Off for Pinehurst
Our embarrassment of riches
By Lee Pace
This email landed in my inbox toward the end
“I’ve been following you via social media the past several months and wanted to seek your advice. I’m planning a golf trip to the Pinehurst area for the fall of 2022. What would you consider ‘must/essentials’ for this trip? I am thinking we will go to the Pinehurst Resort but also wanted your opinion and experience about other courses that might not be as popular but would provide an authentic golfing experience.”
It occurred to me in responding to this golfer from Knoxville that those of us who are local or frequent visitors take the Pinehurst experience for granted when so many have never actually ventured into Moore County. And those of us who are familiar with the wonders of the Sandhills travel scene have to stay on our toes with the constant evolution of the golf, amenity and accommodations market. As Pinehurst Resort President Tom Pashley says, “Someone who hasn’t been here in 10 years would be amazed at what they find.”
A favorite framing in my office is the quintessential drawing of the Pinehurst Golf Lad in New York’s Grand Central Station, circa the Roaring ’20s, his golf bag schlepped over this shoulder amid the nicely dressed swells with the words “Off for Pinehurst.”
Herewith, then, a nickel tour for anyone on their way to Pinehurst:
The Core (the heartbeat of Pinehurst and the Pinehurst Resort and Country Club, where courses No. 1-5 emanate) . . . soak in the history along Heritage Hall and revel in the photos and plaques of golf’s luminaries who have won here . . . pose for a photo beside the statue of Payne Stewart, captured in his exhilaration when his putt dropped to win the 1999 U.S. Open . . . walk the 6-odd miles of the premium courses, No. 2 and No. 4, feeling the taut, sandy loam beneath your feet, absorbing the cacophony of colors and edges of the holes, learning to play the bounce of the ball to an array of green complexes . . . stroll The Cradle short course with a couple of wedges and a putter, bobbing to the strains of Red Hot Chili Peppers popping through a discretely placed speaker in a tree . . . ply your putting skills on the Thistle Dhu putting course, which winds its way a hundred yards out and back over an array of humps and hollows . . . all the while slaking your thirst with a Transfusion from the Cradle Crossing beverage center.
The Village (laid out in 1895 by the landscape architecture firm of Frederick Law Olmsted to resemble a New England village; it’s void of 90-degree road intersections and dominated by white and forest green accouterments) . . . enjoy a hefty deli sandwich on the veranda at the Villager Deli in the heart of Old Town . . . pound a beverage with the locals from a rocking chair on the porch at the venerable Pine Crest Inn, once owned by golf architect Donald Ross . . . sip one of 70 brands of bourbon, rye and Scotch in the hippest bar in town, the North and South in the newly renovated Manor Inn . . . douse some smoked pork shoulder in blackberry habanero sauce at the Pinehurst Brewing Company . . . buy a cashmere sweater at The Gentlemen’s Corner or a rare painting of a Scottish golf scene at Old Sport and Gallery . . . sift through the memorabilia and display cases at the Tufts Archives in the Given Memorial Library and marvel at James Tufts’ original marble soda fountain machine, the source of the fortune from which all these golf riches flowed.
And don’t forget Broad Street, the Southern Pines version of Main Street U.S.A. . . . there’s nothing quite like a well-run, independent bookstore, and The Country Bookshop is exhibit A . . . for a great burger and pro golf on the big TV, there’s the Bell Tree Tavern, and for dessert there’s The Ice Cream Parlor and its primo location at the corner of Broad and New Hampshire . . . the Sandhills area is chock-full of interesting craft brewing venues, one of the most popular in the Broad Street neighborhood is Southern Pines Brewing Company with its corner location on Pennsylvania and Bennett, spacious outdoor seating and over 30 draft selections.
The Ross Triumvirate (a collection of three pristine Donald Ross courses under the same ownership umbrella — Mid Pines from 1921, Southern Pines Golf Club from 1923 and Pine Needles from 1928) . . . all three have come under the painstaking attention to detail of architect Kyle Franz in the last decade and the essential challenge of each burnished, from the stark crossing features at Southern Pines to the up-and-over fairways at Pine Needles to the exquisite green settings at Mid Pines and its spot nestled in a bowl of surrounding hills . . . play the Pine Needles course, where later this year it will host its fourth U.S. Women’s Open (a fresh-faced Annika Sorenstam won in 1996), dodge the ponds at Mid Pines, where Julius Boros loved to fish during pro tour stops in Greensboro, and play the out-and-back routing at Southern Pines, where Ross made the best use of the land by not shoehorning a ninth-hole return to the clubhouse.
The Outskirts (with three dozen courses within a 30-mile radius of Pinehurst) . . . Three of my favorite courses in the Sandhills are private (Forest Creek North, Country Club of North Carolina Dogwood and Dormie), so if you know someone, beg, borrow and steal for an invitation. There are no such restrictions at Tobacco Road in Sanford, a half hour north of Pinehurst, just a dearth of tee times as the popularity of this eccentric and visually stimulating course has skyrocketed during the COVID-inspired golf boom. Architect Mike Strantz cobbled it from an abandoned sand pit and farmland, and the mammoth mounds, mottled grasses, railroad ties and fescue rough accent the routing.
It’s all quite the experience. I hope our man from Knoxville has fun.
“What a place, what a cluster of golf, what a home for golf,” marvels Mike Keiser, the developer of the noted golf destination Bandon Dunes and a fan of Pinehurst. “Most of these clusters are up north, and you can’t play in the winter. Pinehurst and Pebble Beach are places you can play year around.”
What do you know? It’s the Roaring ’20s again. PS
Lee Pace has written about golf in Pinehurst and the Sandhills for more than three decades. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him @LeePaceTweet.