Golftown Journal

A Loop of My Own

When lightning strikes twice

By Lee Pace

I’ve hit many thousands of golf shots over more than four decades, and through early July 2021 two of my favorites had come at Forest Creek Golf Club, the 36-hole facility just northeast of the Village of Pinehurst.

One was a hole-in-one in July 1996. I made an annual trip to Pinehurst in the 1990s with three buddies from Chapel Hill, and we were able to arrange a game at Forest Creek during its first summer of operation. I hit a sweet 6-iron on the sixth hole, and the ball hit the green, bounced and rolled into the cup.

Then, in May 2014, I was invited by Ed Kinney, a longtime friend through our shared affiliations with the University of North Carolina football and basketball programs, to play in the club member-guest. What a memorable weekend — five nine-hole matches on the club’s North and South Courses, a bed in Ed and wife Betty’s comfortable home on Granville Drive, succulent meals, and a lavish gift package (I still have my Scotty Cameron Newport 2 putter).

Ed and I played well together that weekend, and we needed to win our match on Saturday afternoon to collect first place in our flight. We were playing the back nine of the South Course and came to the par-3 17th. The hole was playing fairly long that afternoon, and I hit a 5-wood tight to win the hole and close out our opponents.

That hole is certainly one of the most gorgeous and challenging among the 36 at Forest Creek — a clutch of pine trees and azaleas standing sentinel to the rear, the tree limbs reflected in a pond in front of the green as you gaze from the tee, the rolling higher ground of the eighth fairway in the distance, a very shallow green demanding you get your number dead perfect.

If you’re going to nail the sweet spot and watch that gorgeous right-to-left curve against a deep blue sky, I can’t think of a better venue for it.

Thus I was certainly interested when I received a phone call in early 2018 from one of the partners of Colony 9 LLC, the group that at the end of 2017 had purchased Forest Creek from a consortium of members. They were looking ahead to the club’s 25th  anniversary in 2021 and wanted to talk about publishing a book to commemorate the club’s first quarter-century.

One of the interesting (and sobering) elements to tacking on the years is that you find yourself writing anniversary tributes to events you witnessed in real time. I can remember in the early 1990s having a meeting at the Holly Inn in Pinehurst with a fellow named Larry Torrance, who was on the staff of a new club just outside Pinehurst called Bent Creek. It turns out that “Bent Creek” as well as “The Farm” were two early names the developers wanted to use for their new golf venture, but because other clubs in Texas and Georgia, respectively, already had those names, they decided to go with Forest Creek.

I’ve been fortunate to have a front-row seat to the evolution of the Sandhills area since the late 1980s: from the restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 as a venue for major championships to the emergence of Pine Needles as a regular venue for the U.S. Women’s Open; from the explosion of golf courses in the 1990s to the retrenchment in various corners during economic downturns.

Forest Creek has been a major cog in that story. That it is still standing and standing strong is a testament to the original vision, the resolve of the members and the passion and resources that the Colony 9 partnership provides.

A highlight of my two-plus years working on the book to be introduced in late October at a gala 25-year-anniverary celebration has been the occasional late-afternoon walking round with course superintendent David Lee, who I’ve known dating to his previous job at Hope Valley Country Club in Durham. I know David as “Bushwood” and he knows me as “Shooter,” the nicknames bestowed upon us when we joined the early morning men’s workout group known as F3 in the Durham/Chapel Hill area around 2013. That both of our monikers came from the golf movie realm (his from Caddyshack and mine from Happy Gilmore) are testaments to the place golf holds in our lives.

I sought David out for a twilight nine on July 15, 2021, just as the finishing pieces were coming together to form the book. I wanted to enjoy the nirvana of late afternoon golf, bags slung over our shoulders, no hurry in the world, before finishing this essay. I had reflected earlier in the week on my history at Forest Creek and even plowed through some memorabilia to see if I might have saved that scorecard from 1996, but to no avail.

A fierce thunderstorm to the east threatened our outing at 4 p.m., but David checked the radar and thought the weather was moving away from us. So off we set, the only two golfers, it seemed, on the premises.

