Nags Head Golf Links

6,126 yards, 128 slope from the Black tees.

Nags Head is in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, kind of in the middle of all the towns. Sitting on the coast of Roanoke Sound, the water and wind does give this course a links feel at times. On vacation with the family, the course was a few minutes from where we were staying so I excused myself from the beach one afternoon to check things out.

The course was designed by Bob Moore in 1986. Moore is based in Chapel Hill and has an extensive portfolio of designs in the U.S. and Asia. The Preserve in California (where he collaborated with Tom Fazio) and Whiskey Creek in Maryland (a collaboration with Ernie Els) are among them.

A fun course with sudden turns and blind shots and an array of forced carries, there is a hodge podge of various shots and looks here, all of it wanting to make sure there’s no redundancy. The housing and scarcity of property, however, make it a much tougher course to manage in the wind. In fact, some of the holes are downright impossible when the wind is up, with some shots destined for their watery grave while others veer into the homes, depending on the fickle gusts. The course does what it can to counter this but it’s certainly a recipe for a lot of lost balls, especially with how many blinds shots there are out there. Those that live here and play this course regularly have to develop a filthy toughness against the wind that likely has them faring well just about any where else. For most everyone else, there’s a lot of fun here and with the views of the Sound, making it more than worthwhile for a visit.

It was my first time in the Outer Banks. I get picky about beaches, but a native sandy coastal feel prevailed and there was still enough civilization to make eating and other activities pretty easy. The drive-through beer stores were worth the price of admission alone. I loved it. Empty enough, we could bring the dog and the splendid naturalness of the beach was allowed to flourish. It reminded me of Isla Vista where I went to college in a lot of ways. We are returning this year as well.

There are golf vacations and vacations where you golf and this was the latter. A casual couple hours among the links, water and wind was in order just before heading out to dinner and then probably the go-cart place. The dolphins were the next day. This vacation is also when things started in motion. A couple months down the road, again close to the water, I’d get to play what became (maybe) my favorite course, but more on that later.

The First is a 292 yard par 4 (from the Black tees). An elevated tee to a fairway that is some what blind. It’s a smaller landing area and we need to be precise from the get go, a harbinger of things to come. Those on the left of the fairway will be blind to the green whereas those to the right are rewarded with sight. There’s a lot of room at the green though, a relief of some sorts after the test of a starting tee shot.

The First
Approach shot territory
Looking back

The Second is a 516 yard par 5. Moving parallel with the Croatan Highway (named for the Croatan Native American tribe that inhabited these lands), some water seeps in from the left near the tee and needs to be carried to get to the fairway. The fairway expands and constricts as it moves to the green and feeds into it. The green is pushed up and moves back to front, with three bunkers on the left guarding that side.

The Second
Approach shot territory

The Third is a 126 yard par 3. A forced carry over water, a trio of bunkers guard the front of the green, which moves from back to front. The short grass areas off the green and amongst the bunkers get much trickier than if in the bunkers and it’s a larger green, ensuring that simply landing on it is not enough.

The Third
Looking back

The Fourth is a 349 yard par 4. Now heading to the Sound, a creek cuts through the fairway diagonally left to right and the golfer must decide to lay off before it or try and carry it from the tee. Those that end up short of the creek will have a long, challenging approach in. Of course, wind will likely be a factor here based on the open corridor to the Sound and if into the wind, the approach will ramp up in challenge, a low piercing flight always a good idea if the golfer is able to summon it. A few bunkers are on the right of the green while short grass contours and slopes envelope most of the green. We start to see that bunkers are used sparingly, which is nice based on the land size and likely a good idea with the wind issues and having to replace sand. The short grass off the green fosters more creativity than bunkers shots and again with the wind, requires more inventiveness at times.

