claustrophobia that ensues.
Now, keep in mind, the routing and hole variety is far better than many Rees Jones courses because the holes have a more natural appearance instead of the super-imposed layouts that far too often inhabit coastal areas along North and South Carolina respectively.
Hole like #7 and #8 are quite challenging with Ware Creek pinching in from the left side. The same holds true for the inward half with the final quartet that parallel wetlands as the round concludes. The par-5 16th is a quality risk/reward hole because the green is gettable in two shots but accuracy is most certainly a must.
Give Rees Jones credit for circumventing the tight acreage involved and the depth of the routing itself.
Sad to say, but the Outer Banks doesn't have many worthwhile layouts when you compare the area to the broader Tar Heel State. For those vacationing, The Currituck Club is a most welcomed oasis.
M. James Ward