Not your average ‘municipal course,’ SGC provides affordable challenge
A lot has changed in Sanford — and everywhere else — since 1934. There have been 14 presidents. Entire countries have risen and fallen. Technology has changed nearly every aspect of modern life. And through it all, Sanford Golf Course — not even in the Sanford city limits in 1934 — has been there.
The original nine holes off Hawkins Avenue were a New Deal project as part of the Works Progress Administration under President Franklin Roosevelt, and the legend is that they were designed by famed designer Donald Ross, known for his work at the world famous Pinehurst No. 2, among other places.
“It’s one of those things where nobody can find the official record, but then again some people have found bits and pieces that say Sanford so — that’s just the story that’s been stuck to over the years,” said course Professional David Von Canon. “You’ve got to think about back in 1934. Hawkins Avenue was a dirt road. Downtown, historically, that was the limits of Sanford. It wasn’t until the late 60s, when (former manager) Bobby Powell took over, he finished making it 18 holes. And then in 2002, we did the big renovation with the new greens, built the driving range, changed some holes.”
The history on display at Sanford Golf Course may be one of its calling cards, but its accessibility is also important. Being a municipal course allows for a cheaper round, and Von Canon likes to think of the course as “Sanford’s biggest park.”
“Golf was probably seen as a little bit of an elitist game or whatever at one time,” he said. “But that’s changing, and you don’t have to be good at this game to get outside and knock a ball around and have fun with it. We don’t care what you look like, how tall or skinny you are — our objective at a city golf course is to treat it like a park and make sure you have a good time when you’re here.”
Von Canon said the challenges Sanford offers a skilled golfer are many.
“The defense on this golf course is the size of the greens. They’re small,” he said. “So the challenge for that player is to make sure he gets himself in shape off the tee. The golf course is not long, so accuracy in angles is what an old traditional golf course is all about. To a lesser skilled player it’s going to appear tight. It looks way more narrow than what it really is.
“But again, that person is going to have the same challenges as well because the green size doesn’t change for him either. But the fact that the golf course is not long will help a lesser skilled player because he doesn’t have to hit the ball so far.”
The accessibility in terms of price shouldn’t be taken to mean it’s always going to be easy to get on at Sanford — especially in light of the surge in popularity the COVID pandemic caused for the game of golf.
“As bad as COVID was for many people and many other industries or businesses, golf was one of the few things you could still go outside and do,” he said. “And what that did was it introduced golf to a lot of kids that were at home, even parents that were at home. It got people out of the house and it also rehabilitated some people who had given up on golf in their 40s and 50s. And then that trend just kind of continued.
“So accessibility, as far as being able to just come out here at 10 o’clock and say ‘I’m gonna go play now,’ those days are probably gone. I’m not gonna say tee times are required, but to get a good tee time, you need to be calling seven to 10 days out. So the word has gotten out.”
A city golf course isn’t a given for a municipality in North Carolina, and Von Canon says Sanford benefits from the draw a public course provides out of towners who come here for the day and leave money not only at the golf course but at restaurants and other businesses.
“A lot of the better known courses in Moore County, they do a lot of package play and people who go there will catch us on the way in or the way out,” he said. “As far as the tourist draw, I think Tobacco Road has kind of a leg up because it’s a Strantz course and it’s so different, but I think that’s really good for the area because once they get here, they’re gonna do their research and find out what we offer too.”
Von Canon estimates 40,000 rounds are played annually at Sanford Golf Course, located at 600 Golf Course Lane off Hawkins Avenue.
Learn more: sanfordnc.net/299/Golf-Course
Did you know? The two men responsible for the design of Pinehurst No. 2 in 1907 and the first major restoration in the 1970s also designed two of Sanford’s four courses. Donald Ross is said to have designed the first nine holes of Sanford’s city course 30-plus years after his masterpiece in Pinehurst. Robert Trent Jones Sr., the man who led No. 2’s restoration project in the 1970s, was the designer of Sanford’s two Carolina Trace golf courses, also in the 70s.
Sanford’s oldest golf course turns 90 next year, its first nine holes designed by the legendary Donald Ross, the man behind Pinehurst No. 2. Now owned and operated by the City of Sanford, the course presents a challenge for seasoned golfers and opportunities for beginners thanks to its relatively low rate.
Sanford Golf Course
- Opened: 1934
- Architect: Donald Ross (original 9); Bobby Powell (expansion)
- Holes: 18
- Par: 71
- Length: 6,304
- Rating/Slope: 70.5/130
- Cost: $30-$38
- Description: “… uniquely challenging course originally designed by Donald Ross in 1934. This is North Carolina golf at its finest with fairway-lined pine trees, beautiful azaleas, and a stunning view of Buffalo Creek on the back nine. Whether you are playing 18 holes or tuning up your game, (the) lush fairways, fast greens and friendly staff will leave you wanting to come back again and again.”
- Review: “Provides everything you would expect from a Ross design; little trouble from tee to green, but very tricky once you get there.” — TripAdvisor