The Fourth
Approach shot territory

The Fifth is a 513 yard par 5. Moving along the Sound on our left, the wind was surging across the fairway. This made it necessary to start the tee shot out above the water and have that wind carry it back to land. The trees and bushes ahead of us partially obscure our view of where the ball ends up. The next couple shots are about setting up the approach to the green. There’s water short of the green and it will likely need to be carried to reach the green. With the wind howling, this should be plotted carefully. The green is deep and raised, so there’s a little tolerance for sideways shots but a lot more acceptance of straight shots that are short or long. Moving along the fairway and watching the water lapping against the wind with a general coastal quietness pervading, it’s a nice place for the golfer to take stock and enjoy the surroundings before tackling what lies ahead.

The Fifth
The fairway, looking out to the left
Approach shot territory
The green, from the right

The Sixth is a 147 yard par 3. Moving into the interior of the course, we reverse direction and the reverse triangle green is before us, trees on either side leading up to it. A sole small bunker is at the front right whereas the green has lots of movement and falls off on the sides. The green is nice enough in considering the effect of the wind, yet trying to come in from one side or the other is a bit stifled by the trees. Again, a nice low flight that lands and releases would be a nice play if the golfer has it in his arsenal.

The Sixth

The Seventh is a 373 yard par 4. Best on both sides by, I just call them “tree-bushes,” the tee shot is fairly tight through all of them before finally widening out a little on the right. The hole then dog legs to the left and the green is raised above the fairway. The curtilage cuts in on the right, so approaches except for the left side will need to carry it. The green moves from left to right fairly briskly.

The Seventh
Approach shot territory

The Eighth is a 360 yard par 4. Like the Fourth, this hole moves across the property to the water. Water is in front of us and the fairway moves right to left, so that the bigger landing area will need to carry more of the water. While the fairway sweeps far over to the left before coming around a wetlands area to the green, most golfers will be hitting over the wetland area to the green, cutting off all that sweeping and such. It’s a large green and two bunkers defend it at the front, the miss being rear or left. With the wind up, this hole becomes downright nasty.

The Eighth
Approach shot territory

The Ninth is a 359 yard par 4. We find ourselves moving along the coast again, the wind doing as it may while we’re able to take in the sights. A forced carry tee shot likely blind, you’ll probably be aiming out towards the water or houses on the other side. The fairway leads up to the green and for the first time in a spell, you don’t have a forced carry. Of course, I took that opportunity to destroy a perfectly belted tee shot with a shank that darted towards where they wash the carts at the end of the round, then continued to murder any semblance of a well played front nine with choppy chipping and putting, sputtering to close things out. At any rate, the hole is a nice finish with the water at hand and clubhouse a few steps away. The golfer can settle for nine or move on to the back.

The Ninth
Approach shot territory

The front nine is essentially two loops that move out to the water and back inland. The first few holes manage to stave off the wind for the most part and after that warm up, the forced carries and wind begin in earnest. My ranking of them is 9, 8, 1, 4, 5, 2, 3, 6, 7.

The back nine starts with the 173 yard par 3 Tenth. A forced carry over water with a bunker at the front left of the green. The green is deep and it’s better to miss left than right because your ball will stay dry. There’s a little protection from the wind here as well.

The Tenth

The Eleventh is a 349 yard par 4. We continue to move over the water, this time as a par 4 where the fairway is widest just after the water and narrows proceeding to the green. The green is set off to the left. Water intrudes enough so that those who hit shorter tee shots will likely have to carry it again on the approach. The green complex is sizable yet surrounded by houses in what I suppose gives it an amphitheater feel.

The Eleventh
Approach shot territory

The Twelfth is a 431 yard par 4. Not done with the water, it’s an easier carry over it off the tee but water further down at the end of the fairway should also be considered with the tee shot. While blind from the tee, the fairway moves downhill towards that water and is close enough for some to see their tee shots roll in. The green is on the other side of the water, a bit to the left and set at an angle. One of the smaller greens we come across but lots of room around it to miss.

