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. 

Golftown Journal

Golftown Journal

Three of a Kind

Keeping Pinehurst in good hands

By Lee Pace

Photographs by John Gessner

           

Think of it: Trump Pinehurst. JW Marriott Pinehurst Resort. Omni Pinehurst. Imagine checking your brokerage account for HLT and wondering if the Hilton chain stock got a nice bump during the weeks Pinehurst was hosting the U.S. Open. Oh, what could have been — and thankfully has not.

Consider this: Pinehurst (the resort and club) is 128 years old. It has had three owners. Three. In a golf industry expected to crest $41 billion by 2025 and with mergers and acquisitions flying like golf balls on Maniac Hill, Pinehurst has remained safely ensconced in private hands, never having to make its quarterly nut.

Certainly, it’s not all been peaches and cream, particularly those two years in the early 1980s when a consortium of banks was in charge after Diamondhead defaulted on its loans. Depressions and recessions generated some heartburn.

Trivia question: What do soda fountains, shipping containers and country club management have in common? Those were the arenas in which entrepreneurs that would eventually own Pinehurst generated their fortunes. James Tufts, Malcom McLean and Robert Dedman Sr. each grew from modest means to fabulous business success. 

Tufts was born in 1835, grew up in the Boston suburb of Charlestown, and at age 15 was apprenticed in an apothecary shop. He established his own shop by age 21 and soon expanded to five stores. He recognized the soda fountain was a key part of what would become the modern drugstore, with customers not only buying medicine but also the drinks and ice cream concoctions from the Italian marble and silver-plated foundation apparatus.

When he was 27, Tufts developed and began manufacturing and selling the successful Arctic Soda machines through his new venture, the Arctic Soda Fountain Company. And since parts of his popular fountains were silver-plated, that led him to manufacture an extensive line of silver-plated pitchers, dishes and table accessories. Many of these items, including an Arctic Soda machine, are on display at the Tufts Archives in Pinehurst. 

He became the first president of the American Soda Fountain Company through a merger in 1891, and with his wealth and business success secure, he turned his focus to other pursuits and philanthropy. The concept that became Pinehurst was the result of him wanting to create a resort in the southern United States for those like him of frail health to escape the bitter New England winters. 

Golf was not part of the original vision that opened in late 1895, but it came to his attention in 1897 that guests were hitting small rubber balls with wooden sticks around the dairy fields and, in the process, aggravating the cows. Tufts built nine holes as a lark in 1898, enlisting the help of Dr. D. LeRoy Culver, a Southern Pines physician who was an avid golfer, had played in England and Scotland, and understood the gist of what a course should look like. “A nine-hole golf course has been laid out after the famous St. Andrews, near Edinburgh, Scotland,” The Pinehurst Outlook reported in February 1898.

And the dominoes started falling. 

Tufts died in 1902 of heart disease, and the evolution of Pinehurst remained in the hands of his son Leonard and three grandsons. In the late 1960s, the aging of that third generation, the specter of inheritance taxes and the need to spend millions of dollars to upfit what was an aging resort in a time of rapid growth of the golf industry led the Tuftses to sell the resort and club. They found a buyer in a man who grew up 30 miles away and had just collected $160 million for selling a company that had revolutionized the shipping industry. 

Malcom McLean grew up on a farm near Maxton, graduated from high school and went directly into business for himself, purchasing a used pickup truck for $120 with savings from his gas-pumping job. He and two of his six siblings — sister Clara and brother Jim — then opened McLean Trucking Company, expanding their fleet and hauling crops from farm to market, and empty tobacco barrels from market back to farm.

Another early job during these mid-1930s formative days of what would become the second largest trucking firm in the country was in Pinehurst. McLean had the account of Pinehurst Inc. to haul guests’ luggage from the train station in Southern Pines to the hotels in Pinehurst.