We embraced the experience — catching up on work, family, our respective workout regimens, the upcoming football season, plugging various leaks in our respective golf games, the stuff guys talk about when they’re going for a walk in a nice park — with a few golf shots thrown in.

We climbed the steep hill leading to the sixth tee. I tried to catch my breath while measuring the distance with my GPS. I pulled my 5-iron for the 168-yard shot. I put a good move on the ball, and it tracked toward the hole. I knew it would be close but couldn’t see just how close, my aging eyes able to see the landing and bounce of a ball but not always the final resting spot. 

“Nice shot,” David said, then, looking closer, added, “I think that’s in the hole.”

“Seriously?” I responded.

“That or it’s right behind the stick.”

“Maybe it rolled off the back,” I said.

“No, it definitely did not do that.”

I quickened and lengthened my strides toward the green. No sign of the ball. I got to the hole, leaned over, and sure enough, there it was.

Twenty-five years later — same hole, same month of the year, same one.

I phoned one of my playing companions from a quarter-century ago and marveled over the odds.

“Water has a better chance of freezing at 43 degrees than what you just did,” Mick Mixon said. “That is just eerie.”

David phoned one of his assistants as we were playing the seventh hole and asked him to grab the flag from the sixth hole. “If you make a hole-in-one here, you get to keep the pin flag,” he said. The flag was delivered as we hit our tee shots on eight. It will look splendid with Tom Fazio’s autograph and a nice frame.

All I wanted from that twilight nine was to close the loop on my 25 years at Forest Creek. Consider that box properly checked.  PS

Lee Pace has written club histories in the Sandhills area for Pinehurst Resort and Country Club, Pine Needles, Mid Pines and now Forest Creek Golf Club. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter at @LeePaceTweet.

Golftown Journal

The Short List

Learning how to save shots, and your score

By Lee Pace

Kelly Mitchum is standing front-right of the 10th green at Pinehurst No. 4, his golf ball sitting slightly down in Bermuda rough, a bunker set between him and the putting surface. There’s a good 50 feet of green between the bunker and the cup.

“You can’t assume the only play is the lob wedge just because you’ve got to clear a bunker,” Mitchum says. “You’ve got plenty of room for the ball to run. And you’re going uphill, which will help slow it down.”

Later he’s standing to the right of the 16th green, his ball in light rough 30 feet from the green, with a slight upslope to the putting surface and a pin on the near side of the green.

“Could you putt this?” Mitchum asks. “Yes, you could. This course and No. 2 lend themselves to putting from off the green. Martin Kaymer won the 2014 U.S. Open putting from all over the place.

“The lower the shot, the safer the shot. Always look to go low first.”

Mitchum takes a close look at the pathway a putt would have to take along the turf. “But,” he says, pointing at the grass still glistening with some morning dew, “here I think there’s too much grass to putt through. And it’s a little wet.”

Instead, he takes his 54-degree wedge (the second-most lofted club in his bag, next to the 60-degree), chips the ball into the side slope, watches it bounce and pop up and land gently on the green, well within a putter’s length of making the putt for an up-and-down.

“This is the fun part of golf to me,” he says. “It’s creativity, imagination, strategy.”

Mitchum is leading our group in the Pinehurst Short Game Academy one Friday morning around several holes on the course to illustrate various scenarios golfers find themselves in within 100 yards of the green. The next day, we’ll spend time on course No. 2, the site of three men’s U.S. Opens, a fourth in 2024, and one women’s U.S. Open.

Over the course of two-plus days, Mitchum, the resort’s short-game expert, opens our eyes to a myriad of nuances in reading greens, executing short shots and managing our way around the greens.

To wit:

Grain: Light colored grass or darker?

Sand: Firm packed or fluffy?

Grass: Tight-clipped or longish? Dry or dew-covered?

Green slope: One degree? Two or more?

These questions and more, combined with technique and equipment, blend into the realm of the short game — pitching, chipping, putting and bunker play.

“The short game has been my passion,” says Mitchum, a 23-year veteran of the Pinehurst teaching staff. “Not being super long off the tee, it’s been my way of equalizing and giving me a chance against guys longer off the tee.”

