First published in North Carolina Magazine, the highly anticipated annual offering has appeared in the April issue of Business North Carolina since 2006 and has been managed by Kevin Brafford since Hensley handed over the reins in 2000. Brafford, who in addition to serving as the golf panel’s executive director is also the growth strategies director for the North Carolina Zoo Society and a member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame selection committee, has grown the invitation-only golf panel to include about 150 active members.
“Our members love the game and its prominent place in the sports landscape, and they have an appreciation for course design,” Brafford says. “We ask panelists to rate courses considering a number of factors, including routing, flow, strategy, fairness, memorability, and the variety
Through various full-panel outings and individual play around the state, members of the panel submit their ratings for best overall course and several subcategories annually. Durham’s Old Chatham Golf Club, designed by Rees Jones in 2001, tops the 2018 list for top courses in the Triangle, followed by the Raleigh Country Club, MacGregor Downs Country Club in Cary, Prestonwood’s Highlands course, and the Governor’s Club in Chapel Hill.
All three of the university courses—North Carolina’s Finley Golf Course, the Duke University Golf Club, and N.C. State’s LPGC—are among the top 12 courses in the area.
While the state’s golf industry suffered a downturn in the recession of 2008—longtime clubs like Cheviot Hills in Raleigh, Wake Forest Golf Club, and Crooked Creek Country Club in Fuquay-Varina all shut down—the sport, and the real estate opportunities it often creates, is on the rebound.
“Like in real estate, there was a market correction,” Brafford says. “But the golf industry has changed, the economy has rebounded, and the future looks good for both.”
Author and writer Tim Peeler lives in Cary and is an original (but currently inactive) member of the North Carolina Golf Panel.