By Keith Jarrett
When the devastating effects of the Party Rock Fire hit Lake Lure and surrounding areas last fall, homeowners at Rumbling Bald Resort were among those forced to evacuate.
Golf was the last item on anyone’s mind as the wildfire eventually spread through thousands of acres of this picturesque community, set in the foothills of the western North Carolina mountains in Hickory Nut Gorge.
There was no play on the resort’s two golf courses for about two weeks due to the dangers of the approaching fire and the thick smoke that clogged the skies around Rutherford and Henderson counties.
But six months later the smoke has cleared, and the beautiful views and diversity of Rumbling Bald’s 36 holes have reemerged, along with a new, spruced up look for those who haven’t visited recently.
And there is plenty to see.
Named after the 2,800-foot mountain that looms over the resort, Rumbling Bald offers a variety of entertainment options as expansive as the rich blue waters that surround this stay-and-play golf and vacation destination.
Two distinctly different 18-hole layouts challenge players of all abilities.
And for those seeking adventure before or after golf or those who don’t bring a set of clubs, other amenities abound.
Lake Lure, a 736-acre, semi-private body of water that features 27 miles of shoreline, offers a sandy beach, boat rentals and cruises along with all other standard lake fare.
A full-service spa and salon will pamper and relax guests with massages, facials, nail and skin care and other salon treatments.
The renovated Legends on the Lake offers water views, and lodging includes more than 200 choices, ranging from studio efficiencies, motor coach sites, golf course condos and luxurious private homes.
And just minutes away is Chimney Rock State Park, one of the state’s top tourist attractions, in addition to the surrounding Chimney Rock village, which is dominated by craft shops and restaurants.
Apple Valley and Bald Mountain championship courses offer different layouts but similar feels of challenge, playability and visual pleasures produced by the surrounding water, foliage and mountains.
Centrally located about an hour southeast of Asheville and two hours from Charlotte and Winston-Salem, the golf courses are about a mile apart – Bald Mountain is inside the gate and the amenities circle, and Apple Valley is just down the road.
Over the last year or so, a lot of work has been done to both courses, including some improved bunkering, a lot of pruning and a general sprucing up to give the course a cleaner look.
There are new golf carts on both courses – Bald Mountain’s fleet includes USB ports, while carts at Apple Valley feature cushioned seats, bottled water, towel service and a GPS system to provide yardages and detailed drawings of each hole.
“This past offseason, we took a hard look at what the golf courses needed and really started putting a lot of work and extra people on both so that our homeowners and our guests will be pleased with what they see,” said Adam Bowles, Rumbling Bald’s golf operations manager.
”We moved the Legends restaurant across the street (from the Bald Mountain pro shop) in our old Lake View Restaurant, and it’s got a theatre room, pool tables, games and that amazing view. It’s bigger, better, louder more fun.”
Apple Valley is a Dan Maples design that sets its 18-hole tone from the start at the short par-4 first hole.
From an elevated tee, there’s a wide fairway that allows some spraying with the driver, featuring huge, deep fairway bunkers left and right to frame the hole and more sand on both sides of the green.
The downhill par-3 8th hole may be the most scenic, a carry over a pond with a fountain and a dramatic, gorgeous view of the mountains in the background.
The back nine that has the hint of a links layout on several holes and begins with the unique par-4 10th, which features a lone, large pine tree in the middle of another wide fairway, and the only option is to go left or right of the obstruction to avoid being stymied off the tee.
Apple Valley closes strongly with an all-carry par-3 17th hole over water and sand, and the par-5 18th which doglegs left and has water all the way down the right side.
”We consider Apple Valley more of our championship golf course,” said Bowles, a nativeof Thomasville and graduate of High Point University who spent a lot of time at Rumbling Bald when his family owned a home there.
“It is the bigger, broader, more dynamic course.”
Bald Mountain is a W.B. Lewis design that opened in 1968, and is a shot-maker course that sits down in a valley and provides a constant view of the surrounding mountains.
Recurring themes include tee shots that require accuracy over length and smallish greens that also demand preciseness from approach shots.
The severe downhill par-3 fourth hole is protected by a pond in front and begins a stretch of elevation changes in which holes play both downhill and up.
The front and back nine close with similar flat par-5s that run parallel and can be had with two long shots off the tee and from the fairway.
No. 9 is an absolutely straight shot from tee-to-green, while No. 18 slightly doglegs left to the home hole.
The back nine features the par-3 15th hole over water made famous from a scene from the popular movie “Dirty Dancing.”
Some additional foliage that includes fresh shrubbery and mulch has made for a much more ascetically pleasing look for all those who want a photo from the famous, iconic hole.
“Bald Mountain is more our resort course. The front nine is relatively flat, then you go into the mountains on the back nine, and there are some amazing views,”
Bowles said. A recent visit to Rumbling Bald found both courses in excellent shape and busy with golfers.
There are no visible remnants of the wildfire, and the lush greenery of springtime in the mountains was in full bloom.
Stay-and-play packages are very popular, and both courses are also open to the public.
Charlie Gardin of Marion is part of a group of buddies who have make Rumbling Bald a 72-hole vacation annually for about 10 years.
“They have a variety of unique holes on both courses, a lot of risk and reward holes that I enjoy a lot,” Gardin said.
“We play both courses twice, and then we go to Legends and have dinner, laugh and cut up. It’s a great place to play golf and have fun.”
For more information: 828-694-3000 or visit RumblingBald.com.