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Playing at Altitude: Mountain Golf Offers an Escape, Visceral Connection to the Game We Love

For golfers, there’s always been an allure to mountain golf. In the Carolinas, Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, Charleston and the Brunswick Islands have more than their fair share of outstanding layouts. And the central Piedmont of both states surprises with some real hidden gems.

But there’s something special about packing up the SUV full of gear and heading into Carolinas’ stunning section of Blue Ridge Mountains. Maybe it’s the cooler weather in the late spring and summer. In the fall, it is all about the colorful foliage and playing golf in a sweater or fleece pullover.

For most golfers, though, the connection is more visceral than the weather. Mountain golf is a way to escape the pace and stress of today’s hurry-up, always-on lifestyle. As of this writing, amid the spread of the novel Coronavirus, it is a respite from the barrage of news, updates and closings.

Then there’s the sheer exhilaration. Downhill tees shots that seem to hang in the air for hours before dropping to a tightly mown landing area or green. Bending doglegs lead into tree-lined corridors full of natural (deer, anyone?) and manmade (bunkers, everyone) surprises.

Ah, and those pesky uphill approach shots to green complexes unknown, we even love those in moderation.

Of course when it comes to mountain golf, we’d all be whistling Dixie if we didn’t cop to the sheer joy of adding more distance to each of our clubs, especially the driver.

Tips for Playing at Altitude

First, a few tips about playing “at elevation.”

As a general rule, the distance gain above sea level is calculated by multiplying the elevation (in feet) by .00116. While the math may seem complicated, a 250-yard drive at sea level would go approximately 10% farther at 8,000 feet.

That doesn’t account for slope (uphill or downhill), temperature, wind speed and direction, and humidity. Throw in such golfer-specific variables as ball velocity, trajectory and spin rate, and coming to a true yardage can prove challenging even for the game’s most skilled tacticians.

Simply put, the higher the elevation, the thinner the air. And less resistance means more distance.

Cherokee Valley Signature Hole

Where to Elevate Your Game in the Carolinas

Adam Bowles, Head of Golf Operations at Rumbling Bald, is quick to point out that the resort’s two mountain courses, Apple Valley and Bald Mountain, are set at just over 1,200 feet above sea level.

But rather than the impact of elevation on distance, Bowles says the key to playing Bald Mountain, especially, is understanding the effects of uphill and downhills slopes. Longtime Laurel of Asheville golf writer Chuck Werle once said Bald Mountain designer W.B. Lewis was “part man, part mountain goat.”

“Bald Mountain is what most golfers would refer to as a classic mountain course,” says Bowles. “The back nine especially offers a mix of uphill and downhill holes that require adjustments in club selection, trajectory and spin.”

One case in point being the par-4 11 hole. The uphill approach shot is the most extreme on the course and can easily call for an extra club or two, depending on the wind speed and direction.

Apple Valley, on the other hand, is more of a traditional design that just happens to be routed through jaw-dropping mountain scenery. In fact, architect Dan Maples estimates that up 75% of all shots on the longer of the two layouts are either level or downhill.

“You get the best of both worlds on Apple Valley and that’s what keeps golfers coming back and new golfers coming in for the first time,” Bowles says.

One of the most sought-after mountain rounds in North Carolina is the storied Linville Golf Club. The classic layout is considered one of Donald Ross’s best, which he handcrafted around the existing land forms. The course is made available for guests of The Eseeola Lodge.

Spring golf packages start at $350 per person, based on double occupancy. Linville is about 1.5 hours north of Rumbling Bald via Highway 221 through the heart of the mountains.

Just a chip shot away in the vibrant college town of Boone, home of Appalachian State, the Boone Golf Club course was designed by Ross’s protégé, Ellis Maples (father of Dan). Like Linville Golf Club, the season runs from April to November, and the course is known for its sublime conditioning and playability.

Heading back south to Travelers Rest, S.C., Cherokee Valley Course and Club’s motto is “expect the unexpected.” From music wafting across the practice range, Sun Mountain Finn Cycles for rent at the golf shop and an array of local craft beers on tap, this is golf’s future, right now.

Cherokee Valley is also one of Upstate South Carolina’s only true stay-and-play destinations. Cottages conveniently situated across from the event center are ideal (and affordable) for golf packages starting at $130 per golfer (not including tax) during the shoulder season.

The mountain-style layout is widely regarded at one of P.B. Dye’s best designs. Unlike overly penal Dye courses, the layout requires few forced carries, and green surrounds are down-right playable. And golfers expecting dormant Bermuda grass will be pleasantly surprised to find a lush rye grass overseed through April.

A new, full-service restaurant, CORE 450, is opening in 2020 featuring a Blue Ridge Mountain theme and diverse menu ranging from small plates and pizza to five course meals. Just 30 minutes from Greenville and 45 minutes from Asheville, N.C., Cherokee Valley is an ideal basecamp for exploring the Western Carolinas.