Golftown Journal

Golftown Journal

Jump in a Lake

The rebirth of a great design

By Lee Pace

Cara Spencer remembers the 1990s when her parents and sisters spent most every weekend during the summer at their house at Woodlake Country Club in Vass. They swam. They learned to fish and water ski. They rode inner tubes and drove their boat around the 1,200-acre Lake Surf. They played golf and sipped strawberry daiquiris by the pool.

“Those were the glory days. Woodlake was the place to be,” Spencer remembers. “Our family has a strong sentimental connection to Woodlake.”

Woodlake certainly distinguished itself from its Sandhills competitors with a lake with 13 miles of shoreline; 36 holes of golf designed by Ellis Maples and Arnold Palmer; recreational amenities from swimming to golf, fishing to Jet Skis. One Fourth of July, The Embers blared out “I Love Beach Music” and other summertime shagging favorites.

“It’s laid back. We’ll have more fun in two weeks than some places have in two years,” longtime club professional and Woodlake resident Stuart Taylor liked to say.

That idyllic life at Woodlake for some 2,000 residents was rocked beginning in 2016 when torrential rainfall from Hurricane Matthew set in motion a domino effect that included a breach of the dam, the lake being drained by the State of North Carolina for flood control purposes, the golf courses closing, and the German ownership group losing the facility to bankruptcy.

Five years later, the community and club got a new lease on life when Atlantic National Capital bought Woodlake at auction for $3.5 million, and began negotiations with the county and state lawmakers to repair the dam. The new owners are headed by Fayetteville businessman Keith Allison and his three daughters, Cara Spencer being one of them. As Allison was growing his Systel Business Equipment company into a significant independent dealer of official equipment in the Southeast in the 1980s and ’90s, the family enjoyed their weekend retreat at their home in Woodlake.

“My daughters learned to ski at Woodlake,” Allison says. “My family and I have a longstanding association and sentimental attachment to Woodlake.”

The first move in the fall of 2021 was to hire golf architect Kris Spence to take a look at the overgrown Maples golf course that opened in 1971 and provide a resurrection plan (the 1996 Palmer course will remain closed). Spence remembers Spencer giving him a tour of the overgrown fairways.

“Nature had totally reclaimed it except for a few areas where it looked like homeowners had been cutting some grass,” Spence says. “Cara asked what I thought it would take to get it back open. Hell, I couldn’t even see it. The fairways were 6 feet tall, and there were trees in the bunkers.”

Spence knew from the outset that if the course was designed by Ellis Maples, there were likely some good bones underneath the jungle. Maples grew up in golf design and maintenance, his father Frank serving as the longtime Pinehurst superintendent under Donald Ross, and Ellis started working in golf construction and maintenance at the age of 14. In 1948, he supervised the construction of Ross’ final design project, Raleigh Country Club, and worked for five years as the course superintendent. Maples then went into private practice in 1953 as a golf course architect.

His most notable works include the Dogwood Course with Willard Byrd at the Country Club of North Carolina (1963); and Grandfather Golf and Country Club in Linville (1968). Spence was intimately familiar with the Dogwood Course, having handled a renovation of that course in 2015-16.

Spence hired subcontractors in the fall of 2021 to start clearing the Woodlake corridors and spent considerable time himself on a bushhog machine around the green complexes.

“The more I looked at the golf course, the more I realized this was some really good work by Ellis Maples,” Spence says. “We got the greens cleaned up, and I started to study them. I got excited. After a month, I went back to Cara and said, ‘I don’t think you know what you have here. You have one of the best golf courses in North Carolina.’ That’s saying a lot, especially for this region.”

The first four holes wrap around the lake and then venture into typical Sandhills ground with sandy soil and gently undulating slopes, and the course does not return to the clubhouse after nine, always a good sign that the architect was allowed to find the best 18 holes without the restraint of bringing the ninth hole back to the start.

Spence built a few new tees to add some length and adjusted some fairway bunker placements to catch the longer drives of today, versus the 1971 club and ball standards. Many of the bunker complexes are dotted with the wiregrass so indigenous to the Sandhills, along with acres of hardpan sand. The greens were sprigged with Tif-Eagle Bermuda.

The course reopened in September 2023, and will mark a complete renaissance when the dam and lake work are completed in early 2025 and the lake is restored. The golf shop has been renovated, a new restaurant has opened, and the course is open to outside play.

“Hole after hole you could pick as a signature hole,” says Woodlake General Manager Jeff Crabbe, a veteran of the area golf community and former staff professional at Pinehurst Resort. “There’s not a bad hole on the golf course. Once the lake comes back, it’s going to be pretty special. The vision of the ownership is to make this one of the most sought-after communities in the area and the state. We started from zero in a new membership program and are at 115. We’re proud of that growth.”

Spence compares the view across the lake to something you might see in the South Carolina low country and has been heartened with the opinions from a handful of visitors with high golf I.Q.s who have toured the course since it reopened.

“It’s been fun to watch people’s reaction to it,” he says. “They are like, ‘Wow, I hadn’t expected that.’ This is one terrific golf course. I don’t fall in love with golf courses per se, but I really admire this and appreciate what Ellis did 50 years ago. It is amazing that a golf course of this quality had escaped attention and recognition for so long. It was very satisfying to play a role, to put it back in its rightful place.”

Cara and husband Tommy Spencer live in Fayetteville and keep the family Woodlake tradition alive with a home of their own. One Friday evening in March, they jumped into a golf cart with their three children for the short drive to the Woodlake clubhouse and the first members dinner of the season.

“It was a nostalgic moment for me, thinking back to being a kid and my experiences here, and now having that for my own kids,” she says. “That’s why preserving Woodlake is so important to us.”  PS

Lee Pace has written four books about the evolution of Pinehurst, its golf courses and village. His most recent is The Golden Age of Pinehurst. Write him at leepace7@gmail.com and follow him @LeePaceTweet.