The Twelfth
Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory

The Thirteenth is a 513 yard par 5. A dog leg right where the tree bushes constrict and expand as the fairway moves to the green. There’s a forced carry over water at the tee and again at the green. Longer players could get to a part of the fairway where the green is in view and possibly go for the green in two, but that largely depends on what the wind is doing. The green complex is large so for most of us, the second shot is about getting in a position for a comfortable approach over the water and getting close to the pin.

The Thirteenth
Approach shot territory
Looking back

The Fourteenth is a 317 yard par 4. One last time, we head to the Sound from the opposite side of the course. The right side holds firm with a tree line while the left side eventually widens a little to allow enough room for an acceptable tee shot landing. There are a few bunkers spaced out and placed around the green but otherwise the approach is inviting. Of course, this is likely due to accommodate the wind, which will wreck havoc on just about any shot into the green. It will likely be a head wind, so a lower shot that rolls may do better here and the deep green is certainly set up for it. The views of the water are once again worth stopping to admire.

The Fourteenth
Approach shot territory

The Fifteenth is a 221 yard par 3. A gorgeous hole right on the Sound where a long shot must navigate that screaming wind and avoid the water off to the right and short left. Driver is likely an option. There’s a lot of room after the water on the left so getting it up there and keeping it dry are the main objectives, especially if the wind is going. Then it’s all about using all that green ground to stay low to the pin. The solitude of the hole against the water is yet another place to linger if you can.

The Fifteenth
Looking back

The Sixteenth is a 344 yard par 4. A dog leg right where we once again need to carry water and the green is some where out there. Other than the carry over the water, the fairway is pretty generous. The approach is likewise, save for a single left front bunker. Like the Fourteenth, the ground game is salvation from the wind and there are plenty of ways to use it to coax the ball close to the pin.

The Sixteenth
Short approach

The Seventeenth is a 160 yard par 3. An uphill green with a few bunkers short of it within the hillside. The wind will once again be a dominant consideration, along with clearing those bunkers. There’s enough room for recovery should the wind batter down or throw the tee shot about and the left side has a lot of room to rely on.

The Seventeenth

The Eighteenth is a 583 yard par 5. Finishing along the coast, the tee shot is a bit uphill and to the left, the fairway before us with a couple small bunkers placed out to the right. The fairway constricts to almost nothing at the second shot, only to spill back out again towards the green. Managing this narrow spot amidst the wind makes for a harrowing yet exciting finish and I imagine many golfers waver between laying up short of it or having a go. The second fairway moves relatively unscathed to the green, again almost knowing the wind will give the golfer all he can handle. The green is just opposite the Ninth green, two neat little loops finishing in the same place, before the water. As the sunlight dances on the rippling water, the wind seems to change its tone as soon as the ball is in the hole. Much more soothing now, it has had its fun with you and now brings you in as a friend to enjoy the grandeur of the surroundings.

The Eighteenth
Looking back at the tee from the fairway
Moving up the fairway
Approach shot territory

The back nine seems to stiffen in challenge as the holes go on, with some treacherous carries and the wind dominates. All in good fun. I would rank them 15, 14, 18, 12, 16, 17, 11, 13, 10.

Generally, Nags Head is a pleasant couple loops about Roanoke Sound that is subject to the whims of the wind, yet mostly accommodate those natural elements for a broad range of challenge as conditions dictate. The views and location are worthy of a visit while the golf is substantial, a far cry from a lot of resort fodder one may usually find when trying to get out for a round or two on those family vacations. Here, the wind, water and views comprise a hardy, scenic round where ball striking precision is tested.

Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Great location on the water and I believe there’s an upstairs lighthouse type set up where you can clim up and enjoy the views. I was looking forward to enjoying a post round drink on the patio while taking in the views, but everything was closed by the time I finished my round. There’s always next time.

View from clubhouse patio

Practice area: There is a range and putting/chipping green.