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'Best' doesn't always have to mean the 'hardest' course

We were sitting around the 19th hole, exchanging ideas on such lofty issues as the overlapping grip, where to find the best chili, John Daly’s fashion sense and the cost of a good set of tires.

The discussion turned to golf courses. Which are the best? Yeah, those are the best, but if you could play any course around the Carolinas, would it be one of the best or just one you love to play?

I haven’t played them all, of course, but I have played a lot of them around the two states. I judge a golf course not so much by its degree of difficulty, unless it’s extremely hard, in which case get me out of there. Golf is a game, not busting rocks.

I judge a course by how enjoyable it is to play, the variety of the holes, conditioning, the scenery and the general ambience. And how pleased I am to be standing on the first tee the second time I play it. And maybe how good the hot dogs are.

So, the 19th holers, inquiring minds all, threw around some names. I threw around, as the seven best I’ve seen in the Carolinas – not necessarily the seven I would rather play – Pinehurst No.2, The Dunes at Myrtle Beach, Harbour Town at Sea Pines, S.C., Linville Country Club, Charlotte Country Club, Quail Hollow Country Club in Charlotte and Grandfather Golf & Country Club.

(I made it seven because it’s easier than five but don’t let that get out.)

Seven I could play every day – Pine Needles in Pinehurst, Wild Dunes in Isle of Palms, S.C., Old North State Club on Badin Lake, Old Tabby Links at Spring Island, S.C., Elk River in Banner Elk, Country Club of North Carolina (either course), Cedarwood Country Club (my home course. OK, it’s not Pinehurst but if I left it off, I’d have to hear about it at the 19th hole.)

Ask me which one of all these I would choose if I had one round to play and it would probably be a tossup between Pinehurst No. 2 and The Dunes.

I love the village of Pinehurst and I love No. 2 for its rich history, its remarkably subtle challenges, the knowledge that you’re playing one of the world’s greatest. I can enjoy walking the course without a club in my hand, without anyone to watch. I’ve done it more than once. It’s amazing how many ghosts will join you out there, great players past and living who have played those fairways.

I like The Dunes for its variety – putting an arm around you on one hole, then tossing you to the gators on the next – and for the way it rewards and penalizes and for its beauty. It has gotten a lot of attention but I think it is still underrated.

There are several courses around the two states that I’ve only heard about but suspect they deserve consideration for any list such as this. And there are those I have played that are difficult to leave out. And there are probably a couple I overlooked. Hey, everybody bogeys once in awhile.

By the way, speaking of 19th holes, the best is the bar at the Pine Crest Inn in Pinehurst.