Golf Southern-Style in Charlotte

Ballantyne Golf Course Charlotte North Carolina (Image: Ballantyne Hotel)

Luxurious Ballantyne Hotel features a strong 18-hole golf course. (Image: Ballantyne Hotel)

Business boomtown Charlotte mixes outstanding golf with top attractions that include the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the Levine Museum of the New South.

(Last updated May 2021.)

Chances are good it is business—not golf or the NASCAR Hall of Fame or even the mouth-watering Southern cuisine—that first draws you to Charlotte.

North Carolina’s largest city is third among U.S. banking centres (after New York and San Francisco), with nine Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the metropolitan area. Skyscrapers dominate the neighbourhood known as Uptown, most memorably the 60-storey trapezoidal steel-and-glass tower of the Bank of America Plaza. Manufacturing, transportation and insurance companies drive the local economy.

But the real fun in Charlotte happens after-hours and between business meetings. With Southern grace and cosmopolitan style, the city of 859,000 is host to a vibrant arts and music scene, renowned museums, and professional sports teams that include the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.

The golf is excellent, too. Charlotte’s marquee annual golf event is the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club, the site of the 2017 PGA Championship. More than 50 public-play courses are found in or within easy reach of the city, including layouts by revered architects such as Donald Ross, Tom Fazio and Dan Maples.

NASCAR Hall of Fame (Image: NASCAR Hall of Fame)

The NASCAR Hall of Fame includes more than 50 interactive exhibits. (Image: NASCAR Hall of Fame)

An ideal stay-and-play option for golfers is the Ballantyne Hotel in the tony suburb of Ballantyne, about 20 kilometres from Uptown. The luxurious 244-room resort features the Golf Club at Ballantyne, a strong 18-hole course punctuated by stands of trees, hills, ponds and streams. Also on site is the Ballantyne Golf Academy, the only Golf Channel Academy in the Carolinas.

Another local favourite is Rocky River Golf Club, a demanding Dan Maples design found northeast of Charlotte near the massive Charlotte Motor Speedway. Maples, who built many of the top courses in the Carolinas, carved this one through rolling hills and wetlands.

Charlotte is smack in the heart of NASCAR country. An essential stop for every visitor, race fan or not, is the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Uptown. More than 50 interactive exhibits (including astonishingly realistic race simulators) trace the sport’s roots from moonshine running to the billion-dollar extravaganza of today.

Uptown is also home to the fascinating Levine Museum of the New South. Visitors interact with the past by stepping inside a sharecropper’s home or learning to make handspun thread. In one award-winning and especially poignant exhibit, Charlotte and its 13 surrounding counties are used as a case study to illustrate the profound changes—especially the struggle of African Americans for equality—in the South since the Civil War.

Charlotte NC skyline (Image: Visit North Carolina)

North Carolina’s largest city ranks third among U.S. banking centres. (Image: Visit North Carolina)

Though thoroughly modernized, Charlotte offers glimpses of its Old South roots in the Dilworth, Myers Park and Fourth Ward neighbourhoods, with their shaded streets and Antebellum architecture. In hip districts like NoDa, Plaza Midwood and South End, historic houses are being converted into wine bars and stylish restaurants.

Fuelled by the banking boom that brought an international workforce to this once staid city, the red-hot dining scene features everything from haute cuisine to the New South specialties served at the two Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen locations. Chef Jim Noble’s prime beef brisket and coconut cake are the stuff of local legend.

Other dining highlights: the Asian- and Mediterranean-accented dishes of chef Rocco Whalen at Fahrenheit, a hip high-rise resto offering sweeping views of the city; the Southern specialties and craft beers at Bonterra, housed in a former Methodist church; the red velvet waffles, drizzled with cream cheese, at Stewart Penick’s Terrace; and the dry-rubbed and slow-cooked barbecue dishes served at Midwood Smokehouse.

Stick-to-the-ribs fortification is exactly what’s needed after 18 holes at Larkhaven Golf Club, Renaissance Park Golf Course, Springfield Golf Club or Birkdale Golf Club, all popular layouts. Another option is Topgolf Charlotte, part of the fast-growing chain of luxury driving ranges.

First-time visitors naturally struggle to take it all in. Best to plan a return not for business, but to focus completely on Charlotte’s golf courses and other pleasures.