Mitchum went to Pinecrest High School,  played golf at N.C. State, winning the 1991 ACC title, and won the 1993 North and South Amateur. He tried the professional tours for four years and then joined the Pinehurst golf staff in 1998, and while working the resort’s golf schools and giving individual lessons, has found time to play in four PGA Championships and multiple PGA Tour events that come through the Carolinas.

He approached Eric Alpenfels, the resort’s director of golf instruction, in 2017 with the idea of creating a short-game focused school within the Pinehurst Golf Academy.

“It’s been well-received,” Mitchum says. “We’ve pretty much filled up all the short-game availabilities through the summer of 2021.”

Mitchum became a YouTube sensation in July 2015 with a 20-second clip of him striking three right-to-left putts within one second of each other, the balls traveling on different paths and reaching the bottom of the same hole in rapid-fire succession. What made the feat so awe-inspiring is that the third putt hit the hole first, followed by the second, followed by the first.

“There is definitely a huge application from a green-reading standpoint,” Mitchum says of his trick shot, which had more than 100,000 views within six weeks. “It clearly shows you can make a breaking putt on different lines, depending on the speed.”

Green reading is certainly an element of my game I need help with on this July weekend. Over my lifelong golf career, I’ll give a putt a quick plumb-bob and a cursory survey of the green’s landscape, but honestly, I never delved much further.

“You see any young players on the pro tour or amateur golf plumb-bobbing?” Mitchum asks. “Not many. You know why? It doesn’t work very well on a consistent basis.”

Instead, Mitchum teaches learning to feel and read side-to-side break with your feet as well as your eyes. He shows us how to straddle the ball facing the cup and feel which way the ground is sloping.

Next, Mitchum teaches us to take a look at the putt from the low side, about halfway between the ball and the cup; if you determine it’s a right-to-left breaker, stand on the left side.

“If it is, in fact, the low side, you’ll be able to look across the line and see the ground on the other side is higher,” Mitchum says. “You look into the face of the slope and it becomes clear.”

Our putting mechanics are measured and tweaked, and Mitchum follows the green-reading portion with a chapter on speed control.

“No one ever says, ‘I’m going to practice my distance-control putting,’” he says, “but, if forced to say what I think is the most important part of putting, I’d have to lean toward speed control. There are more three-putts because of poor distance control than any other reason.” Once your mechanics and slope-reading skills are honed, distance control is mostly a matter of practice. Mitchum shows us a number of games we can play around the putting green to make it fun and challenging.

“One reason most golfers are bad putters is they don’t practice it,” he says. “And putting practice can get boring. You have to make it interesting and engaging. That’s how you get better.”

Of course, putting is just one element of a comprehensive short-game education. There’s chipping, bunker play and half-wedges. There’s the element of taking it from the practice ground to the golf course. There’s the mind game of figuring airtime, bounce and roll.

Our newfound skills are put to work on The Cradle, the nine-hole par-3 course with holes ranging from 58 to 127 yards. It’s no wonder that Gil Hanse’s creation that opened in 2017 quickly captured Mitchum’s fancy, and he’s taken to playing as many as 30-plus rounds in one day in the annual Winter Solstice Marathon he organizes each December.

“The Cradle’s a lot of fun,” he says. “Every part of your short game gets a test there.”

On the fourth hole, I was 30 feet short of the green and thought I had way too much grass to putt through. I knew a lob wedge wasn’t the play given a fairly tight lie, so I thought of chipping with a 9-iron, landing it short of the green and letting it run up.

I quickly got a lesson in nuance. Contrasting this shot to the one on course No. 4 the day before, Mitchum looked closely at the turf in front of the green. It was almost noon on a sunny day, and the patch had been in sunlight all morning.

“It’s thin and dry,” Mitchum said. “That’s actually really good to roll it through. Remember: Look to go low.”

I analyzed a slight left-to-right break, took the grass and a slight upslope on the green to the hole into consideration and judged my stroke accordingly. The ball rolled to two feet, an easy follow-up for my par. Never before would I have thought to putt that ball, but now after a weekend in Pinehurst I have pages of notes pared down to my ultimate short list.  PS

Lee Pace has written about golf in the Sandhills for three decades. His newest book, Good Walks — Rediscovering the Soul of Golf at 18 Top Carolinas Courses, is available wherever books are sold.

Golftown Journal

All About Moe

Sandhills links to a legend

By Lee Pace

It was a 20-hour drive from the outskirts of Toronto to the Florida coast town of Titusville, and dead in the middle of the drive was Pinehurst. Just as the goldfinch, sparrows and blue jays made their annual migrations in fall and spring from north to south and vice versa, so too did a curious little golf professional named Moe Norman.

Each April headed north and each October going south, Moe drove his Cadillac stuffed with golf clubs, shoes and balls and most of his worldly possessions off I-95 and ventured into the Sandhills, where he found friends, smiles and comfort at Pinehurst, Knollwood Driving Range and Pine Needles, and dropped in on village shops like Gentlemen’s Corner and Old Sport & Gallery.

“Moe was a remarkable guy,” says Eric Alpenfels, director of instruction at Pinehurst Resort and a young intern in the golf shop when he first met Norman in 1983. “He was a big history buff. I think he appreciated Pinehurst for its history. I think people in town made him feel welcome and comfortable. So every fall and every spring, you expected to get a call from Moe or just see him show up to hit balls.”

Norman was a crack Canadian golfer from the Toronto suburb of Kitchener who won back-to-back Canadian Amateurs in the late 1950s, played in the Masters, and in 1966 won five of the 12 Canadian Tour events he entered. Over his career, he shot three 59s, made 17 aces and nine double-eagles, and counted his course records at 41. But he never made a mark on the PGA Tour because with his childlike persona and eccentric ways (he routinely drank two dozen Cokes a day), he was uncomfortable in the fishbowl of tournament golf and nervous around strangers. He never sought psychological treatment, but when the movie Rain Man came out in 1988 with Dustin Hoffman portraying a middle-aged autistic man, many who knew him said, “That’s Moe.”

But he was a mythical figure among golf pros and had an insatiable appetite for hitting balls. He was so straight and so consistent he had the nickname Pipeline Moe.

“I don’t know of any player, ever, who could strike a golf ball like Moe Norman,” Lee Trevino once said. “If he had just had some sort of handler, manager, someone to handle his affairs, everyone would know the name today.”

Moe was short at 5 feet, 6 inches, liked pastel colors, often mixed plaids with stripes, and wore turtlenecks in warm weather. He often said things twice and with a noted up-lilt on the final syllable. He gripped the club in his palms with a wide stance and took what looked to be a three-quarters swing on one plane, ending not with a picturesque follow-through of a limberback but with his hands and club gyrating above his head à la Arnold Palmer. He liked to say he and Ben Hogan were the only golfers who took the clubhead straight down the line exactly 22 inches. He once said he played the same wooden tee for seven years.

The stories of his ball-striking are legendary.

Moe was playing an exhibition with Sam Snead and Porky Oliver at Toronto when they came to a par-4 with a creek crossing the fairway 240 yards out. Snead advised Norman against hitting his driver, saying, “This is a lay-up hole.” 

“Not if you play for the bridge and run it across,” Moe said, and then did exactly that. 

He once hit more than 1,500 drives in a seven-hour exhibition, all landing within a 30-yard-wide landing zone. “I wish we played 30-yard fairways and out-of-bounds,” he once said. “I’d be the only guy hitting driver.”

At other times he’d fire off dozens of piercing 4-irons in succession, pause and chirp to anyone listening, “Never off-line. This swing can’t hit it crooked.”

Once Moe spent several days being filmed hitting balls and giving instructional tips on drivers, fairway woods, long irons and wedge shots. The third morning, the producers planned to ask him about long-distance putting.]

“Moe, we want you to talk about lag putts, how to manage a 50- or 60-footer.”

Norman blew them off. “I never had one. Why would you want to be 50 feet away?”

If someone told him a hole was a “driver-wedge hole,” Moe was liable to hit a wedge off the tee and a driver into the green and say, “You’re right. Driver-wedge.”