Golftown Journal

Golftown Journal

Saving a Soul

Defending the identity of Pinehurst

By Lee Pace

Feature Photo: John May, James Van Camp and Bruce Cunningham

At 83 years of age, Jim Van Camp rises every morning, puts on a dress shirt and necktie, and goes to work in one of the oldest buildings in the village of Pinehurst. He takes the elevator to the third floor of the Theatre Building, which opened in 1923 and for decades was the hot spot for evening entertainment. Now his law firm leases an office complex at the top of the hexagonal structure conceived in the fertile mind of architect Aymar Embury II, and Van Camp settles in each morning with three other attorneys and seven paralegals at his disposal, not to mention a black Lab named Tweed and a Löwchen named Mr. Pringle.

“At my age, I should be retired, but I don’t know what the hell I’d do,” Van Camp says. “I’m not a big gardener, I don’t like mowing grass, I’m not married so I don’t have a bunch of honey-do lists. I like getting up in the morning and knowing I have something to do.

“I love the practice of law. I love the challenge. I love helping someone save time, save money, save their lives if we’re talking a capital case.”

Or in one very special case, save a town, a golf course and a way of life.

Pinehurst existed for 75 years beginning in 1895 as a “benevolent dictatorship” under the auspices of the founding Tufts family. The specter of needing to make major capital improvements and potential inheritance taxes for the generations after patriarch James W. Tufts prompted the family in the late 1960s to look to sell the resort, five golf courses and an entire town with commercial buildings, a police and fire department and all the infrastructure, and thousands of acres of undeveloped land.

The buyer in December 1970 was the Diamondhead Corporation, which was founded by Maxton native Malcom McLean, a former truck driver who made a fortune in the 1950s and ’60s creating a new industry — the container shipping business. Diamondhead had resort and residential development operations in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, and moved quickly into Pinehurst, bringing bulldozers and carpenters by the dozens.

“Diamondhead sold dirt, that’s what they did,” Van Camp says. “They bought 8,000 acres. Their plan was to sell the dirt, make a profit and get out. There was no municipal government back then, no restrictions on them at all.”

Diamondhead built condos within 15 feet of some of the fairways of the No. 3 and No. 5 courses on the west side of N.C. 5, some of them octagonal-shaped units derided then as now as looking like little spaceships. The company was encroaching on Marshall Park, a circular preserve in the middle of the village named in honor of Gen. George Marshall, who lived in Pinehurst following World War II. And it had plans to build condos in a triangle of pine forest between the first, 17th and 18th holes of No. 2, and to erect more commercial structures along the fourth fairway.

A Pinehurst Country Club member and resident named Stuart Paine said enough. He formed a group called “Concerned Citizens of Pinehurst” and looked for a lawyer to challenge Diamondhead’s aggressiveness in court.

That’s where Van Camp, 32 at the time and a partner in the law firm of Seawell, Pollock, Fullenwider, Van Camp and Robbins, entered the picture.

“I have no idea why Stuart hired me,” Van Camp says. “I had had some successes at trial, but I was young. I’m not sure he didn’t talk to other people, and they said, ‘Forget it.’ He was probably working down his list. He said, ‘I have $10,000. What can you do?’”

Van Camp and a team that included attorneys John May and Bruce Cunningham, each of them 26 and one year out of law school, set off over the next year to build a case, which was tried in Moore County Superior Court in Carthage in September 1973.

“The sense of the case was there was a culture here, an environment that was unique,” Van Camp reflects today. “Pinehurst has always been unique. No. 2 was part of that culture. As a matter of fact, it was one of the reasons there was a culture. To destroy that element of the culture would have destroyed the culture and the environment of the village. I did not have a lot of case law, but the argument sounded good.”

Among the exhibits Van Camp produced were aerial photos of the development around the No. 3 and No. 5 courses, and photographs capturing the history and ambience of a village designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted, the “father of American landscape architecture.” Van Camp was heartened that the judge, the Honorable A. Pilston Godwin, was a strict traditionalist, a man who chided attorneys if they were not dressed properly and could accurately ascertain by hearing a man’s surname if his ancestors were from England or Scotland.

“I really tried to sell the ambience of this place,” Van Camp says. “That was my argument. ‘Your honor, this just can’t happen. We need your help. This is what you’re being asked to destroy.’ The judge bought into it. He told their lawyers, ‘You better meet with Mr. Van Camp, because you’re not going to like my ruling.’”

Van Camp and the defendant’s attorneys worked out a settlement that prevented Diamondhead from building any structure along No. 2 with the exception of the already planned World Golf Hall of Fame headquarters, which would sit to the east side of the course’s fourth green and fifth tee and open in the fall of 1974. In addition, Diamondhead could not build more than 11 condominiums per acre on land adjoining a golf course; could not build any dwelling within 30 feet of a golf course; and could never use Marshall Park for any purpose beyond recreation.

Imagine the ramifications had No. 2 been blasphemed with goofy condos and 1970s-style commercial structures. Could that look have infected the village itself? Where would it have stopped? What would have been left when Diamondhead eventually lost the club and the resort to the banks in 1982? Would there have been enough for a resurrection project of a “fallen angel,” to use the words of Robert Dedman Sr., who bought Pinehurst in 1984 and revived it with the help of son Robert Jr. into the golfing colossus that will host its fourth U.S. Open Championship in June?

We’ll never know. But you want the odds?

“There’s no telling what this place would look like,” Van Camp says. “It was a time and place, and something tragic was going to happen. We had the right cause from Stuart, some smart young attorneys in John and Bruce, we had the right judge. I was just the mouthpiece at the hearings. And it worked. It kept what was important about this place. The whole character of this town would have changed.”

With that, Jim Van Camp turns back to his legal pad and briefs, rubs Mr. Pringle’s head and plows through his afternoon. Outside the Village Theatre, the carillon in The Village Chapel peals out as it does at the top of every hour. It’s just another beautiful day in Pinehurst.  PS

Author Lee Pace chronicled Payne Stewart’s magical week in 1999 in his book The Spirit of Pinehurst, published in 2004.

Golftown Journal

Golftown Journal

A Love Affair

Payne and Pinehurst

By Lee Pace

Another U.S. Open in the offing.

