Image: 6th hole at Currituck Club
Famed course architect Rees Jones did a nice job with The Currituck Club, an upscale course in Corolla, N.C. The par-3 sixth hole demands a precise shot with water in front and to the left of the green.
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updated 7/9/2007 5:38:47 PM ET 2007-07-09T21:38:47

First things first: If you make the very wise decision to rent a beach house at the spectacular Outer Banks in North Carolina, and the first night of your stay happens to coincide with the series finale of your favorite TV show, well, maybe you should make sure beforehand that your rental has HBO.

If not (this, of course, was the case when I went in June), you might have a stressful night sans “The Sopranos.” But when presented with a seemingly endless, pristine strand of beach, the warm waters of the Atlantic, fresh produce and seafood stands around every corner, a ton of history, a touch of wildlife, and six fantastic golf courses to play, who’s complaining?

In other words, after the futures of Tony, Carmela, A.J. and Meadow disappeared into mysterious black, it was time to concentrate on something actually attainable — fun and relaxation in one of America’s most increasingly popular vacation spots.

The Outer Banks are the Hamptons of the near-south, not too far from the growing Tidewater area of Virginia (Norfolk, Hampton, Newport News) but still a world away when you consider the breezy beach vibe, the monstrous mansions popping up all over the sand and the parasailing, fishing, diving, hang-gliding and many other attractions mere minutes away from any time share.

Of course, I wasn’t there for any “extreme” sports, but I had to check out the sextet of golf courses, all within an hour’s drive — on a good day — of each other and all with their own personalities, settings and challenges that make them unique. Thanks to the Outer Banks Golf Association and whichever magician invented Ibuprofen, I was just about able to do it.

The journey began very early in the morning at Kilmarlic Golf Club in Powell’s Point, the newest course of the bunch. This one is set back from the main road and practically hidden in a heavily wooded new housing development. A few houses have been built, but they’re nice to look at, and much of the course stands on its own right now, which gives it a serene, forest-like feel.

Kilmarlic isn’t particularly long (6,412 yards from the back tees), but it can play tough, especially if you catch the afternoon wind that kicks up from the nearby ocean (Note: This will be a recurring theme). It has great par-3s, including two — Nos. 2 and 11 — that make you hit over water. My favorite hole was No. 12, a short dogleg-right par-5 that will entice faders to cut one over the treeline and get an easy approach in two. Naturally, I snap-hooked one en route to a double-bogey.

Next up that day was The Carolina Club in nearby Grandy, which had a big crowd of players of all ages. This was not surprising considering how wide-open and inviting it is. That’s not to say it’s a breeze, because there are challenges if you’re not on top of your game. The wind kicked up pretty severely the day I showed up, making holes 7, 8 and 9, which are already quite memorable, also very tough.

The seventh hole is the signature, the one pictured on the scorecard, and for good reason. It’s a classic island-green par-3 and fun to play. No. 9 was the best, a long par-4 with water coming into play on both sides of the fairway — closer to the tee on the right and all the way to the green on the left.

Heading back to the beach, Sea Scape Golf Links is right across the street from the ocean in Kitty Hawk. You might remember the name Kitty Hawk from the fact it was the site of mankind’s first powered flight — courtesy of Orville and Wilbur Wright — on Dec. 17, 1903, but more on that in a moment.

Sea Scape, the second-oldest course on the Outer Banks, is a true resort course and it’s matured into a well-maintained place to get away and have fun playing golf without getting too snooty or serious. It has a selection of creatively designed holes that wind through what looks like a fun-loving, laid-back housing community, and there are a few holes that will sneak up and ruin your round if you’re not careful. Watch out for Nos. 10, 11 and 12, which feature doglegs, tight approach shots and links-style bunkers.

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The next destination on the list was The Currituck Club in Corolla on the northern Outer Banks, the highest-fee course of the bunch. One of the reasons for the hefty green fee is he big-name architect, Rees Jones, the son of the famed Robert Trent Jones Sr., and another is the simple fact that it’s a pristinely maintained, great golf course.

Huge, multi-million-dollar houses are going up all over this bad boy, so you might hear some hammering and sawing while you tee it, but that’s about the only thing that might bother you about this place, which is pure links golf and a ton of fun. Highlights are the par-5 seventh, with the Currituck Sound all along the left side, the risk-reward par-4 ninth, with a dramatic climb to the green, and the long, classic par-4 12th.

The wind wasn’t too bad at The Currituck Club, but that wasn’t the case at Nags Head Golf Links, which is right on the Roanoke Sound not far from Kill Devil Hills, the site of the Wright Brothers’ first flight. In fact, if you’ve got any money left — $4 is all you need — in your pocket after your round at Nags Head, you can stop at the Wright Brothers National Memorial and learn all about that historic 12-second journey.

Back on the course, it took less than 12 seconds for my round to go up in smoke. The wind was kicking up and Nags Head was having fun with my game. Despite my ballooning score, though, I gained a huge appreciation for the course. It’s only 6,126 yards from the back tees, but it’s more than enough for any golfer to handle, with strategic shots — I was lucky to be paired with some locals — all over the place, gorgeous holes along the sound and beautiful greens. And then there’s the wildlife. Within a three-hole stretch, I saw a family of red foxes and a snapping turtle loping along the fairway.

The last course on the itinerary was The Pointe Golf Club, and it was a perfect conclusion to a great week. The course was tough but fair, as well-cared-for as all of the Outer Banks tracks, and run by a super-nice pro shop staff.

Image: 12th hole at The Pointe Golf Club
The par-4 12th hole at The Pointe Golf Club offers a menacing, intimidating look from the tee, with a forced carry of 12-foot-high marsh reeds, but it’s a lot easier once you clear the hazard.
The par-5 eighth hole has one of the toughest tee shots on the Outer Banks, with a tight chute of trees that brings to mind one of those U.S. Open courses. I loved the par-4 12th hole, which freaks you out a bit with a tee shot over a hazard full of swamp reeds that might be 12 feet high but opens up to an accommodating, rather playable approach and isn’t nearly as hard as it looks. Actually, I loved the whole course just as I loved the other five.

There’s so much more to do in the Outer Banks other than great golf — wild horses roaming free on the north end, historic lighthouses, state parks with some of the best beaches in the country, great restaurants, and much more. Maybe there will even be HBO in your rental if you research it enough.

On my next visit, I promise I’ll put away the clubs for a few days and check it all out. OK, maybe not.

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