Pair of Courses in North Carolina's Outer Banks Fly High above the Rest

By: Steve Habel

The Outer Banks of North Carolina, a nearly 200-mile strand of narrow barrier islands separating the Atlantic Ocean from the mainland, are known for their temperate climate, wide expanse of open beachfront and as the site of the first flight in a powered heavier-than-air vehicle by the Wright brothers at Kill Devil Hills near the town of Kitty Hawk in 1903.

Kilmarlic Golf Club

Romance book and movie fans will also recognize the region as the locale for the novel and film "Nights in Rodanthe," which glorified the stark and isolated beauty of the islands and their famed wild beach horses.

For our purposes, the Outer Banks (abbreviated OBX) and affiliated mainland areas have a slew of great golf courses fashioned out of sand and wind-swept terrain on the islands themselves or through the mainland forests that grow virtually to the very edge of the sound between the island and coast.

Among the best places to play is Kilmarlic Golf Club - set on the mainland about five miles from the bridge connected to the islands - and Currituck Club, set on the barrier itself about 10 miles up the coast.

There Are 18 Signature Holes at Kilmarlic

Kilmarlic Is Not for the Timid

Kilmarlic Golf Club, set in Harbinger among 605 acres of maritime forest and sprawling wetlands, was designed by Tom Steele and opened in 2002. It features mostly wide corridors through canopies of giant oak, pine and dogwood along a route that measures just 6,550 yards from the back set of five tees. Playing at a par of 72, the Kilmaric's difficulty is illustrated by its 72.2 rating 144 Slope.

The course, which runs just west of Albemarle Sound, is named after a local piece of lore. It's said that in the 1700s a ship laden with casks of whiskey sailed out of Kilmarnock, Scotland, ran aground on the nearby Carolina coast. The locals salvaged the cargo after it washed ashore and celebrated their good fortune, honoring the occasion by naming the place Kilmarlic.

The scenic layout offers a delightful mixture of risk-reward par-5s, long and short par-4s and par-3s that stretch as long as 213 yards. There are plenty of ponds and bunkers to navigate as well, confirming its stout ratings.

The 169-yard second is the first of five par-3s at Kilmarlic. It's as pretty as a picture, as a small pond shared with the 11th hole along the left guards the green and surrounds. There's bailout to the right for those who decline to fire directly over the hazard.

The short (374-yard) drive-and-pitch third is followed by a terrific 478-yard par-4, Kilmarlic's No. 1 handicap hole. The par-4 eighth tempts big hitters to go for the green and, at just 309 yards from the tips, good drives can result in birdies or even better.

The 545-yard, par-5 ninth demands a great tee ball. It's has a pond right of the prime landing area, and the approach is to an elevated green, with a bunker looming at the front-right.

The 11th is a 151-yard par-3 featuring an island green shaped like a three-leaf clover; the putting surface offers pin locations on what are effectively peninsulas, so it's best to aim for the center and take your chances with the putter.

Kilmarlic's demanding final stretch includes the 385-yard par-4 15th; the longest three-shotter on the property via the 565-yard 16th, the heftiest par-3 at the 213-yard 17th; and the reachable-in-two 514-yard, par-5 closer that curves around a lake lurking for golf balls hit offline to the left.

More than 300 acres of Kilmarlic have been designated a nature preserve and enhance the natural beauty and character of the landscape. Wild turkey, deer, otters and geese populate the course along with golfers.

Consistently kept in top-notch condition, Kilmarlic was chosen to host the North Carolina Open in 2004 and '09 and has been as a Top 100 Course You Can Play in North Carolina by Golf Styles magazine. The track is a challenge for every level of golfer and a joy to play from start to finish.

It's a tremendous tournament course with a little bit of everything, concluding with a back nine with three par-5s, a drivable par-4 and trouble left and right on most every hole. There are birdies and bogeys available on every swing, especially down the stretch.

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Water Hazards Are An Integral Part
of The Currituck Club

Currituck Club a Rees Jones Favorite

When Rees Jones designed the Currituck Club in 1996, he knew that the wind would always be a dynamic. The course is laid out on a four-mile ribbon of land toward the northern end of the Outer Banks, near the village of Corolla, with the Atlantic Ocean a quarter-mile to the east and Currituck Sound bordering it to the west.

Such an environment dictated a layout that allows the golfer space to hit the ball and keep it in play, even if the wind is pushing it sideways. Fortunately, Jones had enough space to work and he produced one of his favorite creations.

The Currituck Club, at 6,885 yards from the back set of four tees, carries an imposing 73.8 rating and a Slope of 136. But it's manageable for the average player, providing that the golfer plays from the appropriate set of tees.

The course boasts some remarkably diverse coastal terrain, including sand dunes, wetlands, maritime forests and Sound-side shoreline. It shares the landscape with deer, osprey, geese and turtles. Golfers might even catch a glimpse of an eagle soaring overhead.

Aerial View of The Currituck Club

The layout offers a links feel reminiscent of traditional Scottish courses, especially the seventh through the ninth, which border Currituck Sound. The course finishes on the Sound with a scenic stretch that allows the player to get a shot or two back.

The 541-yard first sets the tone for the round. It's a short par-5 with a generous fairway (its 50 yards wide), the kind of start every resort course should begin with. The test is ratcheted up a notch on the 412-yard par-fourth, which has a huge pond bordering the fairway down the entire right side.

The natural terrain of the Outer Banks includes some enormous sand hills. The home half at the Currituck Club is laid out in part over some of these towering mounds and Jones takes great lengths to make sure he gets the most out of what Mother Nature provided .

The fairway at the 454-yard par-4, dogleg-right 12th runs uphill to a green nestled in a ridge of dunes. The tee on the 578-yard par-5 13th is elevated well above the fairway - these two holes are among the toughest at the Currituck Club. Jones gives golfers a bit of a break at the 332-yard par-4 14th, but the shot is far from easy as the hole runs back up a ridge to an elevated putting surface.

The par-3 15th runs along the Sound and is quite a sight; try to focus and one more club on this 174-yard head-turner.

There isn't a bad hole at the Currituck Club. Jones has fashioned a track that requires strategic awareness, accuracy and steady nerves, particularly from the back tees. Even with its benign start and finish, the Currituck Club can be extremely difficult. Despite vast greens, the course can be a bear if the player doesn't bring conviction to every shot.

Currituck Club's course has been rated as one of the 10 Best New Places You Can Play by Golf magazine and one of the Top 25 Courses in North Carolina by Golf Digest.

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Ponds and wetlands are part of the
challenge at The Currituck Club

Staying in the Outer Banks

Our group had the pleasure of overnighting at two of the Outer Banks top lodging spots and they couldn't have been more different. At Kilmarlic Golf Club, our foursome bivouacked at a large house right next to the clubhouse. Here we enjoyed all the comforts of home and even more, with a pool table in the den and plenty of space to move around and have a little alone time if needed. I can't think of a better way to enjoy a golf trip.

We also spent two nights at the posh Sanderling Resort in Duck, about halfway between Kilmarlic and Currituck Club. Offering magnificent views of both the Atlantic Ocean and Currituck Sound, the resort's guestrooms offer oversized bathrooms and generous decks. Also on hand are spa, pools and restaurants offering fresh coastal cuisine.

Find out more about the resort at

Steve Habel is a freelance writer contributing Cybergolf news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Austin, Texas. He also works as an associate editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, and is a contributing writer for Texas Golf Insider, Golf Oklahoma magazine, Tri-State Golfer and ATX Man magazine. Habel's blog ( features news on golf and chronicles his many travels, including playing almost 1,000 golf courses since 2008. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.