And this one just so happens to roll around one neat quarter-century after one of the most famous strokes in Open history — Payne Stewart’s 20-foot putt on the final green to edge Phil Mickelson by a shot in June 1999. Three months later, Stewart was gone, the victim of a mysterious airplane malfunction that took his life and five others on a planned flight from Orlando to Dallas.

The “Payne Pose” statue sits today by the 18th green of No. 2 and is the most photographed visual in Moore County. Stewart’s spirit remains strong in other corners of town, among them at the Pine Crest Inn.

Stewart was just out of Southern Methodist University in the summer of 1979 and was preparing to compete for his PGA Tour playing privileges in the tour’s twice-a-year Qualifying School, the next one to be held in November at Waterwood National Country Club near Houston. He traveled to Pinehurst in mid-September to enter a series of four mini-tour events run by the National Golfers Association. Seventy-two hole tournaments were scheduled for Whispering Pines, Seven Lakes, Pinehurst No. 4 and Hyland Hills. The players put up their own money and competed for purses between $30,000 and $40,000 per tournament. A handful of players stayed at the Pine Crest Inn, where proprietor Bob Barrett gave them a generous price on room and board.

“It was like golf camp for a month,” remembers Peter Barrett, one of Bob’s two sons. “Payne was the funny guy of the bunch. He had control of the whole group. There were a lot of different personalities there. They were on a mission. They all had their eyes on the big-time, and they were playing with their own money. They were pretty serious, but they still had some fun.”

After the four tournaments — two won by Scott Hoch, one by Kenny Knox and one by Mike Glennon — Stewart packed up his car and was saying goodbye to Barrett in the parking lot. There he offered a marketing deal to Barrett: Stewart would put the Pine Crest’s name and logo on his bag for $500 a year. Barrett said he’d pass. Stewart had talked about a potential trip to Asia if he didn’t get through the upcoming Tour Q-School (he did, in fact, miss qualifying and go to Asia), and Barrett didn’t figure the Pine Crest needed exposure in the Far East. And $500 in 1979 was a lot of money.

“What an investment that would have been, huh?” Barrett says ruefully.

Stewart became smitten that fall with the personality of the Pine Crest, its homey feel and the ebullience of “Mr. B’s Old South Bar,” a renowned watering hole. Whenever the PGA Tour returned to Pinehurst over the years — for the Hall of Fame Classics in the early 1980s or the Tour Championships of the early 1990s — Stewart returned to the Pine Crest, if not to bed down at least to eat and drink. In the early 1990s, he negotiated his NFL clothing deal over dinner in the Crystal Room, an adjunct of the main dining room. He sang and hung out with his buddies and bet on NFL football in the bar. He also ate a lot of banana cream pie. Marie Hartsell, a cook in the inn’s kitchen for some 35 years until her retirement in 2010, prepared one of the inn’s signature desserts, and whenever Stewart visited over the years, he’d dive into a banana cream pie.

“He’d eat a whole pie by himself,” says Barrett.

Stewart rented a house on Pinehurst No. 6 during the 1999 Open but visited the Pine Crest early in the week to see his old friends. He signed his name in huge script letters on the wallpaper of the men’s rest room (an iteration of that signature is framed and hangs in the lobby today). Stewart also told Barrett he was playing quite well.

“Pete, I think I can win this thing,” he said.

Stewart spent a few minutes that evening talking to Patrick Barrett, the 9-year-old son of Bob Barrett Jr., also a son of the longtime owner of the inn. Patrick had shrugged off his introduction to golf two years earlier, primarily because it had been forced upon him by his grandfather. But now that the youngster was making his own connection to the game, golf seemed like something that might be fun to pursue. Stewart made quite an impression.

“They connected because Payne sat down, looked Patrick in the eye and made him feel special,” says Andy Hofmann, the boy’s mother. “Patrick spent the entire Open week following Stewart.”

Patrick is now 34 years old. After graduating from the University of North Carolina and playing on the Tar Heel golf team, he entered medical school and today is a surgical resident at a hospital in Seattle. Like all of us who were there somewhere along the 18th hole on June 20, 1999, he marvels that blink — 25 years are gone.

“Grandpa knew a lot of players,” Patrick says. “He knew them before they were famous because they’d stayed at the Pine Crest. The only golfers I knew then were Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. He called Payne over and introduced me. Grandpa said, ‘This guy is going to win it.’ Payne shrugged it off and said good to meet you, made a fuss over me. It was kind of embarrassing thinking back on it. I didn’t even stand up.

“He signed a piece of paper for me. It said, ‘To Patrick, keep swinging, Payne Stewart.’ I’ve got that piece of paper somewhere. Now all of a sudden golf was cool. My mom gave me lunch money and turned me loose every day that week.

“I was so short, I couldn’t see much of the action, but I could feel the energy. I was more interested in autographs and celebrities than the golf. But that week I decided I wanted to play golf, to learn the game. I was absolutely golf-obsessed from then on out. I started to play with a real purpose.”

The dominoes fell that week for Stewart. He was a “feel player” competing on a golf course that rewarded right-brained tendencies. He’d missed the cut at Memphis the week before and got to Pinehurst five days early to map out his game plan. He was playing clubs and a ball suited to his skills after a half-decade of chasing endorsements with ill-fitted implements. He had matured from his younger, petulant ways, losing on the final day of the Open at the Olympic Club in 1998 with grace and composure.

And Stewart was confident and comfortable in Pinehurst.

He made eye contact and smiled at the locals in the grocery store. He joked with the ladies at check-in on Sunday when asking for scissors to cut off the sleeves of his rain jacket (starting a new fashion trend, by the way). He had a heartfelt reunion with old friend and instructor Harvie Ward before he took off for the final round in his navy plus-fours, red/navy striped shirt, navy tam, and white socks and shoes.

“I think it’s safe to say I love Pinehurst,” Stewart said when it was over. “This is a special place. It was a perfect way to win. I think everyone in the field will attest to how great No. 2 is and what a special place this is. To win here means a lot to me. This place is a gem. It’s beautiful. It’s phenomenal. We never see a golf course like this on the tour. It’s a refreshing change of pace.”

