Golf Flies High in the Outer Banks

Nags Head Golf Links (Image: Outer Banks Visitors Bureau)

Nags Head Golf Links is a Scottish-style design by Bob Moore where several holes play alongside wind-buffeted Roanoke Sound. (Image: Outer Banks Visitors Bureau)

First made popular by aviation legends Orville and Wilbur Wright, the Outer Banks of North Carolina is a sun-drenched strand of white-sand beaches, quaint inns, and outstanding golf courses carved through coastal sand dunes and marshes.


Wright Brothers (Image: Wright Brothers National Memorial)

Orville and Wilbur Wright launched the first powered air flight near the town of Kitty Hawk in 1903. (Image: Wright Brothers National Memorial)

(Last updated August 2021.)

Even for golfers determined to spend every possible moment swinging the sticks, the Outer Banks of North Carolina offer other attractions too essential to ignore.

Foremost among them is the Wright Brothers National Memorial, set on the now hallowed ground near the beach town of Kitty Hawk where Wilbur and Orville Wright launched the first powered air flight in 1903.

A stone pillar marks the precise spot of that epochal lift-off, and the site’s prize attraction is a full-scale replica of the Wright Flyer, their first primitive aircraft.

The Wright brothers are credited with making famous this sun-drenched 320-kilometre-long chain of barrier islands, just off the coast of North Carolina and a small stretch of Virginia. Today, the coastline’s white-sand beaches, lighthouses, oyster houses, quaint shingle-sided inns and outstanding golf courses are year-round attractions—although peak season runs from May through September.

Capricious winds off the turbulent waters offshore, known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, frequently bedevil golfers at the popular oceanfront courses of OBX, as tourism marketers have branded the Outer Banks.

Outer Banks wild horses (Image: Outer Banks Visitors Bureau)

Wild horses, the descendants of ship-wrecked Spanish mustangs, still roam the sand dunes. (Image: Outer Banks Visitors Bureau)

Most cruelly exposed to the elements is Nags Head Golf Links a Scottish-style design where several holes play alongside Roanoke Sound. Golf Digest called architect Bob Moore’s layout “the longest 6,126 yards you’ll ever play.”

Another seaside beauty is Currituck Club, a dramatic Rees Jones design that sweeps across 243 hectares of dunes, wetlands, maritime forest and sound seascapes.

High seas swept ashore another of the coast’s unique attractions. Wild horses, descendants of Spanish mustangs that survived 16th-century shipwrecks, freely roam the dunes of Swan Beach, North Swan Beach and Carova Beach. Jeep tours offered from the nearby town of Corolla provide a close-up look at the tenacious survivors of a herd that once ranged throughout the barrier islands.

Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, Waves, Duck and other quaintly named and picturesque beachfront towns dot a still largely unpretentious and laid-back strand where many houses are built on stilts for protection against the surging tides that accompany the autumn hurricanes.

Kilmarlic Golf Club (Image: Kilmarlic Golf Club)

Kilmarlic Golf Club is carved through wetlands and a maritime forest. (Image: Kilmarlic Golf Club)

Visitors will need a car to travel between golf courses and see the sights. It’s a long trek to the Outer Banks from even the closest major airports: Norfolk International Airport is about 145 kilometres from centrally located Nags Head; and Raleigh Durham International Airport about 338 kilometres.

Another must-play course is Kilmarlic Golf Club, a Tom Steele mainland design carved through 243 hectares of forest and wetlands. Kilmarlic hosted the North Carolina Open in 2004 and 2009.

A more player-friendly option is The Pointe Golf Club, a traditional Russell Breeden-designed layout in rural countryside on the mainland. Far more demanding is The Pointe’s sister course, the Carolina Club, a brawny 7,000-yard brute where the shifting ocean breezes present a constant challenge. The signature hole here is a 166-yard par three with a TPC Sawgrass-inspired island green.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (Image: Outer Banks Visitors Bureau)

Famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in North America. (Image: Outer Banks Visitors Bureau)

Between rounds, stop at North Banks Restaurant & Raw Bar in Corolla for oysters, or Blue Moon Beach Grill in Nags Head for a selection of fresh coastal seafood.

And be sure to save time for one last essential tourist attraction.

Built in 1870, spiral-striped Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in North America and a world-famous symbol of the Outer Banks. The climb to the top is a daunting 257 steps—but the views are never-ending.


Where to Stay in the Outer Banks

Many visitors rent beach houses through local agents. A popular place to stay in Kitty Hawk is Hilton Garden Inn. But gorgeously remodeled Sanderling Resort, a beachhouse-style property just outside the town of Duck, is especially memorable. Three pools and a wrap-around deck overlook an uninterrupted strand of prime Atlantic beachfront.