It’s a Llamaversary

Talamore’s trademark is in its fourth decade

By Lee Pace

When Philadelphia businessman Bob Levy ventured into the Sandhills three decades ago to launch a golf venture halfway between the Pinehurst Resort bastion to the west and the Pine Needles/Mid Pines juggernaut to the east, he was savvy enough to understand the need to have a clever and engaging marketing hook.

Levy remembered a story in Golf Digest in the 1970s about Chi Chi Rodriguez playing a course in Mexico with his golf bag strapped across the back of a donkey and thought a similar beastly caddie idea might work at Talamore Golf Club. He did some research and learned that a llama would be a better idea for the climate of the Sandhills, and thus Talamore opened in 1991 with golfers having the option of hiring a llama to schlep their golf bags around the Rees Jones-designed course.

Photographs of the llamas doing their thing appeared in hundreds of newspapers and golf publications as the club opened its operation just off Midland Road, halfway between Pinehurst and Southern Pines, and Levy’s marketing staff later created a logo featuring the outline of a llama with a flagstick emanating from his midsection. Displayed in green and yellow, the mark had a striking resemblance to the map-and-flag trademark of a certain golf club in Augusta, Georgia.

Talamore staff thought it something of a badge of honor when the club received a cease-and-desist letter from Augusta National’s legal team. The llamas are no longer used as caddies, but they reside in a pen near the 13th green and are a popular diversion and “selfie” fodder for visiting golfers.

“Everyone knows our llama logo,” says director of golf Tag Leon. “We still use it — just not in green and yellow. We were not going to do battle with those guys. But it’s a cool image. We’ve sold a lot of merchandise with the llama over the years.”

Talamore and its sister property on the north side of Midland Road, Mid South Club, were 1990s entrants to the Sandhills golf derby, playing off a bustling golf economy nationwide and the burgeoning popularity of an area that hosted a U.S. Open, U.S Senior Open and U.S. Women’s Open that decade.

Talamore was conceived as a daily fee/resort course amid the early 1990s golf boom and remains so today. Mid South is a 1994 Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay creation originally known as Pinehurst Plantation and planned as the centerpiece of a gated residential community. It changed owners in the early days and was later rebranded as Mid South, and then picked up by Levy in 2004 as a companion course to Talamore. Mid South remains a private club, but guests in the hundred lodges built over two decades at the two addresses have access to the course.

Both courses and the club facilities have undergone extensive renovations in the 2016-17 window, each now sporting Bermuda greens and updated dining and drinking facilities.

“I’ll put our two courses up against anyone,” says Matt Hausser, the general manager over the two courses who started as an assistant golf pro in 2003. “Both courses are in fantastic shape — fast greens and good fairways. It’s a great one-two punch. Mid South has a lot more water, and Talamore has more rolling topography and makes you play a lot of shots. You get a different feel at each course.”

Rees Jones has extensive personal history in the Sandhills and remembers as a kid staying at the Holly Inn when his father, noted architect Robert Trent Jones, visited to attend golf architect meetings and work on the redesign of Pinehurst No. 4 prior to the PGA Tour visiting in 1973, and on the collaboration with Willard Byrd on the design of the Cardinal Course at the Country Club of North Carolina. Rees designed Pinehurst No. 7 in the mid-1980s and immediately afterward was commissioned by Levy for Talamore, the name coming from a Gaelic word meaning “land of great value.”

“Anytime you get an offer to design a golf course in Pinehurst, you get pretty darn excited,” Jones says. “I couldn’t wait to come back here and do Talamore. The land is very rugged. It has an awful lot of character. It lent to a very dramatic golf course. Strategy is a big part of the game at Talamore. In Pinehurst, you’ve got to build character and challenge, there are so many good golf courses.”

The Mid South course winds around a half dozen lakes, the most noteworthy the one providing the anchor for the ninth and 18th holes and the double-green complex. The par-5 ninth runs right-to-left and downhill into the green, and 18 turns left-to-right into the green. There’s a safe approach on both holes and a more aggressive line as well. The clubhouse sits on a plateau overlooking the green complex and the lake.

“This is a dynamite golf course,” said Seay, Palmer’s longtime design associate who lived in the Sandhills area from 1964-68 while working for Ellis Maples on the design and construction of the Country Club of Whispering Pines and Woodlake Country Club. “It’s everything a golfer could want. It’s one of the best we’ve done. Every hole nestles right in. From one hole to the next, you do not find a similar piece of ground. The variation in contour is remarkable for an area thought to be flat. That’s one of the charms of this golf course.”

Mid South and Talamore operate a golf packaging business and can house golfers in villas clustered around the clubhouses and set golfers up with tee times at other area courses. Golfers are feted in-season with Monday and Thursday night pig-pickings at Talamore, and in 2022 Talamore will have installed 10 Toptracer stations and a short game area with a 12,000-square-foot putting green. The new amenities will turn the practice range into part game emporium and part sports bar, giving golfers an interactive and social experience during twilight and evening hours.

“We can sleep 400 people on property,” says Hausser. “We’re giving them more reasons to get on property and stay on property. It will be a great hangout spot.”

Consider the irony: Toptracer’s ball-tracking technology and array of virtual golf courses allow a golfer to tee it up on many world-renowned courses. Imagine playing the harrowing par-4 fourth on Pinehurst No. 2 from a virtual hitting bay just 3 miles away. Pinehurst and its U.S. Open venue have a lot of history, for sure, but Talamore and Mid South are forging new ground in remaining relevant. PS

Golf writer Lee Pace has written about golf in the Sandhills since the late 1980s and has authored a dozen books about clubs, courses and the people who’ve made it special over more than a century.

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