Frustrated in 1937 by having to wait days at a New Jersey dock to unload his cargo of cotton onto a ship bound for Istanbul, McLean groused “there must be a better way” than loading a ship with cargo piece by piece. The idea fomented for two decades until he acted on his instincts in 1956 — that of designing cargo containers that could be easily separated from the truck bed and then neatly stacked on a ship designed to haul hundreds of containers at a time. He bought a fleet of old tankers, converted them to cargo ships and was off on his next venture, one that would revolutionize the shipping industry.

The eventual sale of Sea-Land Service Inc. to R.J. Reynolds in 1969 made the McLeans multi-millionaires. One of McLean’s sidelines was the resort and residential development concern that he named the Diamondhead Corporation, and that had projects underway in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. He remembered Pinehurst fondly from his luggage hauling days and eventually bought the resort from the Tuftses on Dec. 31, 1970, for the price of $9.2 million.

Diamondhead expanded the golf offering, building course No. 6 in the mid-1970s, creating the new World Golf Hall of Fame, and getting Pinehurst No. 2 back on the PGA Tour from 1973-82. It also embarked on an aggressive home-building expansion, with one ill-conceived and hideous idea to build condominiums within the No. 2 course that was thankfully thwarted by a lawsuit. In time, the company lost the resort to bankruptcy proceedings, opening the door for Dedman to step in in 1984. 

Dedman was a self-made billionaire who worked his way from the farmland of Arkansas to law school and on to creating a business that owned and operated country, athletic and city clubs around the world. He was working as in-house counsel for Dallas oilman H.L. Hunt in the mid-1950s when he perceived an opportunity to spread the country club concept beyond the 1 percent of elite citizens. He saw hundreds of thousands of potential homebuyers and members amid the masses of people now working, earning a good living and raising families in the post-war ’50s.

Dedman soon learned of the inefficiencies inherent in the operation of clubs, most of which are governed by committees of members. They are experts in their chosen fields — doctoring or lawyering, for example — but limited in their expertise of club business. One of his favorite sayings was, “For God so loved the world that he didn’t send a committee to save it.” He brought systems and procedures to running his clubs. By bundling its buying power across dozens of clubs, his company found significant savings in purchases from fertilizer for golf courses to food for dining rooms.

Club Corporation of America eventually would own and operate more than 200 clubs total and have assets of more than $1.6 billion. Dedman died in 2002, and his son, Robert Jr., took over. The Dedman family sold its interests in what had become ClubCorp in 2006 but kept Pinehurst. 

“Where would this place be if not for Robert Dedman?” Jim Hyler mused during his 2010-11 tenure as president of the USGA. “He might have been the one man in golf at the time who could pull it off. He literally saved the place.”

“The Dedmans are the ‘anti-Wall Street,’” added Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director from 2011-21. “They don’t think about the next quarter. They think long term. You cannot put a value on that. We simply don’t have another relationship like the one we have with Pinehurst. They genuinely care about the game of golf, preserving and protecting the game.”

Tufts to McLean to Dedman. Interesting to ponder over the next year as the new Golf House Pinehurst opens and Pinehurst No. 2 plays host to its fourth men’s national championship.  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. 

Golftown Journal

Golftown Journal

Ticking the Ross Boxes

When a passion becomes a book

By Lee Pace

It was an inauspicious beginning to a golf career, this young investment banker with a background in surfing and tennis being recruited by his boss to fill out a foursome on Pinehurst No. 2 one day in 1973. Brad Becken’s job at Goldman Sachs was managing the firm’s business in the Southeast, so he regularly attended the North Carolina Banking Association annual meeting at Pinehurst.

“Usually, I played tennis with the wives,” he says. “The second year, my boss needed a fourth for golf. I said, ‘I don’t play golf.’ He said, ‘Well, you are today.’

“I was in sneakers with rental clubs and picked up nearly every hole so as not to ruin it for the others. I thought that was it for my golf career. But the next year, he asked me to play again. I thought, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding.’ It was the same result.

“He mercifully never asked me again. My first taste of golf and Pinehurst was memorable, though not necessarily in a good way.”

Becken did, in fact, get serious about golf when he moved to Los Angeles with the firm in the mid-1980s and later joined Los Angeles Country Club. Over the next three decades, business travel and client relationships were perfect for fueling an evolving love for the game. He retired in 2005, and he and wife, Ann, decided to return to the East, settling in Chapel Hill.

He joined Chapel Hill Country Club and, in 2010, took a friend visiting from Los Angeles to play golf. Afterward club pro Rick Brannon suggested they play Hope Valley, a 1926 Donald Ross design just a few miles away in Durham. Brannon made a phone call to set up a game, and Becken was enthralled with the old-world charm of the neighborhood and the way the holes were laid on the hilly ground by Ross, working without heavy machinery and his design perspective spawned from his roots in Dornoch and St. Andrews, Scotland.

“I immediately figured out I’d joined the wrong club,” Becken says. “I liked the variety at Hope Valley and the fact that the design never felt forced. And like most Ross courses, you didn’t feel overwhelmed if you weren’t a great golfer. You don’t have to be a great golfer to enjoy a Donald Ross course. For a higher handicapper like I am, there is a way to play his courses. You can plot your way around and enjoy it.

“I told Rick how much I liked it and he said, ‘Well, there are a lot of Ross courses in North Carolina.’”

Becken soon joined Hope Valley and set off to quench this newfound thirst for Ross golf courses. He joined The Donald Ross Society in 2012, was elected to the board in 2016, and in 2023 was serving the last of a five-year run as president. He realized around 2015 that he had played some 225 Ross courses.

“Up until then, I had never really contemplated trying to play them all,” he says. “I was having fun and the more I saw, the more I liked it. So I kept at it. I was averaging 120 courses a year.”

By the end of 2017, Becken had played 359 Ross courses, give or take a few that have closed since the quest began, and thought he had played every Ross course that was still open. Then he came across Chris Buie’s book, The Life & Times of Donald Ross, and learned there were about half a dozen more courses he’d not played. He knocked them out so his total stands at 365 courses.

“As this was going along, people said, ‘You ought to write a book,’” Becken says. “I said, ‘I’m a banker, not a writer.’ As president of the Ross Society, we were always getting questions. We would sort of answer them, and I said, ‘We can do better than this.’ I started analyzing what I had learned. By then I had copies of every hole and green drawing I could find. I might have had 1,500, plus all the photos I had taken and collected. Finally, I started to think about a book but didn’t know where to get started.”

In 2020, he was invited by Golf Club Atlas editor and co-founder Ran Morrissett to answer a litany of questions for the site’s “feature interview.” Morrissett provided the questions and Becken sat down to write his answers.

“That was January 2020,” says Becken, 75. “That got me started. I just expanded from there. That finally got me going.”

The result is a book published in the fall of 2022 by The Classics of Golf. The Golf Architecture of Donald Ross is as mammoth as Ross’s body of work from 1900 through his death in 1948 and Becken’s quest to play them all. It’s 9×12 inches, 352 pages, an inch-and-a-half thick, weighing three pounds. The tome includes gorgeous spread photos of Ross courses, hole diagrams, telegrams and correspondence. Becken draws heavily on his ever-present camera as he played the courses and his insatiable appetite for detail. He created a spreadsheet matrix covering more than 30 data points and observations for each hole and uses that research to analyze the parts that result in the whole of Ross’s design inventory.

“As the title suggests, this is a comprehensive look at Ross’ architecture from routings to bunker schemes to greens to breakdowns of his best one-, two- and three-shotters,” Morrissett says. “If you are an architecture geek, you will get lost in the book for days.”

Of local interest he notes there are no drawings for three of Ross’ Sandhills-area masterpieces — Pinehurst No. 2, Pine Needles and Mid Pines.

“Since he spent half of each year in Pinehurst, where he could supervise the work, there was no real need for drawings,” he says.

Further, Becken uses his inventory of Ross drawings and his experiences having putted across more than 6,500 Ross greens to draw an opinion on the nature of No. 2’s ubiquitous inverted-sauce putting greens. 

