A friend and I headed to Raleigh on Friday to catch the Sharks and Hurricanes game at PNC Arena and squeezed in a round here on Saturday before the drive home. I’ve been to a couple Sharks games over the years, and because I don’t get to watch much of their play now that I am on the East Coast I was anxious to get to a game this year. We left town a bit before 3pm, checked into the hotel which was within walking distance of the arena, and got to the game right around the 7pm starting time. The Sharks took the early lead but the Hurricanes scored three unanswered goals and were the team to beat. I am no hockey expert but the Sharks couldn’t seem to get the puck deep and a few neutral zone turnovers allowed the Hurricanes to move play back into the Sharks zone. Plus, the Sharks backup goalie looked shaky on a couple plays. That all lead to a 5-3 win for the Hurricanes but it was close until their empty net goal. The loss aside, it was an entertaining game from a fan perspective with the all the goals that were scored. I forgot how quickly the game moves from one end of the ice to the other and it was neat to see some of the Sharks big name players such as Marleau, Pavelski, and Thornton in real life.
The weather seemed like it would be a mixed bag on Saturday and it turned out to be colder than the forecast predicted. The rain moved through the night before so it cloudy and chilly during the round. What is funny is that when we left Charlottesville on Friday it was 45 or 50 degrees with a cold rain falling. We made it a bit south of Richmond on I-85 and it was 77 degrees. The warm weather was in place for the game and I could have gotten away with shorts and a tee shirt on Friday night. Coming from the West Coast that type of temperature change is just crazy to me. As I type this review the roof of a house outside my window is white from the freezing rain that has been falling this morning.
We ended up playing at UNC Finley, a Tom Fazio design, which I had read good things about when looking at courses in the Raleigh area. A bit more research shows that the course is currently ranked as one of the top public courses in the state (according to Golf.com). If the name wasn’t a “give away”, it is the home course to the UNC golf teams and while I am not positive, I think the golf center for the teams is located left of the 11th hole at the far end of the range. So with all this, the course has the pedigree of a championship layout.
We got the course a little before our 11am tee time and were told that we could head out right away. I hadn’t played golf since my New Orleans trip and had only hit balls once so I was expecting to be a bit rusty. That, combined with the cold and wet conditions, encouraged me to play a set of tees up from where I would normally play so we ended up playing the Blue tees at 70.1/127/6218. that turned out to be a good decision because the ball went nowhere. I normally hit it 240 or 250 off the tee after it rolls out, but even on a good drive I couldn’t get it past 230 or so yards because of the conditions. The holes that played into the little breeze played over a club longer so I think the course might have played closer to 6500 yards.
The course is in an urban area and is surrounded by university buildings and a park on some of the perimeter holes. Even with all the activity around the course I didn’t think it affected play. Most holes are fairly straightforward without any tricks except for maybe the 10th which felt out of place compared with the rest of the course. Since most college team play doesn’t involve carts the course is laid out well for someone to walk it. Many of the greens have gravel walking paths to the next tee box and the holes are close together. There are a couple hills to climb on the back nine but it could be walked at a decent clip. The course is overseeded this time of year so it is not in the prettiest, but come spring time it would be a colorful place to play with the domestic vegetation that lines parts of many holes. The main challenge off the tee are the fairway bunkers but a poor tee shot can still be found. While pine trees line many holes, a tee shot into them will drop down into a cleared out area on the pine needles. So, the course is not the toughest off the tee except for a few uncomfortable angles. I like approach golf courses and this certainly is one of those courses. Most greens are small or medium sized and are surrounded by bunkers so a precise approach is needed to score. There are some chipping areas and some water to add to the difficulty but I think the main challenge would be some longer holes from the tee boxes behind where we played. The grass around the bunkers was very deep and I had to dig down with a big swing to move the ball if it got caught there. Some of the closing holes are built into the side of a hill which offered some nice views and a unique element to the course.
Fazio did a good job to test golfers of all skills without the course being overly tough. The 2nd hole is a 325 yard par 4 which plays to an elevated green that wraps around a greenside bunker. I missed it short of the green and just had a chip up the hill while many courses would have a hazard short of the green which would have resulted in a lost ball. The 3rd hole is one of those holes that tests someone’s ability to create a shot around the dogleg and the 10th does that as well. I felt that the 10th hole was the weakest on the course. It is a 374 yard par 4 that moves right around some pine trees to a narrow fairway that is blind from the tee. Considering that every tee shot up to that point had been pretty open with a visible landing I didn’t like having to guess where to hit it. The 15th is a 408 yard par 4 with water all down the left and plays from an elevated tee. This certainly seems like the most memorable hole on the course. The 17th is a 500 yard par 5 that plays over some bunkers off the tee with a fairway that runs out on the left. It is a tough tee shot to pull off because distance and accuracy are important no matter which club is hit off the tee. The layup is to a split fairway and then the approach plays to the biggest green on the course with a five or six foot rise from the right side to the left side. As a group, the par 3’s were pretty good too. The conditioning of the course was good considering that it is the off season and not much could be done about the wet conditions from the rain the night before. The ball hit pretty soft and the greens were slower than they looked because of the moisture but still rolled pretty true. The greens looked pretty flat, but they had subtle breaks which seemed to affect my putting as I didn’t make many putts over five feet. The subtle breaks would seem to favor the better players such as the collegiate teams that practice there. This is definitely a course in the Raleigh area that is worth checking out for the out of town player even with its higher than average price. We got a time on Golfnow for $64 which is some savings over the $73 rate through the course directly.
Some pictures of the game and then the course below: