Since opening in 2009, the Arnold Palmer-designed Lonnie Poole Golf Course has quickly become one of the top golf facilities in the Raleigh area.
Here are five things to know about the course, which came in at No. 65 in the North Carolina Golf Panel’s (NCGP) “Top 100 Courses for 2017” and No. 19 among “Top 50 Courses You Can Play.”
1) Visually appealing
Located on N.C. State’s Centennial Campus and just 9 miles from the center of downtown Raleigh, Lonnie Poole’s elevation changes help provide fantastic views of the skyline and the university.
That makes this one of Palmer’s most unique designs, as few of his courses are located as close to a downtown area.
“When you turn to the back nine, you immediately see the downtown Raleigh view and very undulating hills,” said Chip Watson, the course’s PGA general manager. “You get on No. 11 and you can almost see the whole back nine of the golf course. Visually, it’s just an awesome golf course.”
2) ‘The crown jewel’
When Lonnie Poole was completed, Watson said trailers originally served as the clubhouse. But in Feb. 2014, the Carol Johnson Poole Clubhouse opened to the public and has been a huge hit.
The two-story clubhouse houses the N.C. State men’s and women’s golf teams, which have access to private lockers and a players’ lounge. It also features a full-service restaurant and bar, pro shop and indoor training and club repair facilities.
“We’re packed for lunch almost every day,” Watson said. “For people who work on the Centennial Campus at N.C. State, it’s a great spot to come and just sit on the terrace patio and look downtown. You can see the golf holes there, No. 18 and No. 15.
“The clubhouse is kind of the crown jewel that finished everything off here.”
3) ‘A living laboratory’
What separates Lonnie Poole from other courses in North Carolina is that it facilitates turfgrass and storm water research associated with N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. It also serves as a teaching and training facility for the professional golf management program in the College of Natural Resources.
Watson said those partnerships with the university make the course a testing ground for different experiments and research projects.
“N.C. State is historically in the top three turfgrass schools in the country every year,” Watson said. “It’s nice to have the backing of them. You have experts in everything – weed control, growing grass, flowers. They’re all N.C. State people, so we can call on them for assistance.
“The golf course is kind of like a living laboratory.”
4) A challenge off the tee
In the NCGP’s 2017 rankings, Lonnie Poole earned the designation of having the most challenging tee shots of any course in the Triangle.
The thick rough, a mixture of four fine fescue species that is brown in the summer and green in the winter, plays a large part in that. Watson said his biggest tip is to keep the ball in the fairway. He also emphasized playing from the correct set of tees, which there are six.
“For a first-time visitor, it can be intimidating,” said Watson about some of the tee shots. “You look at it and you’re like, ‘Wow, where do I hit it?’ But when you get out into the fairways, it’s really generous areas.
“Once you play it a couple of times, you kind of figure out where to hit, what angles to go and that sort of thing.”
5) Unique bunkers
One of Lonnie Poole’s most distinct characteristics is its bunker design. Instead of featuring round, smooth edges that are highly manicured, the bunkers have irregular shapes and jagged edges.
Although the bunkers might be a little easier to escape than the rough, islands and peninsulas with fine fescue cut into many of the bunkers and blend with the rough.
“Sometimes you think you hit a good shot,” Watson said, “and then you get up there and you’re like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know the bunkers stuck out that much. My ball is in the bunker. I thought it was on the green.’ You’ve got to pay attention to that.”
“It’s almost exactly like where the U.S. Open was played last week, at Erin Hills,” Watson added. “I was watching that tournament, and I was like, ‘This is just like watching Lonnie Poole.’”