“Many Ross fans associate the turtleback greens on Pinehurst No. 2 as emblematic of his work, but that is not the case,” Becken asserts. “In fact, looking at the body of available drawings, such greens appear to be more of an exception, leading some to attribute the shape to years of top dressing and other maintenance practices rather than what was originally envisioned by Ross.”

An important tenet to the book is Becken paying tribute to The Donald Ross Society, which was formed in 1989 and since has grown to some 500 Ross aficionados. Proceeds from sales of the book are being divided equally between The Donald Ross Society Foundation and The Tufts Archives in Pinehurst. He estimates the Ross Society has given $150,000 to the Tufts Archives over the years, and the group recently gave $30,000 to Asheville Municipal Golf Course for a master plan to serve as the cornerstone to a $3.5 million renovation of the 1927 Ross course that had fallen on hard times.

“We believe Donald Ross was superior to any golf course architect practicing today, and his courses are works of art that should be treated as such,” Becken says.  PS

Chapel Hill-based writer Lee Pace has written histories of five clubs featuring Ross courses — Pinehurst, Pine Needles, Mid Pines, Forsyth Country Club and Biltmore Forest Country Club.  Reach him at leepace7@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @LeePaceTweet. 

Golftown Journal

Golftown Journal

On the Clock

Going to the head of the line

By Lee Pace

A putt will drop at Los Angeles Country Club late on the afternoon of June 18 and another U.S. Open champion will be crowned. Some 2,500 miles to the east, knowing eyes will watch the proceedings and acknowledge the gesture: Next.

“That’s when it will really sink in,” says John Jeffreys, course superintendent of Pinehurst No. 2, site of the 2024 Open. “It’s exciting and energizing when you think that it’s actually here.”

Golf course architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, who orchestrated a significant restoration of No. 2 in 2010-11, have each had occasion to come through Pinehurst in the winter and spring of 2023 and walk the grounds. To reflect on the work they did over a dozen years ago and how it was received for the back-to-back U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open in 2014 and how it’s been maintained since brings a smile to their faces.

“It just looked to me like, ‘Go play,’” Coore says. “The presentation is just perfect. It hasn’t changed in nine years. If anything, it’s better.”

Adds Crenshaw: “It looked fabulous. There’s not much to do. The bunkers look great. The wire grass is terrific. The greens are beautiful. The outskirts are just striking. Every time I get around it, I get inspired.”

Jeffreys takes comfort knowing there’s not a massive to-do list during the year leading up to a major championship. There are no rough lines to draw in, no lush grass to promulgate, no tiger tees to bring out of storage.

“The main difference from ’14 is the greens,” he says. “This is the first time the U.S. Open has been played on ultra-dwarf Bermuda. Generally they’re a little firmer, a little faster than what we had before. We’ll concentrate leading up to the competition on improving the quality of the ball roll-out, working on the texture of the leaf.”

John Bodenhamer, chief championships officer for the USGA, remembers that the lead-up to the 2014 Open was warm and dry. The unknowable is what Mother Nature will deliver next spring.

“We were blessed with weather that allowed us to control the firmness and playability of course No. 2,” he says. “If the weather is different, we will adjust accordingly. The one aspect of No. 2 that we will be studying very closely once again are the sandy natural areas. We will want to make sure that they are prepared in a manner that presents an appropriate penalty for missing the fairway. Otherwise, we plan to just let Pinehurst be Pinehurst, as Donald Ross’ masterpiece will surely produce another memorable U.S. Open.”

A decade after the last Open, the golf world will find a village and club much the same as it ever was — like in 1962, when the USGA first came to Pinehurst for the U.S. Amateur and in 1999, when it staged its first U.S. Open on Donald Ross’ tour de force. There are still no golden arches in the village. There are still no right angles at street intersections. The carillon in the Village Chapel still rings on the hour.

“How many times today do you hear some hot young star in any sport hear the name of a Hall of Fame player in his sport and say, ‘Who was he?’” muses former USGA Executive Director David Fay. “When you get to Pinehurst, that changes. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the great history. It’s everywhere. It’s where you look, it’s in the air, it’s in the turf, it’s in the images on the walls, it’s in the church bells. You can almost feel the ghosts coming out.”

