Tucked away in a corner of Chatham County is one of the best-kept golf secrets in North Carolina. Despite its location in the middle of the bust-ling metropolis formed by Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh, Old Chatham Golf Club is a private retreat with a low profile.
Nestled back away from O’Kelly Chapel Road, Old Chatham’s entrance is easy to miss from either direction. Reminiscent of another Carolina classic—Yeamans Hall in Charleston comes to mind—there are no signs to indicate the driveway into the club, which is full of rewards, starting with the Rees Jones-designed golf course in a pine forest neighboring Jordan Lake.
Less than a decade old, Old Chatham looks like and has the ambiance of a classic club and course steeped in the game’s finest traditions. This throwback experience was the very idea the club’s founders, business leaders in the area, had in mind when establishing Old Chatham in 2001.
“We envisioned a private club with the timeless allure of the elite golf institutions up north,” says founding member Rex Teaney II, who cites icons like Winged Foot Golf Club, Baltusrol Golf Club and Merion Golf Club as models.
Part of the club’s vision was the hiring of Jones, who has renovated numerous Golden Age layouts, many of them in preparation for tournaments like the U.S. Open and PGA Championship. On a 403-acre site, Jones designed a 7,210-yard layout that consists of holes framed by towering curtains of loblolly pines that provide a sense of seclusion, free from modern-golf intrusions like real estate. Despite looking like a throwback, Old Chatham is a worthy test for today’s game.
Each nine forms a loop that returns to the clubhouse, and Jones “turned the compass”—an old-school design tenet in which consecutive holes never follow the same direction—throughout the routing, making for ever-changing playing conditions during the round.
The holes are generous in scale, yet devoid of the overdone, heavy-handed contours so common in modern golf course architecture. Rather, the features, especially those around the greens, tie in seamlessly with their surroundings, as if they had evolved over generations.
The contours are integral to the course design, as Old Chatham’s top-dressing program and precise irrigation controls promote firm, fast turf conditions, allowing the strategic elements of the ground game to flourish.
Old Chatham’s dedication to the game’s traditions also can be found in the quality of the club’s professional services, which include a first-class caddie program and an extensive practice facility featuring an expansive short-game area.
As well as the grounds, golfers appreciate the comfortable clubhouse, where neither the design nor the furnishings burn the eye. The locker room boasts distinctive hand-carved wooden lockers, evocative of those at Seminole, while tacked leather benches, upholstered club chairs and a stone fireplace join together to form a cozy spot to wind down after play.
High above the trophy table hang walnut championship boards where annual winners of the club championship and Chatham Cup are enshrined in gilt. As the final, pitch-perfect touch, Hogan, the club’s convivial black Labrador retriever, bestows the room with a relaxed down-home sensibility.
Among those in the know, Old Chatham Golf Club has taken its rightful place among the top golf clubs in the region. In 2009 Old Chatham hosted the North Carolina Amateur in celebration of the Carolinas Golf Association’s 100th anniversary—quite an honor considering the number of quality classic layouts in the Tar Heel State.
While outside recognition may be nice, make no mistake: Old Chatham’s primary focus is all about its members, their guests and the simple grandeurs of the game.