Needless to say, the echoes from ’99 will reverberate through the pines over the coming months.  PS

Author Lee Pace chronicled Payne Stewart’s magical week in 1999 in his book The Spirit of Pinehurst, published in 2004.

Golftown Journal

Golftown Journal

Cool Aids

Teaching the feel of a swing

By Lee Pace

The concept of the golf school was still in its infancy in the early 1980s, though pioneers like Peggy Kirk Bell at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club had already been entertaining guests for a quarter of a century for multi-day immersions in golf instruction, competition and fellowship.

The management at Golf Digest magazine believed that golf schools at top-echelon resorts taught by the game’s best instructors would be an excellent way to promote the brand and earn a buck, and so by 1982 the Digest schools visited Pinehurst each spring and fall, bringing instruction luminaries like Jim Flick, Jack Lumpkin, Bob Toski and Gary Wiren to the Sandhills.

Wiren spent time not only on the renowned “Maniac Hill” practice ground at the flagship resort, but he and Peggy Kirk Bell were close friends, and Wiren spoke and taught often down Midland Road at Pine Needles.

Today, one of the foundational training aids in the golf instruction centers at both Pinehurst and Pine Needles (and probably most practice ranges in the Sandhills) is one of Wiren’s inventions. In the early 1980s Wiren played off a favorite drill from three-time British Open champion Henry Cotton in which Cotton had golfers simulate impact by swinging against an old tire — shaft leaning forward, hips clearing and head behind the ball. Wiren thought a softer and safer rendition would be to manufacture a large bag of durable fabric and stuff it with towels.

The bright yellow Impact Bag was introduced in 1982 and became one of the most noted training aids in history. It launched Wiren into a sideline of developing and nurturing the creation of devices to help PGA professionals teach and golfers to learn. Today, at 89 years of age, Wiren and his family operate a business called Golf Around the World, built around an online sales catalog of training devices.

“Telling a golfer is one thing,” says Wiren, who played in the 1994 U.S. Senior Open at Pinehurst wearing knickers and carrying his own bag. “Letting them feel is altogether different.”

Wiren lives in West Palm Beach, Florida, and still makes regular trips each January to the PGA Show in Orlando, where a growing section of the floorspace is dedicated to golfing entrepreneurs who have created better mousetraps to augur a player’s ability to find the proverbial light switch in their golf game.

You might find Jim Hackenburg, who was teaching on Martha’s Vineyard in 2007 when he had the idea of attaching a rubber ball about the size of an orange to a flexible shaft that was designed to help golfers feel the proper motion, sequence and tempo of the swing. Today the Orange Whip is as ubiquitous in golf instruction as the Impact Bag.

Holding court in his booth devoted to his Tour Striker line of training aids is Martin Chuck, an Arizona-based teaching pro. Chuck, frustrated in 2008 by his students’ inability to strike the ball with forward shaft lean, took a 5-iron into his club repair shop and ground off the bottom four grooves of the club, rendering it worthless unless the golfer hit down on the ball sufficiently to force contact in the middle of the clubface — not the bottom edge. Any shot hit on the bottom of the clubface would simply dribble along the ground.

Bernie Fay was a blue collar worker and part-time handyman in Chicago who loved golf and a decade ago conceived a 42-inch polymer shaft with an attached elbow cuff that promotes a wider turn and keeping the left arm straight. He put his life savings into what he calls the “Most Important Stretch In Golf,” or MISIG, for a business name.

“I think that golfers know something that other people do not,” Fay says. “They have something in them that others might not: the light of hope. They have figured out spiritual art. Something beautiful. It’s pure, and I am awestruck when I think about it. The light of hope is always on them.”

This year one of the more novel introductions to the eternal hope for a better golf game is Mike Dickson, a Maryland-based instructor who has created and manufactured a line of devices under the LagMaster banner. Like Wiren, Chuck and many others before him, Dickson was confounded over 17 years teaching at Congressional Country Club in Washington with the average golfer’s tendency to “cast” the club, releasing it well before impact.

But instead of solving the problem at the bottom of the move, Dickson’s LagMaster addresses the issue at the top of the backswing and the early part of the downswing. The device is placed on the grip of the club, and with a properly executed backswing, one end of it touches the right shoulder at the top of the backswing (for a right-handed golfer). The feel Dickson is teaching is to keep the end of the device touching the shoulder into the downswing until the left arm is parallel to the ground. To do that, the golfer has to retain the 90-degree angle of the club and the left arm.

Presto: No cast, and an eventual compression of the ball at impact.

Dickson looks around him at the Orange County Convention Center in January 2024 and takes in all the inventions.

“The whole goal of any training aid in this building is to give somebody a sensation, a feeling without me having to describe it or put my hands on your body,” he says. “If you feel it, you’re going to own it.”

Dickson is a proponent of Homer Kelley’s The Golfing Machine, one of the key elements being the action of the right shoulder. Kelley teaches that the right shoulder swings down “on plane,” along the same line as the club shaft and staying “back and down” until after the hit. Tom Watson credits that move with helping him during his late-career success on the PGA Champions Tour.

“That’s what I am trying to accomplish with the LagMaster,” Dickson says. “You have to turn the right shoulder under to maintain the angle. If I can give you a good grip and sequence you the right way, all this other mess goes away. It’s been fun to watch it evolve.

“A guy ordered the device and wrote back immediately. He said, ‘Mike, after the first three swings, I couldn’t believe how different it felt.’ I see that every day.”

Dickson left Congressional in 2021 to start his own golf academy at Little Bennett Golf Course in Clarksburg, Maryland. He teaches there and runs his LagMaster as a side hustle that, he says, “looks like it’s going to be bigger.”

Indeed, the water is warm in the training aids ocean.  PS

Lee Pace has written about golf in Pinehurst and the Sandhills for more than three decades. Write him at leepace7@gmail.com and follow him @LeePaceTweet.

Golftown Journal

Golftown Journal

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 leepace7@gmail.com.

