Mid Pines celebrates 100 years
By Lee Pace
Exactly one century ago, come Jan. 16, 2022, the inn and clubhouse at Mid Pines officially opened its doors. A paid advertisement in The Pinehurst Outlook proclaimed, “On that day all roads will lead to Rome. In many ways the opening of Mid Pines is an eventful period in the life of the Sandhills, for it adds a new factor of first magnitude to the facilities for caring for and multiplying the army of winter visitors.”
And 100 years ago, on Jan. 25, the golf course was christened with a 36-hole medal play competition open to all amateurs. “There is no question that Mid Pines is the most difficult course in the Sandhills country,” The Outlook said. “Donald Ross meant it to be just that way and succeeded . . . Leading professionals who have already played it consider it at least two strokes harder than even the difficult No. 3 course at Pinehurst.”
Interesting in those passages is the reminder that Pinehurst was founded in 1895 as a winter resort — a day’s train ride from New England just before Henry Flagler’s vision of building railroads and hotels along the east coast of Florida gained traction. Of equal note, the No. 3 course, just 2 years old, was considered a more formidable test than No. 2, which was yet to undergo routing tweaks in 1923 and ’35 and a major greens overhaul in 1935 that would buttress its stature as one of the nation’s foremost layouts.
What else might we glean about life in the Sandhills from a perusal of The Outlook during that month when Mid Pines was first functioning on all cylinders?
— That the Sandhills was not only a resort and golf enclave but a fertile agricultural community. “Where you find a peach ridge in this section you find tobacco soil close by,” proclaimed an offer for sale of land between Pinehurst and Southern Pines. Another missive proclaimed, “The Pinehurst peach orchards are the showplaces of the industry” and estimated that hundreds of thousands of peach trees would be planted that year.
— That the clientele was predominantly from the North, ergo the ads from hoteliers like the Waldorf-Astoria and retailers like Franklin Simon and Co. on Fifth Avenue in New York City hawking its Austrian angora golf jacket for $22, imported homespun tweed knickers for $6 and regimental striped scarves of imported silk in 46 colors for $1.50.
— That a century before the “webinar” was the “correspondence course” that operated via the U.S. Postal Service, such as this one out of Chicago offering, “Learn to play golf in thirty days. Send $5 and we’ll send you a complete course with 57 illustrations arranged in moving picture order and will send you absolutely FREE any golf club you wish.”
— That the fairer sex was well-entrenched in the golf experience with Miss Ann Merrill, “one of the many young college girls who enjoyed the holiday festivities in Pinehurst,” and actress Katherine Perry and her actor husband, Owen Moore, finding time “between films to enjoy an extended frolic over the Pinehurst links.”
— That a Swedish Health Institute was operating under the auspices of Professor Paul Roesell in the Carolina Hotel in Pinehurst with electro-hydro and mechanical therapeutic appliances offering patients “all the advantages of such an institution in any large city.”
— That twice Pinehurst residents had been excited over a potential visit from President Warren Harding, an avid golfer, only to be disappointed when the visits never materialized. “They have been twice fooled and will now sit back and wait until the President actually arrives,” The Outlook noted.
— That “golf insurance” was being peddled around town in a facetious note in The Outlook, owing to the fact that “golf balls are whizzing over hill and dell in such large numbers that the innocent by-stander’s only chance of refuge is the nearest shell hole.” A principal sum of $5,000 was offered for the loss of one ear via passing golf ball, but no claims would be honored if white lightning was present on the golf course.
— That Donald Ross, the golf architect and head of the Pinehurst golf operation, was leading an effort to change the stymie rule in golf and was set to deliver it to the United States Golf Association’s annual meeting later in the month. The stymie, at the time, prevented a player from moving another’s ball if it lay within 6 inches of his own ball, leading, Ross thought, to the occasional “impossible shot.” Ross proposed extending the window to 2 feet. It would be possible at that distance, Ross proposed, “to negotiate the stymie by pitching over the near ball or curving around it.”
— That the same foot powder called Allen’s Foot-Ease which the U.S. government shipped to Europe by the ton for American soldiers during World War I was now thought ideal for golfers to “take the friction from the shoe, freshen the feet and make walking a delight.”
— That tea and dancing were offered daily from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Carolina Hotel lobby, and that hotel staff would set up mid-winter canoeing parties down the Lumbee River.
— That representatives of a manufacturing concern in Connecticut were in Pinehurst to promote their new steel golf shafts. “The shafts seem to be a big success, and indications are they will become very popular among golfers,” the newspaper offered.
— That Australian pro Joe Kirkwood would compete in the North and South Open in March and also give another of the trick-shot exhibitions that in previous years had drawn huge galleries to the “Maniac Hill” practice range. Among his specialties were hitting drives off the crystal of a watch, off an associate’s foot and fingertips, and hitting a full mashie straight in the air and catching the ball as it fell to the ground.
As for Mid Pines, Ross took care to transplant some dogwoods on the course “which at all costs must be preserved.” The newspaper further noted that, “He left clumps of trees near the clubhouse so that they could provide a cool and shady place for the wives who were waiting for their husbands to finish their game.”
The architect believed the nature of the ground provided an interesting twist to the course’s personality. “It is less exposed to cold winds than any other course hereabouts, due to its sheltered location, just behind a hill,” Ross said. “The hill, acting as a chute, deflects all winds upward, over the course, which is really a fine thing.”
One century later, Mid Pines remains one of the area’s finest layouts, each hole in the same location and configuration as the day it opened. One of the many devotees of the layout is Southern Pines resident Jeff Loh, who prefers to play the course lugging a pencil bag with a half dozen hickory clubs he’s purchased on eBay and other collectors’ venues. He plays with balata balls he finds online as well, feeling that the softer ball, the vintage clubs and the 100-year-old course are a sublime match.
“When Mid Pines opened in 1921, they were still playing hickory shafts,” he says. “Steel didn’t come along for a few more years There’s just something about playing hickory and persimmon in a setting like this that is more authentic.”
Indeed, on the cusp of its second century, you’ll find Mid Pines an original in every sense of the word. PS
Author Lee Pace wrote Sandhills Classics — the Stories of Mid Pines and Pine Needles, which is available in the golf shops at both courses.
Photograph from the Tufts Archives