By David Droschak
It’s unclear when the next United States Golf Association championship will be staged at Country Club of North Carolina, but it’s likely to be sooner than later after the club’s nearly flawless showing during the U.S. Junior Amateur in late July.
CCNC hosted more than 250 of the world’s best junior golfers and their families and was provided a glimpse of what the potential of future championships might mean for the private club in Pinehurst.
“Our strategic plan is to constantly test the golf courses with national championships, and very specifically USGA national championships,” said Don Hunter, the club’s chief operating officer. “I do foresee us announcing something in the future. Right now, I don’t know what it would be, but we are happy to engage with the USGA moving forward.”
It doesn’t hurt that the USGA will soon be moving offices to the Sandhills with CCNC less than a five- minute drive.
Hunter is no stranger to national championships, having been associated with nine during his golf career at various locations.
“For my staff and I it’s always a chance to up our game,” Hunter said. “Every time I’ve executed a national championship I’ve seen major growth in every aspect of the club’s staff, where a food and beverage program that is used to serving 500 people at a time all of the sudden is doing 3,000-4,000 meals in a week. Those kinds of things change their abilities going forward and it’s just a lasting, lingering positive effect.”
CCNC is a natural fit for such a large-scale championship, considering it has 36 holes of golf with the Dogwood and Cardinal courses. The Dogwood is ranked as the third-best layout in the state by the North Carolina Golf Panel, while the Cardinal is 16th.
“From a golf course perspective you really get to see how your courses truly performs with the top players in the world,” Hunter said. For instance, in our situation, the Dogwood has always been rated kind of the A-course here at CCNC — really it’s the A-course because it was the first course. But when you look at the scoring the Cardinal played at least a half a stroke harder. For us, we’re really taking a hard look strategically at the Cardinal course and thinking with a little bit of work that course could become significantly more challenging and maybe that gives us an opportunity to really elevate our game as a club.”
Greensboro-based architect Kris Spence, who renovated the Dogwood Course in 2016, followed the final match and said he couldn’t have been prouder.
“When we did Dogwood we really didn’t set our fairway widths with a USGA championship in mind, we were focused on membership enjoyment,” Spence said. “The golfers really played the golf course as I had envisioned, they played along the edges of the fairway bunkers. They backed off on a lot of the tees where the fairways turned so that was neat to see from an architectural standpoint.”
Hunter also looked beyond the birdies and bogeys as the entire facility shined on the Golf Channel coverage over a late July weekend.
“We had 27 requests for membership applications the day after the championship and we got five applications filled out,” Hunter said. “Showcasing the club for people who were maybe thinking about joining a club in the Pinehurst area was key, and a couple of players’ families have applied for memberships. One was a top 10 player.
“Our product here is different than any of the products around us and at most clubs,” Hunter added. “Most clubs are trying to provide a good club for a family with a pool and all that stuff, and we have all of that, but from a golf course perspective nothing helps support an A-player like CCNC does. We’ve got well over 200 members with 10-handicaps and below, so that kind of tells you kind of who we are. We really are a great preparation spot with great weather almost year around, so when those families are playing here they think this would be a great thing for my son or daughter who is an A-player for a place to station out of. That’s where we’re different than any place else. We’re not trying to be No. 2 where it’s this pro golfer experience, we are really trying to be the best amateur facility in the country.”
Hunter agreed that Webb Simpson’s appearance on the TV coverage, speaking in glowing terms of CCNC, where he has a home, helped elevate opinions of potential members.
“Webb is part of the family,” Hunter said. “Webb grew up here with his mom and dad owning a piece of property, and his help with our fundraising efforts and our media efforts really helped elevate the championship. It’s an important part of CCNC to have such high-profile player involved and Webb is certainly at the top of the food chain for that.”
Hunter said the club will take a breath, and then start planning for the 2023 ACC Men’s Golf Championship.
“I know the ACC Championship is going to get my members very excited because most of them graduated from ACC schools. I’m sure we’ll be getting some tailgate action going,” Hunter said.