Golftown Journal

Golftown Journal

The Scottish Invasion

When golf put down roots in the Sandhills

By Lee Pace

There’s the town of Aberdeen right in our midst, the county of Scotland to the south, the village of Dundarrach to the southeast, roads we drive every day named for McDonald, McCaskill, McKenzie and Dundee. The Old Scotch Graveyard is off Bethlehem Church Road west of Carthage.

This area of south central North Carolina has deep Scottish roots dating to the 1700s, when droves of Scottish emigrants fled the Highlands to the shores of North Carolina, and moved up the Cape Fear River and its tributaries to the pine forests of Moore County. They found land for the taking and plentiful game for hunting.

It’s only fitting that in time the ancient game of golf would become the backbone of the Sandhills economy.

Man has enjoyed games of sticks and balls throughout history, and Europeans in the Middle Ages even played from one village to the next by striking an object, finding it and hitting it again toward a pre-determined target. Golf was played in Scotland as early as 1457, when the Scottish parliament of King James II banned the sport (along with football) because it was distracting the men of Edinburgh from their archery training. The first printed reference to golf in Dornoch, a village on the northeast coast of Scotland, came in 1616.

So in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when golf was taking root in the United States, young men from Scotland who knew the game found opportunity in America to foster its growth. Chief among them was Donald Ross, who traveled from Dornoch to Boston in 1899, found work at Oakley Country Club, and a year later moved to Pinehurst, where he ran the golf operation and began building new golf courses for Pinehurst owner James W. Tufts. By 1919, Ross had built seven courses in Pinehurst and Southern Pines as his design career blossomed and would eventually number some 400 courses across the eastern United States. 

“Pinehurst was absolutely the pioneer in American golf,” Ross said. “While golf had been played in a few places before Pinehurst was established, it was right here on these Sandhills that the first great national movement in golf was started. Men came here, took a few golf lessons, bought a few clubs and went away determined to organize clubs.”

It’s fitting that the Country Club of North Carolina, one of the premier Sandhills golf clubs, was founded by a man with deep Scottish bona fides. Dick Urquhart’s ancestors evolved from Clan Urquhart, which held power over lands in the northeast of Scotland many hundreds of years ago. Urquhart in the early 1960s ran a prosperous accounting firm in Raleigh and loved the golf-centric environment of Pinehurst. He envisioned a venue for successful North Carolina businessmen and power brokers to gather away from home for long weekends and holidays.

“What could be better than a good club centrally located for nearly all of us, ideally suited for golf, horses, hunting or just plain socializing?” Urquhart asked in a 1962 letter to charter members of his new club.

Richard Tufts, who had traveled to Scotland extensively and made the long trip north to Dornoch several times, suggested to Urquhart that he name the club Royal Dornoch, and in fact the real estate development around the golf course was named Royal Dornoch Golf Village.

Because of the club’s appeal across the state, Urquhart preferred a broader approach and christened it the Country Club of North Carolina. It opened in 1963 with a golf course designed by Ellis Maples and Willard Byrd (it would be named the Dogwood Course when a second course followed in 1981 and was named the Cardinal).

CCNC was one of the original members of Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses and was the site of the PGA Tour’s Liggett & Myers Open Match Play Championship won by Dewitt Weaver in 1971, and recast in ’72 as the U.S. Professional Match Play Championship won by Jack Nicklaus. Hal Sutton won the 1980 U.S. Amateur at CCNC. The Dogwood Course was renowned for its back nine, with seven holes wrapped around Watson’s Lake.

Vestiges of the club’s original Scottish connection have remained for 60 years.

Lake Dornoch sits to the left side of the fourth hole of the Dogwood Course, and the main road through the community is called Lake Dornoch Drive. There is a restaurant in the club called the Dornoch Grille.

What has become a deep and enduring relationship between CCNC and Royal Dornoch Golf Club began in 1971 when a Dornoch member visited and brought a plaque and hole flags to commemorate the friendship. “With this message of greeting goes our hope that Dornoch, Sutherland, and Dornoch, North Carolina, may continue to have close and increasingly friendly relations for many years to come,” reads the plaque signed by Dornoch captain W.B. Alford.

There was an informal series of couples’ visits to both clubs dating to the late 1990s, but the union took on a formal approach when CCNC member Ziggy Zalzneck and Dornoch member Roly Bluck became good friends after meeting during one of Zalzneck’s trips to Dornoch. Bluck was visiting Pinehurst in 2008, and Zalzneck drove him to Raleigh to visit Urquhart, who was failing in health (and not far from his death that October).

“Mr. Urquhart was dressed in pajamas but had his CCNC blazer on. I thought that was fabulous,” Zalzneck says.

They talked about golf, Pinehurst and Scotland, and when it was over, Urquhart put his arm around Zalzneck and said, “Ziggy, I want the club to have matches with these guys. Will you work it out?”

Twelve players from Dornoch traveled to CCNC in 2011, and the matches have been held since, alternating venues (the 2020 and ’21 matches were canceled because of COVID-19). They play a Ryder Cup format, and at stake is an antique wooden putter now named for Bluck, who died in 2014.

“We look forward to the matches every year,” says Dornoch general manager Neil Hampton. “Visiting Pinehurst is lovely. It’s so different for us. He have to adjust our game, the ball doesn’t run and bounce like it does at home.

“Each club seems to have the advantage on their home course. Does somebody win? Yes. But it’s a friendship thing. It’s a social event with golf involved. It’s all about like-minded people enjoying a bit of fun.”

Adds Dornoch club captain David Bell: “Royal Dornoch members relish the annual contest with their friends from Country Club of North Carolina. While they may leave some of that friendship behind in their quest to win the Roly Bluck putter, it is soon restored over one, or several, glasses of whisky in the bar.

“This is a competition which embodies the comradeship and sportsmanship which make golf such a great game.” PS

Golf writer Lee Pace wrote about the Dornoch and Pinehurst connections in his 2012 book, The Golden Age of Pinehurst.

Golftown Journal

Golftown Journal

Sensory Overload

The work of artist and architect Mike Strantz

By Lee Pace

Just over 170 golfers from 14 states as far away as Nebraska traveled to Asheboro the last week in October to play golf at Tot Hill Farm, a daily fee course designed by Mike Strantz. The event is called The Iron Maverick and is a conclave of avid golfers devoted to the quirky, renegade style of Strantz, who designed eight courses over a decade before succumbing to cancer in 2005.

