The dramatic par 4 8th hole at Trillium Links requires a medium iron to the top of the hill (top photo). From there (bottom photo), a wedge must be played to the right side of the green as everything kicks left. Good luck keeping from being distracted by the breathtaking view beyond.
Any opinion about the 10-year-old Trillium Links, the Morris Hatalsky designed private golf course in Cashiers, NC, is likely to be a function of reactions to its beautifully bizarre 8th hole, and whether you can reconcile hitting a short iron off the tee at a 257-yard par 4. Of course, you could consider driver or three wood and go for the unseen green -- it is up there somewhere -- but be prepared to rappel down the mountain in search of your ball.
Trillium is not classic golf by any means, and it just may reflect the "go for it" attitude of a competitive professional golfer with a total of seven wins
The rest of the course features additional oddities as well, including one of the narrowest greens in America (see article posted here on Sept. 6). How do I know it is one of the narrowest in the nation, not having played every hole in America? Well, the only legal pin positions on this green are within a narrow band down the middle of its 120-foot depth; by definition, the 9th green at Trillium is among the most narrow.
The 15th hole, a 181-yard par 3, is both pretty and pretty silly. It plays downhill to a green with a deep sand bunker guarding the entire left side. Should you pull your tee shot in there, an up and down will be difficult because the green slopes away. But Hatalsky thumbs his nose at convention and the average golfer by putting a high, solid wall on the green side of the bunker. The back of the bunker slopes downward, making it difficult to raise the ball above the wall; and if you are within five feet of the wall, prepare to come out sideways. A bunker is itself a hazard and should not require such a penal embellishment.
Indeed, when I landed in that bunker I thought about the Nicklaus courses I've played and how brutal the Golden Bear's courses can be for the average golfer, as if saying, "See, it isn't as easy as it looks on TV, is it?" Well, no, not when you put walls on bunkers it isn't, but I can't remember the last time I saw that on tour. I felt similarly put upon on the long par 4 12th when my decent drive landed on the right side of the fairway and bounded through too closely mown rough and into the woods. I'll lay that on aggressive grass cutting, but a drive that lands in a fairway should wind up in the rough at worst.
Trillium is not a course you should play without a member. I don't mind playing solo as it gives me plenty of time to take photographs without holding anyone up. But on a course with blind shots and fickle bounces, a guide of some sort helps. The pro shop kindly furnished me with a cheat sheet -- they did not have yardage books -- but the lack of a graphic representation of the holes was a handicap, despite such descriptive words as, "Line is over rocks. Fairway does not slope right to left." Since you would swear from the tee that the fairway did slope right to left, the sheet saved me a few times.
A stretch of holes from #15 through #17 is among the shortest anywhere, less than 700 yards in total and comprising two par 3s and a 288 yard par 4. The 16th & 17th are rated two of the three easiest on the entire course, and the finisher, a 400-yarder, does not add a tremendous degree of difficulty (it is the #10 handicap hole). Trillium, which is in excellent shape with greens that are medium fast and subtly contoured, does not pretend to be a tournament course.
Nitpicks aside, Trillium's course is a fun track, and I am sure its members appreciate the combination of unique and straightforward holes. The club does something that few other courses do but should; they combine holes from the back (Trillium) tees and the shorter Mountain tees into a separate 18 hole routing (the holes of the additional course are shaded on the card). The back tees play to a modest 6,477 yards, but in reality the course plays considerably longer because a half dozen holes require lay-up shots off the tee or on the second shots on par 5s. The "men's" tees at just 5,825 yards (rating 68.3, slope 129) may insult the testosterone, but those with handicaps in the mid-teens will find it challenge enough. Those who choose the back tees beware; Trillium is sneaky difficult and the rating of 71.3 may be somewhat understated and the slope of 140 a warning to bogey golfers to move to the next tee forward.
Trillium's membership program is almost as unusual as its golf course, and I mean that in the best sense of the word. For example, I cannot recall another private club that offers the grandchildren of members, and their spouses, free access to the course. The younger grandchildren will especially appreciate Trillium's nine-hole pitch and putt course carved into the woods, a good place for all players to work on their short game. Depending on the type of golf membership chosen, a deposit of up to $50,000 is required, but all of it is returned within 30 days of departure from the club. Full club membership includes privileges at Hatalsky's new nine-hole course at Chinquapin, Trillium's sister community about 15 minutes away. Tennis is popular at Trillium and features three Har-Tru courts under roof for wintertime play, as well as a few outdoor courts, all supervised by an on-site tennis professional.
Of all the fine communities I visited during my week in the mountains of North Carolina, Trillium was the oldest private club, at just 10 years, and the most fully formed, with all promised amenities in place and a few playgrounds on the way. Although Trillium's marketing line is "Where Families Belong," the average age of its residents is 56; the "families" tend to be of the three-generation variety. More than 90% of the community's real estate is vacation homes, a figure I found a little surprising (on the high side) given Trillium's proximity to the interesting mountain towns of Cashiers (four miles) and Highlands (12 miles). Still, the clubhouse serves Thanksgiving meals to 330 people, and the club keeps nine holes on the golf course open through the winter. Trillium struck me as a place that could be comfortable during the winter, romantic even, especially if you have a nice fireplace in your home.
The community, which covers a tidy 750 acres, is a mix of all types of houses at a range of prices. Town homes and condos range from the $500s, the prices -- as always -- dependent upon the views, which include the community's large and active lake, the mountains and the golf course. (I did not find the homes on the golf course intrusive at all.) A group of condos called Balsam View offer maintenance-free ownership with views of mountains and/or lake starting at $950,000 for 2,700 square feet. Single-family home prices cut a wide swath, beginning around $400,000 and going all the way up to $3.6 million. Homes on about half the sites in Trillium have been built, and 75% of all available properties have been sold. Remaining lots range from $200,000 for wooded properties to $850,000 for those with the most dramatic mountain and golf views, not unreasonable at all for property in the increasingly popular North Carolina mountains. For those vacation homeowners who want to defray some of their carrying costs, Trillium offers an active rental program.
The golf course at Trillium may not be to a purist's liking, and anyone contemplating property there should definitely play the course once or twice. (I am happy to arrange golf if you are serious about Trillium.) My test of whether I like a golf course is simple; if I pull out of the parking lot after the round and think I want to come back to play the course again, then it passes my test. I would certainly like to give Trillium another go, especially the crazy, dramatic and beautiful 8th hole.
Trillium, Cashiers, NC. 888.464.3800. TrilliumNC.com. Trillium tees, 6,477 yards, 71.3 rating, 140 slope; Links tees, 6,036, 69.4,136; Mountain tees, 5,825,68.3,129; Village tees, 4,913, 64.1,121. If you are planning a trip to the Carolina mountains, please let me know and I will be pleased to help you determine which communities best suit your lifestyle criteria and to work with you to set up an itinerary.
Trillium's downhill par 3s, like the 5th, are as pretty as they are challenging.