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Eight Ball

Reinvigorating a tribute

By Lee Pace

In recent years the buzz about the Pinehurst Resort has swirled around the world-renowned No. 2 course and its designation as an “anchor site” for our national golf championship. The spotlight has shown as well on the No. 4 course, which was given a significant makeover by Gil Hanse in 2018, and the accompanying launch of the uber-popular Cradle short course. And then in early 2023, news broke that Tom Doak was building course No. 10 on land 3 miles south of the resort with a spring 2024 christening.

Lost in the shuffle has been the No. 8 course, which was built in 1995 and opened the following year as a centennial tribute to Pinehurst having been open for exactly one century.

“No. 8 is the crowning glory for us,” said Pat Corso, the resort president and CEO at the time. “We considered the various things we could do to celebrate our centennial. We thought of the Jubilee Course at St. Andrews and said, ‘Why not build a golf course?’ We needed another golf course.”

Resort owner Robert Dedman Sr. called Tom Fazio in April 1995 to ask if he’d design the course. Fazio happened to be at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia, when he phoned his office for messages.

“This was when they still had the bank of pay phones outside the clubhouse,” Fazio said. “It was before cellphones. I had a note to call Bob Dedman. I called him, and he asked if I’d be interested in designing No. 8. I was sitting there in one of the great places in golf, Augusta National, and got a call to do a course in another great place in golf, Pinehurst. It was like I had won the Masters. It was a great feeling.”

Fazio was given just over 400 acres of land punctuated by stark elevation changes, pine forests and wetlands located a mile-and-a-half north of the village of Pinehurst. The course was envisioned to cater to the resort golfer with a private club experience distanced from the masses of the five-course resort core. Six months after that first phone call, Fazio was standing on what would become the seventh fairway during one of his regular site visits from his home in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

“There’s a variety of changes in yardages, visuals, ups-and-downs,” Fazio said. “The par-3s are varied. You’ve got a flat par-5 in the second hole and then the sixth is uphill with a strong slope from right to left. There are strong par-4s, easier par-4s.

“The wonderful thing is, you come to every hole and say, ‘This is different.’”

The golf marketplace certainly agreed with Fazio. In Golf Digest’s 2011-12 listing of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses, it was ranked No. 68. But the course lost some of its luster over time, prompting resort officials in 2019 to consult with Fazio and the associate designer who worked on the course originally, Blake Bickford, on ideas to tweak the experience. If nothing else, a course with a quarter of a century on it needed a thorough agronomic spring cleaning.

“Our first thought was to tie it into the 25-year anniversary,” said Bob Farren, Pinehurst’s director of golf course and grounds management. “But COVID shut that idea down. After No. 4 opened and was so well-received, we needed to give No. 8 a boost to keep it as the third big draw with No. 2 and No. 4. Tom and Blake took a look and said they were confident the design was still there.”

The course closed for the summer of 2022, and the work was handled in-house. More than a hundred trees were removed to allow sunlight and airflow, and now from the clubhouse veranda overlooking the back nine, the visuals open up to the 12th and 13th holes half a mile away. Thatch and organic matter were removed from the tees and fairways with a technique called “fraise mowing” to improve drainage and bounce. The bunkers were rebuilt and the greens planted with TifEagle bermuda grass, with some of the crowns in the center of greens softened after years of buildup from top-dressing.

“The fairways are firmer and drain so much better,” Farren said. “We were having too many cart-path-only days with the drainage system being 25 years old. The course now plays firm and fast, just as it was designed. The vistas have been opened up, and that’s a dramatic difference.”

The clubhouse was remodeled as well, most notably with an enlarged and enhanced dining and bar area. Walk in the front door and a new walnut bar sits straight ahead with a glass window behind, opening up the long-range views of the back nine. 

“We wanted to capture the view of the golf course upon entry,” said Calvin Buckley, Pinehurst’s director of projects and planning. “When you walk in, you have a sense of place. It’s a place people want to gather and be communal and look out over the golf course. It’s a nice center point.”

Another initiative on the horizon is the proposed ground-breaking in early 2024 of resort housing — cottages with four and/or eight bedrooms situated between the ninth and 10th fairways. They would have the distinction of being Pinehurst’s first and only resort-owned rooms directly on a golf course.

The challenge and intrigue of the original Fazio design are intact, only now embellished. There is still the dicey demand to hit approach shots with wedges off downhill lies on the first and seventh holes. It’s uphill into the green on three, downhill off the tee on four, a properly aimed shot with a draw apt to catch the speed slot and carom far down the fairway. There is the puzzle of the long par-5 sixth, with its double-dogleg and canted fairway. There is the riddle of how much marsh to clip off in aiming your tee shot on the par-4 13th. You still need a bazooka to pound your approach uphill on the par-4 18th.

Four and nine are parallel par-4s carved out of open fields that once were the shooting range of the Pinehurst Gun Club. Wire grass and native vegetation dot the hardpan sand between the parallel fairways, turning what Fazio felt was the worst aesthetic feature of the course at the beginning into one of its highlights. Later, 12 through 15 skirt an old pit and then connect with a freshwater marsh. Seventeen is a long-hitter’s and gambler’s delight — a 487-yard par 5, downhill, with a small lake front-right of the green. Two good shots might get you home; a good drive and bad approach might leave you in the drink.

“Every hole you come to, there are options,” Fazio said.

Because there is no real estate, the course is relatively compact, with little distance between greens and tees. It’s an excellent course to walk.

“It’s rare today to get the land and place the golf course first,” Fazio said. “That really makes this project special.”

“At No. 8, it’s just golf,” added Matt Barksdale, Pinehurst’s director of golf. “It’s just so peaceful, calm and tranquil.”

The Pinehurst storyline over the next year will justifiably revolve around the resort core and the 2024 U.S. Open on No. 2, and the opening of No. 10 in the springtime. But thanks to Tom Fazio’s design acumen in 1995 and a course and facility refreshening a quarter of a century later, No. 8 will quietly go about its business of being a terrific round of golf and a pleasant change of pace.  PS

Chapel Hill based writer Lee Pace has written extensively about Pinehurst since the late 1980s and has authored a half dozen books on Sandhills area golf. Write him at and follow him @leepacetweet.