“Everyone here will tell you they are Mike Strantz’ biggest fan,” says Brett McNamara, one of the event’s founders and organizers. “I grew up in Rochester, where the best courses are Donald Ross designs. I saw Tot Hill 21 years ago and was just flabbergasted. I’d never seen anything like it.”

Adds his lifelong golf buddy and fellow Iron Maverick organizer Landon Owen: “I was fascinated by the place. I said, ‘Who builds these preposterous courses?’ I thought, ‘This guy is going to be huge.’ I have played more prestigious golf courses, but Tot Hill is my favorite.”

Which begs the question: If Strantz hadn’t died from tongue cancer in 2005 at the young age of 50, would he ever have made it to Pinehurst proper to design a golf course? 

We’ll never know, of course, but at least 25 percent of his remarkable but all too limited design portfolio was built within 45 miles of the village of Pinehurst. 

Twenty-five miles to the northeast is Tobacco Road, which opened in 1998 with craggy edges, blind shots and dramatic ups and downs whittled from the site of an old sand quarry.

And 45 miles to the northwest is Tot Hill Farm, which opened in 2000 on a rocky site in the Uwharrie Mountains near Asheboro, with an ever-present creek running through the course and an 1800s farmhouse converted into a clubhouse and golf shop. The course in the last year has had an ownership change and reopened in September after a significant operations and agronomic overhaul.

“I have always been fascinated with Mike Strantz’ work and how he went about designing a course — he actually set up shop and lived on-site for every job he did,” says Pat Barber, who owns two courses in the Charleston area and bought Tot Hill in December 2022. “I’ve always enjoyed a good renovation, whether it’s an old house on the Charleston Battery or a golf course that has some potential. This is a special piece of property, has a unique story and is just one of a very few courses that Mike produced. All those things made it an appealing opportunity. We fell in love with the golf course, the land and the old farmhouse. The idea of bringing it back to life was exciting.” 

Tot Hill was built on part of a 400-acre parcel that had been in the family of Asheboro native Ogburn Yates since 1943. The family lived there during the summers, and Yates later raised cattle. In the 1990s, Yates said the family was faced with three options. One was to sell it, but “there were too many memories,” he says. Another was to let it sit idle. A third was to jump on the health of golf and residential markets, build a golf course and develop a neighborhood. 

Yates owned a condominium at Pawleys Island on the South Carolina coast, and through a church there made friends with Doc Lachicotte, a prominent area businessman who was a partner in the mid-1980s creation of the Wachesaw Plantation golf community in Murrells Inlet and the subsequent idea to build a daily-fee course on land along the Intracoastal Waterway used as a fishing club. Lachicotte hired Strantz to design what would become the highly decorated Caledonia Golf & Fish Club. 

“I told Doc we were thinking of doing a golf course on an old family farm, and he said I should talk to Mike,” Yates says. “Doc said he’d bring Mike up here one weekend and let him look at the property. They got here and Mike said, ‘Let me walk around an hour or so.’ He came back and said, ‘You need to build a golf course here. This is a great piece of land.’”

Strantz lived in the farmhouse for 18 months while drawing sketches of the holes during the evenings, and wandering the property by horseback and jumping on earth-moving machines during the day. The course opened in May 2000, and golfers from the beginning were wowed by the tee area of the par-3 third hole cobbled amid enormous rock outcroppings; the teardrop shaped green of the fifth hole set in another rocky and sandy setting; the “cave” built under the ground connecting the 10th and 12th greens; and the waterfall cascading down from behind the 15th green. 

“The piece of property is tremendous,” Strantz said. “I was brought in pretty much as a consultant at the beginning by Ogburn. We walked out on the property and looked at a few places. It kept getting better and better. I got across the road and I kept hearing this sound. I had to go see what it was. It was a waterfall and some big rock. I said, ‘Ogburn, you gotta do it.’ There was no question in my mind at that point.”

Tot Hill has survived two recessions, the occasional flood like the one in 2003 where Betty McGee’s Creek washed out one green entirely and parts of two others, and the always evolving golf economy. By 2018, Yates and his partners were getting along in age and thought it time to find someone who would continue the Tot Hill vision. They met with a half dozen potential buyers before reaching a comfort level with Barber, who has been in the golf business for more than 20 years with Stono Ferry Golf Club and the Plantation Course at Edisto, both in the Charleston area.

The course closed in May 2023 and reopened on Labor Day. All of the greens and bunkers were rebuilt, some drainage issues addressed, many of the cart paths resurfaced, and vast swaths of trees culled out to improve sunlight and airflow. The motor operating the waterfall on 15 was replaced, and the farmhouse restored for golf operations, a snack bar and a room dedicated to Strantz memorabilia. 

“Sensory overload is a phrase you hear often where Strantz courses are concerned,” says Greg Wood, the club’s director of operations. “Mike was at the height of his career when he was here, just coming off the accolades for Tobacco Road and before he did Bulls Bay.” 

Wood points to some of the drawings from Strantz’ pen that are hanging on the clubhouse walls and marvels at how closely the finished construction matched the illustrations. Also displayed are several sketches of potential logos for the club that Strantz drew, the eventual one featuring a horseshoe surrounding an animal skull and horns. When the new owners took over, they modified the logo in a rebranding effort using another Strantz option.

“The exciting part is that Strantz the artist gave us several options to use,” Wood says. 

Mike Strantz the artist and Mike Strantz the golf architect — they are one and the same and on full display in today’s Sandhills golf landscape.   PS

Chapel Hill-based writer Lee Pace has been writing about golf in North Carolina and the Sandhills for four decades. His latest book is Good Walks—Rediscovering the Soul of Golf at Eighteen Top Carolinas Courses, available from UNC Press.

