Any golfer visiting the outer Banks will tell you that Nags Head Golf Links is a mustplay for its challenging target golf and beautiful views of Roanoke Sound. The course is a true marriage of American design and Scottish links style, carved out of the barrier islands’ natural topography. Golf Digest called the “Roanoke Sound Four” (Holes 5, 9, 15 and 18) “among the most beautiful in the eastern United States.”
Golf architect Bob Moore designed the course for shot makers, and it can be frustrating for the novice player. Even seasoned golfers can find unpleasant surprises if they do not pay careful attention to landing areas and hazards. Tees and greens are separated by coastal dunes and wild sea grass, part of the Moore design. Coastal winds always seem to whip up an added challenge to this course, which Golf Digest called “the longest 6,126 yards you’ll ever play.”
Hole 1 (264 yards, par 4)
On the scorecard this did not look like an impressive hole, but with the wind howling at gusts reaching 35 mph, it became treacherous. During one round, John Eklund taught us not to swing hard when the wind was strong — his drive landed in the bramble and sand beyond the fairway. My lighter touch brought me within a sand wedge to the green, where I had to clear some rather high foliage. The rest of the group scrambled, making bogeys and double bogeys on what looked like an easy hole.
Hole 2 (496 yards, par 5)
This hole was my nemesis, and it all started with my drive from the box, which sliced right and landed in the sand dunes. Rather than taking the smart route and hitting a 7-, 8- or 9-iron to the fairway, I brought out my 4-iron and tried to clear some foliage and follow the fairway line. As in the movie Tin Cup, I failed, but I knew I could make the shot, so I dropped another ball and did make it. Unfortunately, par was gone for me. I watched other poor souls in my group — Bobby Hancock in the waste bunker, Gerry Patrick in every bunker — and figured my predicament was not too bad. Hitting 5, I again misdirected the ball to the right of the green, well away from the trio of bunkers guarding the left side. Double bogey was the best I could achieve.
Hole 5 (490 yards, par 5)
Roanoke Sound lies on the left side of the entire hole but should not come into play; it simply adds to the beauty of the hole. From the tee shot, you need to decide if you can clear the pond or if you will have to lay up. The pond stands in the driving area, and the small landing area to its right is nearly impossible to hit.
If you lay up, you will need to find a shot that gets you to about 160 yards from the green — this is your safe area and allows a medium iron to the green. At the green, the Sound does come into play, with a bulkhead on the left and a bunker guarding the left front. Prevailing winds can also come into play. This is ranked as the No. 1 handicapped hole.
Hole 8 (341 yards, par 4)
The pro suggests two ways to play this hole. The first is to drive the ball left over the longest part of the water in front of the tee box, thus positioning your approach from about 125 yards. The second is to hit a long-iron right to the wetlands and lay up on this dogleg right for a shot of about 100 yards to the green. Others in my group felt playing the right edge of the marsh might be more favorable when making the turn to the green. Either way, your approach must avoid two bunkers guarding the front. Par should be easily attainable.
Hole 11 (326 yards, par 4)
The first-time player at Nags Head Links will surely be fooled into thinking there is significant room to the left for the drive or that the water does not extend as far as it does — wrong on both counts. I had to re-tee and fire another drive where I favored the middle-right of the fairway. This left me with a short pitch to the green, which has
three bunkers, two on the left and one on the right. This hole, which should have been an easy par 4, became a par 6 with my wet drive.
Hole 12 (411 yards, par 4)
All hell broke loose here — the wind was screaming in our faces for the entire hole, making this par 4 a par 5. Drives looked like high irons from the tee box — what should have been 240-yard killers landed on the fairway 170 yards or less out. I had a decent drive, only to lose the ball in the large pond, about 130 yards from the green. My shot would have easily cleared on a normal day, but the wind knocked it down.
The elevated green adds further excitement to this hole, as does the trap on the front right. Playing this hole in normal conditions would be of interest, but normal conditions seldom happen on the Outer Banks.
Hole 13 (494 yards, par 5)
Hole 13 lies in the same wind direction as 12 with in-your-face gusts of 30–35 mph. Aim your drive directly over the red tees to reach the center of the fairway. If the wind is in the other direction, you could feasibly reach the green in two great shots. But today, the par 5 again became a par 6 — shots were knocked down by the wind, and balls fell short of their targets. Laying up was the only alternative and, unfortunately, it left me with a difficult downhill lie to the green. Another large pond sits about 100 yards from the green, which has four strategically placed bunkers, two in the back and two more widely spaced in the front.
Hole 18 (545 yards, par 5)
Ranked No. 4 in difficulty, this is the signature hole at Nags Head, and you will need three great shots to make par. A great drive helps with the second shot, which locals will tell you is the most difficult on the course, due to the bottleneck design of the landing area. If you can clear this on your second shot, you will be faced with a lay-up and a good chance of missing par.
Nags Head Golf Links
5615 S. Seaside Drive
Nags Head, NC 27959
tel 252 441 8073
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Park Hyatt Washington
2008Dec 10, 2012
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