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Golftown Journal

Strange Magic

Doubling your Sandhills pleasure

By Lee Pace

Photograph: Curtis (left) & Allan (right)

Whether it was Curtis in the 1970s winning the North & South Amateur or Allan today tootling around the village of Pinehurst, for nearly half a century the Sandhills have been close to the hearts of the Strange brothers.

“Pinehurst was just a place you fell in love with,” says Curtis Strange, the two-time U.S. Open champion. “Some of my proudest moments were some of the scores I shot on Pinehurst No. 2 back in college.”

“It’s just a great place to get away to,” adds identical twin Allan, a financial adviser living in Richmond, Virginia. “At first I knew Pinehurst just for the golf. But the more I got to know the village and the people, the stronger the draw became.”

Curtis and Allan were born in 1955 in Virginia Beach and were introduced to golf at 7 years of age by their father, Tom, a club professional and owner of White Sands Country Club. Tom also found time to play in six U.S. Opens, his best finish a tie for 48th in 1967 at Baltusrol.

“In our house, the U.S. Open always meant a great deal,” Curtis says. “Arnold Palmer told me a long time ago the Open is the hardest test in golf, and it should be, because it’s our national championship.”

Curtis joined coach Jesse Haddock’s juggernaut program at Wake Forest University, and Allan played at East Tennessee State. Curtis was a three-time All-American from 1973-75, won the 1974 NCAA individual title, and teamed with Jay Haas to lead the Deacons to team titles in 1974 and ’75.

With legendary caddie Fletcher Gaines at his side, Strange won the 1975 North & South Amateur by shaving defending champion George Burns, then followed with the 1976 crown by handily ousting Fred Ridley, now the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club.

“Fletcher and I had a lot of fun,” Strange says. “He was a great help. I really got to know No. 2 with Fletcher. Playing those greens requires a lot of local knowledge. Back then, I was just kind of booming it. I didn’t have much management or strategy on the golf course. I would hit it long and go chase it. Fletcher tried to condense that strength and manage me around. He did a great job. He read all my putts.

“I shot some really good scores and hit a lot of good shots there. When you go to a place like Pinehurst and do well, it means so much more than winning on a golf course no one’s ever heard of. My name will be on that plaque in the clubhouse for a long time.”

Strange exploded on the PGA Tour in the mid-to-late 1980s, winning back-to-back U.S. Opens in 1988-89 and eight events total from 1987-89, and his $1.1 million prize winnings in 1988 marked the first time a pro golfer had topped the $1 million mark for a single season. He played on five Ryder Cup teams and captained the 2002 United States team. In the twilight of his career, he has worked as a TV commentator and now spends considerable time fishing from his homes in Morehead City, North Carolina, and Naples, Florida, and pursuing various philanthropic endeavors. 

He’s made periodic trips to Pinehurst over the years, and in August 2022 he got a look at the construction site for the USGA’s new Golf House Pinehurst between the club and Carolina Hotel. On the second floor of that facility, the USGA is designating space for the World Golf Hall of Fame — Curtis was inducted in 2007 — which will move from St. Augustine, Florida.

“I’m so happy and thrilled with what the USGA is doing, building kind of a home away from home in Pinehurst,” Curtis says. “Add to that, the Hall of Fame is coming back to where it started. Everyone has their golf mecca. Ours is Pinehurst. The USGA . . . the Hall of Fame . . . Pinehurst No. 2 . . . it seems like a perfect fit.”

Allan, meanwhile, has taken a more circuitous route to find his own golf nirvana in the Sandhills.

He, too, played in the North & South in the 1970s, in the Pinehurst Intercollegiate with East Tennessee State, and then in the Hall of Fame Classic on the PGA Tour in the early 1980s. Then he entered private business in wealth management and eventually got his amateur status back. Throughout his working career in Richmond, he’d visit Pinehurst every half-dozen years or so.

“My wife and I had a place at Smith Mountain Lake, and after 10 or 12 years, that was kind of getting old,” he says. “We started looking at places within easy driving distance. I said, ‘Let’s go visit Pinehurst.’ She just loved the small town look and feel of the village. So did I. We came a second time. And third. The pull was pretty strong.”

Allan was also a friend of Ziggy Zalzneck, a longtime member at the Country Club of North Carolina and former club president. Over frequent visits to the Zalzneck residence at CCNC, he seriously considered joining the club. It came together about a decade ago with the Stranges buying the Liscombe Lodge on Linden Road, the winter home years ago for Gen. George Marshall, the U.S. Army’s chief of staff during World War II and later the secretary of defense and secretary of state.

“So it just kind of evolved — a home in the village and a membership at CCNC,” Allan says. “I have loved being here. The glue, of course, is the golf, but if I got old enough where I couldn’t play anymore, I’d still enjoy the village.”

Allan is a regular at CCNC and various restaurants around town, and often draws a double take, just as he did around airports in the 1980s and early ’90s when Curtis was at the height of his popularity. The twins have long shared similar body compositions, salt-and-pepper hair and facial features.

“More than a few times I’ve been asked, ‘That’s Curtis Strange, isn’t it?’” longtime CCNC Director of Golf Jeff Dotson says of Allan’s visits to the club.

“I’ve signed plenty of autographs when it’s a kid who might be disappointed if I told him I wasn’t actually the U.S. Open champion,” Allan says. “It was probably more than you could imagine. But I was fine with it. It meant Curtis was playing well and winning.”

The Strange brothers talk by phone almost daily and participated in the Patriot Foundation Pro-Am at CCNC in August 2022. They played golf with veterans and service personnel, drank a few beers and raised money for scholarships for children of parents who had lost their lives in service. Allan came away impressed with his brother’s demeanor and station in life.

“We spent two days together and I saw firsthand that Curtis was more relaxed than he’s ever been,” Allan says. “He’s enjoying life as much as he ever did, but in a totally different way. The enjoyment he had in the ’80s was pressure packed, it was climbing the mountain. Now it’s totally different, now he’s coming down the other side. I didn’t really know what this side would be like for him. He enjoys his family; he enjoys getting on the water every day that he can. He’s philanthropic in a private, quiet way. And he still pays very close attention to what is going on in golf.

“I wasn’t sure if he could enjoy this as much as he does. It makes me feel good.”

The Strange brothers will turn 68 in late January 2023. Look for them in body and spirit around the village — Curtis in name among the champions displayed in Heritage Hall at Pinehurst and perhaps even in person visiting his brother.

“I’ve seen Curtis more now because I’ve had a place in Pinehurst for eight or nine years, which is a nice unintended consequence,” Allan says. “It’s interesting how it all fell into place, starting with Curtis’ love of Pinehurst and success here. “I don’t think I’ll ever not have a second home in Pinehurst.”  PS

Lee Pace is a Chapel Hill-based golf writer and a long-time contributor to PineStraw magazine. His latest book is Good Walks—Rediscovering the Soul of Golf at 18 Top Carolinas Courses, published by UNC Press.