But there is so much that’s different, too, since the golf world saw Martin Kaymer cruise to victory the third week of June 2014 and Michelle Wie capture her first major championship seven days later.

For one, by the time the first tee shot is struck on June 13, 2024, the USGA itself will have opened a new Golf House Pinehurst on ground just a 5-iron from the resort clubhouse. Ground was broken in June 2022 on a building designed to harken to Pinehurst’s earliest structures, with wide verandas punctuated by columns, hipped-roofs, dormers, textured clapboard and shake siding.

There’s a new traffic circle between the Carolina Hotel and the golf hub to the south, and the big one at a major thoroughfare intersection just over a mile to the east toward Southern Pines has been widened and has some 50,000 vehicles moving through it daily. (And shouldn’t we call them “roundabouts” in tribute to their British heritage and Moore County’s considerable Scottish roots?)

Out the south door of the clubhouse is the innovative nine-hole Cradle Course that opened in 2017 and has since been a Disneyland of golfers of all ages sipping beverages and clipping wedge shots, and beyond that is the No. 4 course rebuilt by Gil Hanse to blend seamlessly with its No. 2 neighbor — wiregrass here, craggy bunkers there and nary a straight line on the horizon. The Carolina Hotel will have completed a multi-year renovation with all the guest rooms rebuilt and new public areas with a coffee house, porch seating and fire pit.

One building on Magnolia Road in the village sat vacant in 2014, its former existence as a steam plant long buried, and just down the street, the Manor Inn remained boarded up, this 1923 inn a victim of the 2007-09 global financial crisis. Visitors now can eat smoked pork with a terrific blackberry-infused barbecue sauce at the Pinehurst Brewing Company, which opened in 2018 in a building that in 1895 provided steam for the town. The Manor was refurbished and reopened in 2020 with finely appointed guest rooms and the North & South Bar proffering a menu of nearly a hundred whiskies from around the world.

My, the dominoes that have fallen since that 2009 decision by Pinehurst owner Bob Dedman Jr. and resort President and COO Don Padgett II to tear up the elegantly groomed No. 2 with all its grass, water and fertilizer and crack open a time machine that would take the course back to its mid-1900s heyday. 

“I thought, what a bold stroke to attempt to take Pinehurst No. 2 back to the way it looked for all its glory days — after sand greens, that is, we don’t want to go quite that far,” Fay says. “It would be much the same as how Oakmont showed its boldness by pulling out all those Christmas trees planted in the 1950s.”

Padgett began to wonder after the 2005 U.S Open at Pinehurst if the excessive use of long grass to fight immense ball flight distances had gone too far on a course known for having width and a visual palette that perfectly reflected its Sandhills heritage. Fortunately, Fay and fellow USGA officials Mike Davis and Jim Hyler agreed with the idea and were on board in February 2010 when Coore & Crenshaw began rebuilding the course. The look, playability and the course’s ability to stand up to modern talent and equipment were applauded by competitors, spectators and the national media.

Padgett uses the word radical to describe what’s happened in Pinehurst in the last decade-plus.

“Bob Dedman feels like it all started with No. 2, we were doing something radical to the place,” says Padgett, now retired and playing a lot of golf in Pinehurst. “There’s nothing more radical than what we did. It changed the way he thought about things. ‘Let’s go all-in’ was the mindset. Pinehurst is way more current than it’s been probably since the 1940s. In recent times, we’ve always had a hint of a museum. It’s not that way anymore. Pinehurst still draws on its history, but the actual experience is pretty current. There’s a lot of life in the place.”

There’s a new No. 10 course being built by Tom Doak on a site in Aberdeen; it will be open in time for the golfing deluge in June 2024. Coore was seen in April rattling around the woods himself, poking for ideas and a routing for Pinehurst No. 11.

