When Rock Barn owner Don Beaver decided to transform what had been a 27-hole golf complex a decade ago, he made a dramatic improvement.
The Rock Barn complex - a semi-private club with 36 holes of golf and an elegant spa - is home to one of the state's top-ranked golf courses and an annual visit by the Champions Tour.
When the top senior golfers in the world arrive for the Ensure Classic Sept. 27-Oct. 3, they'll be playing the Robert Trent Jones Jr. Course, which was ranked No. 4 nationally in Golf Digest's 2003 rankings of the best new upscale courses.
Since then, the Jones Course has made regular appearances on rankings list of the top places to play in North Carolina. With its rolling terrain, the Jones Course has the feel of a mountain layout as it wanders its way through the hardwood forests.
Jones took nine holes from the original Rock Barn course, coupled it with a new section of property and created an entirely new 18-hole course that opened eight years ago. There are 90 bunkers, water on 13 holes and enough elevation change to make riding a cart a very good idea.
There's an emphasis on comfort at Rock Barn where the staff treats everyone like a member, though a substantial portion of the golf is played by non-members.
The Jones Course gets most of the attention but there's also a shorter, more forgiving Tom Jackson layout at Rock Barn.
And don't forget the Rock Barn spa. It's enough to soothe even the most frustrated golfer.
Rock Barn Golf and Spa
Robert Trent Jones Jr. Course
3791 Golf Drive
Conover, N.C. 28613
Robert Trent Jones Jr. Course
Gold tees 7,182 yards 140/74.7
Blue tees 6,589 yards 133/71.4
White tees 5,963 yards 123/68.7
Red tees 5,122 yards 128/72
Mon.-Thur: $59 (includes cart)
Fri-Sun: $85 (includes cart)
THE SHOT YOU'LL TALK ABOUT:
The par-4 sixth hole on Rock Barn's Jones Course has a distinct mountain feel to it. Depending on which tees you're playing, it can stretch more than 400 yards and it's the second shot that gets everyone's attention.
It's a great visual, standing atop a hill (assuming your tee shot has found the fairway) and looking at an approach shot to a wide, relatively narrow green fronted by a deep, rocky creek. A good drive leaves most players anywhere from 160 to 175 yards. Hole location is critical.
If the pin is up front, it brings the creek more into play. Bunkers guard the left side of the green; there's not much room to miss to the right. A par at the sixth is well-earned. THE HOLE YOU'LL TALK ABOUT:
At first glance, the par-4 11th hole isn't the most dramatic at the Jones Course. There's no water and no great elevation change. It's just a good, solid par-4 that demands two good shots to reach the green. Your work still isn't done from there.
It's a slight dogleg to the left, and it's a relatively tight driving hole with trees on both sides. A good drive still leaves a mid-iron into a narrow green. When the Champions Tour rolls into town, keep an eye on the 11th hole. It's where the tournament might be won or lost.
THE RANGE, THE BAR AND OTHER IMPORTANT THINGS:
Because Rock Barn is semi-private with approximately 60 percent of its rounds played by members, it offers more than most courses available to daily-fee golfers.
There's a nice driving range with putting greens nearby on the backside of the big clubhouse. There's also Rocker's Lounge if you're looking for a place to wind down. Sue's Grill is the place for burgers, hot dogs and fries for golfers looking for something quick.
Then there's the spa. Located just a few yards from the first tee at the Jones Course, it's among the top spas in North Carolina with an extensive exercise area with state-of-the-art equipment.
The spa also features a wide variety of treatments for golfers or others who just need a little special care. It's one of the reasons the Champions Tour's annual visit to Rock Barn draws so many of the top players.
There aren't many places on either the PGA Tour or the Champions Tour schedule where the public can just show up and play. But Rock Barn is the exception and it's worth the ride from Charlotte to spend a day where Jay Haas, Bernhard Langer and their contemporaries will be playing in early October.
Be prepared to deal with some hills but you'll be glad you made the ride.