Feature Image: USGA Golf House Pinehurst (Copyright USGA/Chris Keane)
Golden Age, Take III
Pinehurst adds to its allure
By Lee Pace
Some old-timers believe the “golden age” of Pinehurst ran from Donald Ross’ final arrival at his routing for the No. 2 course in 1935, through Ben Hogan’s watershed win in the North & South Open in 1940, the Americans’ easy win in the 1951 Ryder Cup, and up to the end of the ownership era of the Tufts family in 1970.
A strong argument can made that the quarter-century from the PGA Tour’s return to Pinehurst in 1991, Payne Stewart’s brushstroke in 1999, three Women’s Opens at Pine Needles and the Coore & Crenshaw-led renaissance of No. 2 in 2010-11 comprised a golden age of its own.
And how about the last decade? A trifecta of those golden ages, for sure.
Competitors, officials, writers and spectators who visited for the 2014 U.S. Open and will return this June will surely be stunned at the explosion in innovation in the Sandhills golf and hospitality worlds. Here are 10 of the big stories of the decade.
USGA’s Golf House Pinehurst — Renowned amateur Billy Joe Patton organized a petition in the early 1960s for the USGA to bring the U.S. Amateur to Pinehurst No. 2 (which did happen in 1962). Thus fell the first domino in more than a dozen USGA competitions at the resort and in the Sandhills. So it’s no wonder that Mike Davis, the USGA CEO from 2010-21, should say in 2020, “There is no better place for the USGA to plant new roots than the Home of American Golf.” Construction on Golf House Pinehurst, the USGA’s 30,000-square-foot research and test center, began in the summer of 2022 on a 6-acre site just to the west of the Pinehurst clubhouse, and more than 65 USGA staffers were working in the building by the end of 2023.
World Golf Hall of Fame — There was Cooperstown for baseball, Canton for football and Springfield for basketball. But there was no hall of fame for golf. Pinehurst officials in the early 1970s attempted to rectify that with the construction of the World Golf Hall of Fame, which opened in 1973 on land near course No. 2 with an induction ceremony that included Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. The concept didn’t survive in Pinehurst at the time and the shrine moved to Florida, but the USGA announced in 2022 it had purchased the Hall of Fame and its assets and would integrate them into its new Golf House Pinehurst. The new facility will open later this spring.
Pinehurst No. 4 — Pinehurst owner Robert Dedman Jr. and club officials believed after the bold restoration of course No. 2 by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in 2010-11 that the adjacent No. 4 course should undergo a similar conversion geared toward more fidelity toward Pinehurst’s past in terms of visuals, playability and maintenance. They hired architect Gil Hanse and design partner Jim Wagner for the job, the course closing in October 2017 and reopening 11 months later. The result was a course that morphed from its svelte Augusta persona into an unkempt Scottish presentation — spot on with what Donald Ross might have conceived in 1919, when the course first opened.
The Cradle — Alternative golf. Small golf. Hit-and-giggle golf. The 21st century has seen a groundswell of niches geared toward enjoying golf without the time sink or skill level required for an 18-hole round. While building No. 4 in 2017, Hanse and Wagner took 10 acres of ground to the south of the clubhouse and crafted a nine-hole course with holes ranging from 56 to 127 yards long. The course is so named as it’s positioned on ground where in 1898 some of the first crude holes were routed in what was to become known as the “Cradle of American Golf.”
Southern Pines Golf Club — Kyle Franz was a self-professed “golf architecture geek” when he came to Pinehurst in 2010 to work on the Coore & Crenshaw team on the No. 2 restoration. In his spare time, he scouted the area for other classic venues that might benefit from less grass and chemicals and more sandy and wispy wire grass. He cracked a grand slam with his work on Mid Pines (1921 Donald Ross course, renovated in 2013) and more recently with his reawakening of Southern Pines Golf Club (1912 Ross, renovated in 2022). “When in the Pinehurst area, head straight for this beauty — you will leave more invigorated than when you arrived,” says Ran Morrissett, also a local architecture buff.
Left: The Cradle (Photograph courtesy of Pinehurst Resort)
Right: The Manor (Photograph By John Gessner)
Woodlake Country Club — There was just one Donald Ross at Pinehurst in the early 1900s. But there were lots of Maples — among them Frank, who was Ross’ right-hand man, and Ellis, who was Frank’s son and learned golf course construction as a teenager. One of Ellis’ Sandhills golf projects was Woodlake Country Club, which opened in 1971 and was routed around Lake Surf as part of a residential community. The course went fallow when its owner ran into problems precipitated by the 2007-08 financial crisis, but a new ownership group hired Kris Spence to revive it beginning in 2021. Woodlake is open to limited play now with a grand opening in the spring. “This is a resurrection,” Spence says. “We’re bringing this back from the dead. It’s probably one of the most satisfying things I have done.”
Pinehurst No. 10 — How much golf is enough? You never know at Pinehurst. Dedman weaved the former Pinehurst National into his collection in 2014 and anointed the Jack Nicklaus-designed course as Pinehurst No. 9, then stood pat for a decade. Now in the post-COVID glow of the golf industry explosion in general and the robust demand among members and the traveling public for Pinehurst’s existing nine courses, Dedman believed in 2022 it was time to pull the trigger for a new course on land the resort has owned several miles south. Designer Tom Doak had a slot in his schedule and jumped on the job, with the course opening in April. “We’ve got a really cool piece of land,” Doak says. “This ground has more variety and a different feeling to it than any of the other courses at the resort.”
Eating, Drinking, Making Merry — And just where are all these golfers flocking to the Sandhills going to fuel up and rest up? Pinehurst Resort has added to its inventory the last decade with an innovative reinvention of an old steam plant into a micro-brewery and barbecue restaurant, and the restoration of two century-old hotel properties — all in the village of Pinehurst.
The Magnolia Inn is the second oldest boarding establishment in Pinehurst and opened in 1896 as a four-story building, and in the early 1900s was used for overflow from the Carolina Hotel. The Magnolia has been through a number of ownership changes over a century-plus and was brought into the Pinehurst Resort fold in 2021. The inn has been refurbished, and its Villaggio Ristorante & Bar is one of the town’s most popular restaurants with pasta dishes ranging from carbonara to Bolognese to primavera prepared fresh, in-house daily.
The Manor Inn opened in 1925 and like the Magnolia has gone through a number of iterations. Pinehurst bought it in 1990 and used it as a “budget-minded” option in its portfolio. Resort officials decided in 2018 to renovate it into an upscale, boutique-style property geared toward smaller golf groups. It reopened in the fall of 2019 with all of the interior spaces completely renovated, leaving only about 15 percent of the hotel’s framing in place. The North & South Bar offers nearly 100 styles of bourbons, whiskeys, ryes and Scotch.
Continuing its theme of keeping one foot in the past and one eye on the future, Pinehurst in 2018 took a 7,000-square-foot steam plant and converted it into a restaurant and micro-brewery. The Pinehurst Brewing Company buzzes every night with locals and resort guests queuing up for its 1895 Lager (named, of course, for the founding year of the resort), and pork, brisket and chicken smoked out back on oak and hickory. We’ll find out in June if Rory and Rickie have enough sense to order the Blackberry Habanero on the side. PS
Golf writer Lee Pace has written about golf in the Sandhills for four decades and has authored books on the history of Pinehurst Resort, Pine Needles, Mid Pines and Forest Creek. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.