Of course, there are lots of details to iron out over the next 12 months. Like, how will the practice range, situated on the south side of the clubhouse for the 2014 Open, fit onto The Cradle? How will the USGA tip its cap to the 25-year anniversary of Payne Stewart’s victory in 1999? How will it look and feel when the World Golf Hall of Fame, launched in Pinehurst in the early 1970s, comes full circle and reopens in the new USGA facility? And how many of the par 4s will Jon Rahm reach with his driver? 

Look toward Los Angeles on Father’s Day and try not to get run over by the falling dominoes.  PS

Lee Pace has written over four decades about all of the golf architects at Pinehurst, from Donald Ross to Gil Hanse. Contact him at leepace7@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram at @leepaceunc.

Golftown Journal

Golftown Journal

Ten Spot

Adding to the Pinehurst allure

By Lee Pace

Tom Doak was about 10 years old when he started taking family vacations and tagging along on his father’s business trips from their home in Stamford, Connecticut, to eminent golf destinations like Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, Harbour Town and Pinehurst. He had learned to play on a local municipal course named Sterling Farms, and it didn’t take much for the golf bug to bite. And there was a nascent sense that designing golf holes might be a cool way to spend a life.

“When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was to go outside and play,” says Doak, now 62. “When I discovered golf, I was amazed that such a large parcel of land would be devoted to a game. It’s a safe space where it’s OK to be excited about a good shot, to curse a bad one, to laugh at your friends, and to revel in the beauty of nature.”

One of his father’s business associates gave him a copy of the World Atlas of Golf, an early 1970s tome with text and images of courses from California to Scotland, Florida to Australia. “I pretty much memorized the book,” he says.

On a visit to Hilton Head, Doak picked up a small hole-by-hole guide to the Harbour Town Golf Links, which had just opened a few years earlier and was the toast of the PGA Tour and the golf world for the way Pete Dye routed the holes through the Spanish oaks and around the fingers of Calibogue Sound. The hole descriptions were crafted by Charles Price, the noted golf historian who was living in Hilton Head at the time, and was friends with Dye and island developer Charles Fraser.

“It had a diagram of every hole and a description of how to play it, just two or three sentences, very simple, something a 10-year-old could understand perfectly,” Doak says. “It hit me — this is why golf holes are built a certain way. I saw all these great golf courses at a very early age, and I thought, ‘They are all great, but they are totally different.’ I got a great understanding early on that there’s not a simple answer to why a golf course is great.”

He’s been chasing those answers ever since.

Doak pursued a degree in landscape architecture at Cornell University, graduating in 1982 and spending a year in the United Kingdom visiting more than 170 golf courses and caddying for two months at St. Andrews. He landed a job on Dye’s construction crew and helped build Long Cove Club on Hilton Head, then spent six years building courses for Dye while moonlighting as a writer, establishing a niche with Golf magazine as its golf course architecture chief. In the late 1980s, he began compiling short critiques of the hundreds of courses he’d played and seen and giving each a numerical rating of one through 10. The musings were first intended just for a network of friends but evolved into his 1996 book, The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses.

Pinehurst No. 2 was featured in that book as one of 31 courses designated as “The Gourmet’s Choice,” certainly with a 10 ranking, and Doak lauded the layout and the Donald Ross-designed green complexes. “Unquestionably his masterpiece, and a certifiable work of genius,” Doak wrote.

After the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, sometime around the 2008 U.S. Amateur held on No. 2, Doak was traveling through North Carolina with an intern on his now-established Renaissance Golf Design firm. They stopped in Pinehurst, and he walked the golf course again.

“I first saw No. 2 in the early 1970s,” Doak remembers. “I was 10 or 12 and was visiting with my parents. I’ve seen it at various times over 40 years. It’s always been one of my favorite golf courses. What made it cool was a bunch of little stuff, little ridges, touches of wire grass here and there. The strategy of the fairways stood out. There used to be places on the golf course where the fairway would widen out behind a bunker and you’d try to get way over in the left corner of the fairway to get at a pin on the right side of the green.