Pat McGowan, the head of instruction at Pine Needles, was playing the PGA Tour in the 1980s when he first saw Norman give an exhibition at the Canadian Open.

“Ben Crenshaw, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, the whole golf world would stop practicing and walk over and watch Moe hit balls,” McGowan says. “I remember the first time I saw him. He hit 25 or 30 straight drives. Every one of them carried over 220 yards and stayed in a 25-yard fairway. Moe smiled at everyone and said, ‘You want me to hit 50? I’ll stay all night.’”

Alpenfels was working the counter at the Pinehurst golf shop in 1983 when someone nodded to a little man and said, “That’s Moe Norman.” Alpenfels remembered the name from conversations with Jim Hardy, his mentor in California. Alpenfels struck up a conversation, watched Norman hit balls and developed a friendship. He was invited to Norman’s winter headquarters at Royal Oak Country Club in Titusville that year to hang out.

“Moe was a brilliant ball-striker,” Alpenfels says. “He virtually could do what he said he could do. If he told you that he was going to hit five drives in a row and that all would land within a 5-foot radius, he’d pretty much do that. He was amazing. From a ball-striking standpoint, it was crazy how good he was.”

Chris Dalrymple, owner of the Gentlemen’s Corner clothing store in the village, remembers Moe would “just appear out of nowhere, sort of like a genie,” and would look around the shop, never buying anything.

“I remember he wore two watches, one on each wrist,” Dalrymple says. “I asked him why he did that. He said, ‘I just do.’”

From Pinehurst, Norman would drive down Midland Road and visit another friend, Greg Gulka, the head pro at Knollwood, and then on to Pine Needles to hit balls with Peggy Kirk Bell and Jim Suttie, the head instructor there in the 1990s.

“The first time I ever saw Moe, he was hitting drivers out of divots,” says Kelly Miller, Mrs. Bell’s son-in-law. “He was rifling golf balls down the range, one after another. They came out of that divot like a rocket.”

Moe had money problems for most of his adult life, saying he “had slept in bunkers all across Canada.” He never had a credit card or a checking account. He refused Miller’s offer for a bed at Pine Needles but would accept several hundred dollars Miller would slip in his pocket after entertaining guests at Pine Needles with an exhibition. Some thought Norman spent most of his nights in his car, but he usually had enough funds for a Motel 6 or Super 8. His finances were buttressed significantly when he met Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein at the 1995 PGA Show. Uihlein watched Norman hit balls and said Norman was a national golfing treasure and allowed that Titleist would pay him a $5,000-a-month stipend for the rest of his life. 

That lasted until September 2004, when Norman died of a heart attack.

“He had everything he needed. He had a good car, a place to stay and wonderful friends,” Alpenfels says. “He’d give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.”

A documentary film about Moe Norman’s life is in the works.

“It’s an underdog story. It’s a story about a guy who never should have succeeded, but did,” says Barry Morrow, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Rain Man and a co-producer of the film. 

“I think he wanted to be the best at something. And hitting a golf ball was it,” adds Suttie.  PS

Lee Pace has written about golf in The Sandhills for three decades. His newest book, Good Walks — Rediscovering the Soul of Golf at 18 Top Carolinas Courses, will be available wherever you buy books.

His personal favorites include anything by P.G. Wodehouse. Tied for first are Heart of a Goof and Right Ho, Jeeves.

Golftown Journal

Junior Achievement

Another national championship in the Sandhills

By Lee Pace

The second time the USGA gathered the best boys under age 18 to compete for a national championship was 1949, and the venue was Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. Gay Brewer and Mason Rudolph traveled together from their homes (Brewer from Kentucky and Rudolph from Tennessee) and roomed together that July week at Georgetown University. Each advanced through his bracket to the championship match, with Brewer, 17 years old, taking a leisurely 6-and-4 victory in the championship match over Rudolph, who was two years his junior.

That week cast the die for both players. Each won multiple times on the PGA Tour, with Brewer collecting the 1967 Masters and playing in two Ryder Cup matches. Rudolph won the Junior Amateur the following year, collected the 1956 Western Amateur and won five times on the pro tour.

