After the glassy greens of Raleigh Country Club and the stern, forested fairways of Treyburn, it was time for something a little more forgiving. Or, as the official song of North Carolina goes: “Hurrah! Hurrah! The good Old North State!”
About 150 kilometres west of Raleigh, the Old North State Club is another Tom Fazio design, this one a bit more user-friendly than its tougher Treyburn counterpart, but one that more than does justice to the storied, historic moniker of its home state. Like all the courses on this trip, it’s part of the McConnell Golf Trail, a collection of six private Carolina courses that groups of four or eight can get access to on a tour-package basis through proprietor McConnell Golf LLC .
Situated on a peninsula that’s bounded on all sides by the docile waters of Badin Lake, water is either in play or in view on 10 of ONC’s spectacular 18 holes — many of them guarded by menacing-looking rubber coyotes to protect patrons from the encroaching fauna.
The true threats, however, are on the golf course.
The day dawned hot and humid, as it often does in the Tar Heel State (how else, the sensible man asks, but in hot weather could one be prone to getting tar on one’s heels), so hydration early and often was the order of the day. So too was the “playing focus” — a sustained several seconds in the “think box,” as defined by VISION54 playing coaches Pia Nillson and Lynn Marriott, with the club shaft resting at the base of my neck over my left shoulder.
The sensation of the shaft on my shoulder acts as a sensory cue that I’m in planning mode, thinking about line, trajectory and shot shape. When I’m ready to cross into the “play box” and address the ball, I need to stop thinking about the plan and enter execution mode. That process begins when I lift the shaft from my shoulder.
For the “play box,” I was concentrating on two simple thoughts: a slow, languid takeaway and a relaxed, easy tempo with a pronounced weight shift. Having struggled in recent weeks with a flat-footed swing that left me stuck behind the ball, I wanted to accomplish one thing only: get through the ball on the downswing to a balanced, front-foot finish.
Good things started to happen.
I had little trouble off the tee all day. My real problem was with my short irons and around the greens. But combining a slower swing with a concerted effort to keep my weight on my forward foot let to dramatically more consistent contact. Rather than just sort of crashing through the impact zone, I felt like I was delivering the clubface to the back of the ball — so much so that I slowly began to notice my ability to control my distances and my trajectory coming back to life.
Good thing, too. Old North doesn’t boast quite the same degree of elevation change as Treyburn, but it calls for some careful planning into the greens, which are often on a different tier and call for one or two clubs more or less. A great many holes are either uphill or downhill, as well – the memorable 401-yard par-4 8th hole, with its towering oak just off the left edge of the fairway, comes to mind as a striking uphiller, while the narrow par-4 16th, 427 yards from the back deck, descends to a green complex guarded by the lake on the left and a bunker complex on the right.
That 16th hole kicks off a dramatic stretch of closing holes that include the 200-yard par-3 17th, where the lake serves both as backdrop and hazard, and the impressive horseshoe-shaped 568-yard closer, which arcs tantalizingly around the lake but is, in reality, way more risk than reward.
I did manage to salvage a par on 18, after a frustrating roller-coaster round which, despite some promising signs of improvement on the ball-striking front, featured very little in the way of scoring. But the signs were there – we’re definitely progressing back to a point where we can worry less about making solid contact with the ball and more about how to get it in the hole.
Incidentally, we spent the night at the course’s guest lodge, a well-appointed and comfortable collection of rooms just a skulled nine-iron away from the clubhouse. A made-to-order breakfast awaited us in the dining room downstairs in the morning before venturing off to the last layout of the trip: Greensboro’s Cardinal Golf and Country Club.
Oh, and dinner? Steak, of course, in the stately Old North State dining room — complete with a stunning view of 18 and the lake backdrop. Just don’t ask for 22 ounces of it and you’ll be fine.