Golftown Journal

Golftown Journal

Shutterbugs

Making art in the golden hour

By Lee Pace

My stock-in-trade over four-plus decades has been the written word, but I admit the layering of subjects, verbs and adjectives pales in comparison to the display of a well-conceived and executed photograph. An advertising executive from the early 1920s is credited with coining the phrase “One picture is worth a thousand words,” and I say bravo to that. In the fat coffee table books I’ve crafted for golf clubs the last two decades, I strive for a mix of 50-50 words and images but admit that if not one word is absorbed, the photos make it worth the toil and tariff.

The Sandhills and its golf courses are evolving more and more today as an exquisite canvas for shutterbugs of all makes and models, and the ability to immediately display the visuals on social media and assorted blogs and digital venues multiplies their visibility a millionfold over the old days of weekly and monthly magazines.

John Hemmer, who had a 45-year association with Pinehurst back in the Tufts family days, took photos of the golf, racquet, shooting and equestrian pursuits at Pinehurst beginning in 1925 and dispatched them to newspapers and wire services. He also made prints in his darkroom and mailed them to the hometown newspapers of resort guests. Today the Tufts Archives has some 85,000 Hemmer images in its vast collection.

In 2012, John Gessner — a frequent contributor to this magazine — won the naming contest for the elaborate putting course Pinehurst built on 2.5 acres outside its clubhouse, suggesting Thistle Dhu in a tip of the cap to the pitch-and-putt venue that James Barber built on his Pinehurst property nearly a century earlier. Four years later, Gessner was the first photographer to capture the unique landscape of The Cradle, the resort’s nine-hole short course adjacent to the massive putting green. His early morning shot has appeared in Forbes, GOLF magazine and other outlets, and depicts the brownish wire grass in the foreground, green fairways and putting surfaces in the middle, and blue sky above, the backdrop punctuated by the classic columns and red roof of the south side of the Pinehurst clubhouse. 

Kaye Pierson began taking photos with her phone from her perch on a golf course mower while on her shifts with the resort maintenance staff and in 2013 snapped what she pegged “First Light at Pinehurst.” The Putter Boy statuette looms at dawn from its location within Thistle Dhu, enveloped by a dew-laden grass, fog and glints of sunlight to the east. The image caught fire on social media and has been featured on prints in resort gift shops.

John Patota has had careers as an engineer and a school system administrator, and all along has enjoyed photography as a hobby and avocation, though these days he’s available for hire. He bills himself on social media as “Pinehurst Photographer” and enjoys taking photos of “people doing the things they love.” He’s all over the North & South competitions at the resort and has a special niche capturing the golf course maintenance staff.

Matt Gibson is a native of the United Kingdom, growing up in London and attending the University of St. Andrews, and for two years has been on staff at Pinehurst as its “digital storyteller.” His background on the sandy landscapes of the British Isles provides excellent perspective to generate and curate a rich mixture of images and video clips.

“I think the best sports photographers are the golf photographers,” he says. “You think about an NFL game or a baseball game, you have the same feel essentially every match, right? There are only a certain number of lines you can find. But every golf course is different. The lines are infinite.”

The photographer who has most caught my eye of late is Chris Auman, the 41-year-old nephew of Clyde Auman, a longtime peach grower and state legislator from West End. Chris was among the thousands of spectators ringing the 18th green of Pinehurst No. 2 when Payne Stewart sank his putt to win the 1999 U.S. Open, and he’s pictured in the lower right of photographer Rob Brown’s classic “One Moment in Time” panorama. Auman has generated numerous images of the village and the Pinehurst golf courses in recent years, finding particular fodder in the magical light of early morning and late afternoon.

Early one morning, he lined up six Adirondack chairs along The Cradle and captured their glow bathed in the orange of the eastern sky. Crisp fall mornings have provided the setup to capture the village at daybreak and a golf setting with the same technique Hemmer used nearly a century ago — framing the hole with the trunk of a pine tree to one side, and boughs of needles and cones hanging at the top. He’s snapped the 18th green of No. 2 from the veranda, dozens of purple tulips and yellow flowers in the foreground. The passing locomotives and freight cars of the Aberdeen, Carolina & Western Railroad as it skirts the western edge of the resort are a favorite prop.

The ideas are endless.

“I’m drawn to the golf courses in Pinehurst and the Sandhills because one, the nostalgia; and two, the natural beauty,” he says. “I love shooting low light around the village and the golf courses. It brings the dew and the haze into play. You get more interesting colors in the morning. The evening with sunsets can be great, but orange is the dominant color.

“Golf brings people together,” he continues. “Not everyone is into golf, but when I take a photograph of a golf course, people can appreciate the photograph. They can appreciate the beauty of the natural landscape. You are actually bringing people into the sport who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in it. A photo like the chairs beside The Cradle — it asks, ‘Wouldn’t you like to be sitting in those chairs right now?’ People always tell me, ‘Well, I’ve been by there a thousand times and I’ve never seen it quite like that.’”

Late one afternoon, Auman was walking with his camera up the sandy path between the 18th holes of course No. 1 on the left and No. 4 on the right. The light was perfect, just kissing the western edges of the tree trunks and the undersides of the pine needles hanging above. There is sand, wire grass, serrated bunkers and a soft sky.

“I looked up and I just thought, ‘Man, that’s the way this place used to look,’” he says. “That’s what James Tufts saw. That’s what Pinehurst is, and that’s what I was trying to capture.”  PS

Lee Pace has written about the Pinehurst experience for more than three decades from his home in Chapel Hill. Write him at leepace7@gmail.com and follow him @LeePaceTweet.

Golftown Journal

Golftown Journal

Their Cup Runneth Over

But it wasn’t always that way

By Lee Pace

It was 40 years ago when the Ryder Cup pivoted from a sleepy, ceremonial tea party to one of the world’s most anticipated and watched sporting events. On Oct. 16, 1983, Lanny Wadkins nailed a wedge shot to a foot on the final hole at PGA National Golf Club for a birdie and the clinching point for the American team, nipping the Europeans 14 1/2 to 13 1/2.

Jack Nicklaus, the non-playing captain, went down on his knees to kiss Wadkins’ divot. He drank champagne from the Ryder Cup itself during a victory celebration that Wadkins recently said, “To this day, that was probably the best party I’ve ever seen.”