Since then, the Junior Amateur has staged an annual audition for many elite players to come, among them Johnny Miller, Eddie Pearce, Gary Koch, David Duval, Tiger Woods, Hunter Mahan and Jordan Spieth.

“That was the first time I’d ever experienced the thrill and the chase of a USGA event,” Woods says of his three straight wins from 1991-93.

“You look at the names on the trophy and know what kind of company you’re in,” says Mahan, the 1999 victor.

“It was not as much about me winning as it is being a part of the fraternity with those guys,” adds Spieth, the champion in 2009 and 2011.

The U.S. Junior Amateur makes its debut in the golf-rich Sandhills in July with the 73rd rendition being staged at the Country Club of North Carolina, July 19-24. Yet another domino falls in the universe of elite competitive golf for Moore County, adding to the largesse of U.S. Opens (three already with one set for 2024 at Pinehurst No. 2) and U.S. Women’s Opens (three at Pine Needles with a return engagement in 2022, and one at Pinehurst No. 2). There has been a Ryder Cup, a U.S. Senior Open and three U.S. Amateurs.

And this national championship continues CCNC’s heritage of every decade or so opening its doors to some variety of high-profile tournament. Since its opening in 1963, the club has been the venue for the PGA Tour, the U.S. Amateur, the U.S. Girls Junior, six Southern Amateurs, a national father-son tournament now more than half a century old, and a host of statewide and regional competitions.

Jack Nicklaus, Hal Sutton, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, Webb Simpson and Scott Hoch have collected trophies at the 36-hole golf haven and residential community located off Morganton Road, halfway between Pinehurst and Southern Pines.

“The club takes a lot of pride in all the events it’s hosted over the years — from USGA national championships to the Carolinas Golf Association events,” says Robbie Zalzneck, a USGA staff administrator and also a CCNC member. “It’s a club that likes to give back. The members have rallied behind the Junior Am. Opening the club up to competitive golf has always been in its DNA.”

CCNC was designed in tandem by Ellis Maples and Willard Byrd and opened in 1963. It was one of the original members of Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses and was site of the 1971 and 1972 Liggett & Myers Match Play Championship on the PGA Tour (won by Dewitt Weaver and Nicklaus) and the 1980 U.S. Amateur (won by Sutton). It has remained among the best courses in the state, and in 2021 was listed No. 16 in North Carolina in both Golf Digest and GOLF magazine rankings of the best courses in every state.

The original course was so popular the club retained Byrd to build nine more holes in 1970. Then, in the late 1970s, the club acquired some land from Robert Trent Jones (who spent time in Pinehurst in the early 1970s doing a renovation of the original Pinehurst No. 4 course) and hired him to build nine new holes, working those into the first nine to create a new course dubbed “The Cardinal” in keeping with the state of North Carolina theme.

Greg Sanfilippo, the USGA’s director of the Junior Amateur, says the two courses set up perfectly to host the best junior players from around the country. Qualifying will be held for a newly expanded field of 264 players on both courses, and match play will be held on the Dogwood.

“We structure our championships as the ultimate tests in the game,” he says. “We want to make sure we’re identifying the best players through shotmaking, testing every club in the bag, controlling spin and distance, and having the mental and physical resolve and ability to work through various situations. The courses at CCNC will really force players to execute sound judgment through each hole.”

The Dogwood Course is now five years into a major renovation directed by golf architect Kris Spence. The club spent some $10 million from 2015-16 on a capital improvement program that included the Dogwood project, construction of a new golf shop, grill room and locker room, a tennis and fitness center, and various upgrades to the existing clubhouse.

The Dogwood project included converting the greens to Champion Bermuda, and the tees and fairways to Zeon zoysia grass, a heat-tolerant strain that doesn’t need overseeding in the winter and gives golfers an outstanding surface from which to clip iron shots and fairway woods. New drainage was installed, all bunkers were rebuilt, and some tees were expanded. The tree coverage that had grown up over time was thinned out, improving air flow and sunlight.