“On that last trip, it seemed like all of that had gone away. They were narrowing it up for major championships and getting the grass to grow nice and thick. All the texture and angles were gone. That’s what made the golf course — all the subtleties. I said that if I were to rate it again, I’d give it a seven or eight — but not a 10.”

He put his opinions out for the world to see on the message board of GolfClubAtlas.com. Among the comments he made was that No. 2 looked “like an aged relative with dementia. It was sad.”

Tom Pashley, at the time the marketing director for Pinehurst before ascending to the CEO position in 2014, saw the comment and printed out the entire thread of the message board conversation and passed it along to Don Padgett II, the president and CEO of the resort from 2004-14. Doak’s opinions were among a handful of observations that marinated in Padgett’s mind and led to the club hiring Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in the fall of 2009 to strip the course of its monochromatic green, and restore the textures and haphazard features and boundaries of the holes as they existed when Ross arrived at his final routing in 1935.

On this Sunday morning Doak smiles over breakfast at the Track Restaurant in Pinehurst, just minutes before driving 2 miles south to the site of the No. 10 course he’s building for Pinehurst on property that once housed the Dan Maples-designed Pit Golf Links. 

“I didn’t expect them to listen to me, and I know that’s not the best way to get the job to help them fix it,” he says. “But it was a great golf course and was not going in the right direction, and I just said something. Fortunately, Bill and Ben said pretty much the same thing, just much more subtly.”

In the decade since, the design operations of Doak and Coore & Crenshaw have each thrived as the golf marketplace has embraced their respective styles of hands-on attention and their preference to working on rugged, sandy landscapes, where ample drainage allows a limitless palette of design features. While working on the No. 2 restoration in 2010-11, Coore routed a course for Pinehurst that was going to be Pinehurst No. 9 — this before the resort bought the former Pinehurst National course in 2012 and made it No. 9. 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, Pinehurst owner Robert Dedman Jr. and Pashley believed in 2022 it was time to pull the trigger on the new course.

Coore and Crenshaw was booked several years out but Doak had a hole in his schedule that would allow him to move construction personnel to Pinehurst in late 2022 and through the fall of 2023 to build a new course that could open in time for the 2024 U.S. Open set for Pinehurst. Now the little kid who was smitten with the look of Pinehurst No. 2 in the early 1970s before it got greened-over is leaving his mark in the Sandhills, positioning his course among some 40 others he’s designed, including the standouts at Pacific Dunes, Cape Kidnappers, Barnbougle Dunes, Ballyneal and Streamsong. 

“We’ve got a really cool piece of land,” Doak says as he navigates his truck through the sand and rough-cut passages of the pine forests and the stone quarry that sat there before a golf course was first built in the 1980s. On this morning, crews are just days away from beginning to sod some of the early fairways.

“This ground has more variety and a different feeling to it than any of the other courses at the resort,” Doak says. “There is a lot going on on this land. The course will start gentle, then it gets more dramatic at the quarry and then reaches the high ground, where we’ve got great long-range views. It’s a big piece of land, and you feel like you have all the pieces of the puzzle. It gives you the opportunity to do something really different.”

Doak is undaunted putting his ideas into the dirt in such close proximity to one of the world’s top courses. He designed Sebonack Golf Club on Long Island in the shadows of two of his favorite courses, The National Golf Links and Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, and built The Renaissance Club next door to Muirfield on the Scottish coast. He ignores the pressure and embraces the inspiration.

On one of his visits to Pinehurst, he stayed in Dornoch Cottage, the former Donald Ross home sitting near the third and fifth greens of No. 2.

“I’d take our guys out early in the morning and look at those greens,” he says. “‘This is what a great green looks like,’ I’d say.”

On this Sunday morning, Doak admits to having experienced a challenging day on Friday with his shapers, trying to get a couple of greens to look just so.

“I said let’s go to No. 2 and see what great greens look like and get back in the game.  PS

Lee Pace has written over four decades about all of the golf architects at Pinehurst, from Donald Ross to Gil Hanse. Contact him at leepace7@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram at @leepaceunc.