Meanwhile, European captain Tony Jacklin seethed. “We just missed this time,” he said. “But I promise you, when the Americans come to England in two years, it’ll be a different story.”

You think? 

Though it took four years for the effects to truly manifest themselves in the drama at Palm Beach Gardens, the decision in 1979 to expand the Great Britain and Ireland team to include all of continental Europe was the change that created the spectacle of the modern matches. This year, in a Ryder Cup contested in the countryside outside of Rome on a Marco Simone Golf Club course in the shadows of a castle built 1,200 years ago, Jon Rahm of Spain, Viktor Hovland of Norway and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy highlight a European team with an English captain and five co-captains that included a Dane, two Italians, one Spaniard and a Belgian.

Before the GB&I team composition changed, the Americans held an 18-3-1 record in the biennial competition. The tie featured the famous Nicklaus/Jacklin match in 1969 with the U.S. retaining the cup. America’s dominance through those years included a 9 1/2 to 2 1/2 lambasting of the team from Great Britain — as it was called then — at Pinehurst in 1951. Beginning with the matches in ’79 when the U.S. opponent was all of Europe, the record heading into the 2023 matches in Italy was Europe 11 wins, America nine wins, and one tie — a result that allowed Europe to retain the cup in 1989.

Two men with connections to the Sandhills and North Carolina were on the front lines in the 1970s when the PGA of America and the British PGA made the decision that changed golf history.

Henry Poe, a native of Durham and a Duke University graduate, was president of the PGA of America in 1975-76.

Don Padgett Sr. was a longtime club professional in Indiana and the PGA vice president and then president during that era. Padgett would later serve as Pinehurst’s director of golf from 1987-2002 and was instrumental in Pinehurst’s quest to land major championship golf that today includes U.S. Open number four coming next June and four more on the calendar through 2047. 

“To show you just how far off the radar screen the Ryder Cup was at that time, the 1975 competition almost didn’t get on television,” Padgett said in 2002. “George Love, the kingpin at Laurel Valley and the local chairman of the event, had to guarantee the commercial time to get ABC to agree to show the competition. Can you imagine that today? It’s gone from the club having to beg for TV coverage to today where NBC pays millions of dollars to televise the Ryder Cup.”

The 1975 rosters underlined the competitive imbalance in the two squads. The Americans had nine players who would win Grand Slam events — Billy Casper, Ray Floyd, Lou Graham, Hale Irwin, Gene Littler, Johnny Miller, Lee Trevino, Tom Weiskopf and Nicklaus. By contrast, the GB&I team had only British Open champion Jacklin among major-championship winners on its roster. The score that year? The U.S. won, 21-11.

The 1977 Ryder Cup Matches were held at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club in England. Poe, the pro at Redding Country Club in Pennsylvania, was chairman of the matches, and Padgett was president of the PGA. They were riding around the course in a golf cart, and Poe said, “Don, I’m really getting concerned about the Ryder Cup. Several of our players have said they don’t care if they ever play again. There’s just no competition.”

It was clear that some change was going to have to be made to strengthen the GB&I team in order to keep the players’ interest. Nicklaus said in a letter to Lord Derby, captain of the British PGA, that the Ryder Cup had become a social affair for the Americans — and little else.

“It is vital to widen the selection procedures if the Ryder Cup is to continue to enjoy its past prestige,” Nicklaus told Lord Derby, who was also president of Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club.

Poe suggested that afternoon that he and Padgett try to get Lord Derby to sit down and discuss the issue. It was incumbent on the British to expand the boundaries of the GB&I team. They had breakfast with him the next morning, and Lord Derby seemed receptive to the idea.

“Henry was close friends with Lord Derby,” Padgett remembered. “That relationship helped him get Lord Derby to consider the proposition. By then the British PGA was conducting a true European tour, and we believed the team fielded by the British PGA should reflect that. I think Lord Derby and the GB&I team were tired of losing.”

When the 1979 Ryder Cup came to the Greenbrier in West Virginia, the American opponent was now a true European team, one not limited to the British Isles — and there were a couple of young Spaniards on the squad named Seve Ballesteros and Anthony Garrido.

“Seve was young and good-looking and had a slashing, charging game,” Padgett said. “He was like a young Arnold Palmer. And he had a wonderful short game. You could see things might be different down the road.”

The United States still dominated at the Greenbrier, 17 to 11, and won handily two years later at Walton Heath, 18 1/2 to 9 1/2. But new faces on the European team were spicing things up. Bernhard Langer from Germany and Jose Maria Canizares of Spain joined the squad in 1981. The British PGA now had a much broader pool of talent from which to draw, and the European players brought a more durable quality to their team. They played week-to-week on courses offering more variety and difficult playing conditions than the American tour. Travel was more challenging and amenities less in abundance.

“It all goes back to relationships, which are so important in all of business but particularly in golf, which is a fairly small world,” Padgett said. “Henry’s relationship with Lord Derby got the ball rolling. I’m sure things would have changed eventually had Henry not made that appeal to Lord Derby back in 1977. But I don’t think they would have changed as soon.”

Since then we’ve been treated to the “War by the Shore” at Kiawah in 1991 (Langer still wondering if that damn putt will fall), Justin Leonard’s 45-foot bomb at The Country Club in 1999, Darren Clarke harnessing the grief over his wife’s recent passing to go 3-0-0 at the K Club in Ireland in 2006, Ian Poulter’s birdie binge to fuel the “Miracle at Medinah” in 2012, and the steely Patrick Reed edging Rory McIlroy 1-up at Hazeltine in 2016.

“The European and the American teams are more patriotic now than ever,” Nicklaus says. “I think that’s great. It is the one week where one of the world’s best golfers is not playing just for himself. He’s also playing for 11 others, for his country and for an enormous amount of pride.”  PS

Lee Pace has written about the Pinehurst experience for more than three decades from his home in Chapel Hill. Write him at leepace7@gmail.com and follow him @LeePaceTweet.

Golftown Journal

GOLFTOWN JOURNAL

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 leepace7@gmail.com and follow him @leepacetweet.