“Dogwood had been one of the top courses in the Southeast for half a century,” says longtime Director of Golf Jeff Dotson. “We needed to set it up for the next 50 years.”

Certainly, one of the favorites for the Junior Am and a young man playing with some “home game pressure,” will be Jackson Van Paris, a 17-year-old who just graduated from Pinecrest High School and will be enrolling this fall on the golf team at Vanderbilt. The Van Paris family moved to Pinehurst from Chicago in 2017 and lives in a house alongside the sixth hole of the Cardinal Course. The club has been Van Paris’ home base as he’s built a sterling resume in junior golf that includes two firsts in the American Junior Golf Association Boys Championship. His most noteworthy achievement was becoming the second-youngest player behind Bobby Jones to win a match in the U.S. Amateur, when he advanced to the Round of 32 as a 14-year-old in 2018 at Pebble Beach.

“This has been a great club to develop my game,” Van Paris says. “I really have access to anything I need as far as practicing, and a great range and great short game facilities. And the courses are two really good golf courses.”

He knows what to expect from the USGA in terms of course setup — narrow fairways, thick rough and quick greens.

“Hitting fairways is going to be super important,” he says. “I can’t let myself get lazy on the tee by thinking, ‘I’ve hit this shot a hundred times.’ I am treating it like I’ll be playing a brand-new golf course. And the USGA always puts a premium on short game. Driver and short game are the most important things to consider.”

That and the mental game. Does it help to have intimate course knowledge and sleep in your own bed, or hurt with the pressure to perform in front of so many friends and clubmates?

“I’ll probably be more nervous than I have been in any other tournament just because it’s at home and everyone expects me to play well,” Van Paris says. “But I also think I can embrace that if I handle it the right way. I keep telling everyone I see, please come out and watch. I want as many people out there as possible. It’s part of learning to play under pressure.”

The great ones learn to thrive under the microscope, leaving the Junior Amateur as another chapter in Van Paris’s evolution — not to mention the Sandhills as a mecca for national championships.  PS

Lee Pace has written about the Sandhills golf scene for more than 30 years. Follow him on Twitter at @LeePaceTweet and contact him at

Golftown Journal

Full Circle

Pinehurst goes from empty to overflowing

By Lee Pace

It was a moment straight from The Shining, Danny Torrance pedaling his tricycle through the abandoned hallways of the Overlook Hotel. Only this was Matt Chriscoe riding a bicycle down the hallways of the 120-year-old Carolina Hotel in Pinehurst. It was late March 2020, and the hotel operation had shut down in the wake of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Chriscoe, the resort’s director of lodging, and another staff member were endeavoring to move the bicycles kept out front for guest use into storage for an unknown period of time.

“It was eerie,” Chriscoe reflects a year later. “We were riding bikes down that long hallway. The lights were turned off, the phones were re-routed. We had no idea how long it was going to last.”

When Pinehurst officials made the decision on March 22 to shut down the operation of its three hotel facilities — the Carolina, the Holly and the Manor — they realized the front doors under the porte-cochère of the Carolina had no locking mechanism.

The hotel had never been closed.

“We literally used chain link and a padlock,” says Tom Pashley, president of Pinehurst Resort. “That was the only way we could secure the doors.”

Pashley shakes his head thinking back one year to the trauma of the spring of 2020. He’s sitting on the veranda on the south side of the original Pinehurst golf clubhouse, looking over The Cradle short course. On this morning in late April 2021, the club and resort have come full circle, from the hotel operation shutting down to 12 months later being a beehive of activity. Tee sheets are full. The Maniac Hill practice range is lined with golfers. Parking spaces are at a premium. Within Pashley’s field of vision are two construction projects — a bulldozer at the far end of the short-game practice area is shaping a foundation for a new permanent beverage facility to service golfers on The Cradle, and construction workers are hammering and nailing on a golf shop expansion.

“We’re building a new home for the Pine Cone,” Pashley says of the vintage beverage cart located behind the third green of The Cradle. “It’s served us well, but we need a permanent beverage facility, there’s so much traffic out here. And we need more space in the golf shop. We’ll start selling 2024 U.S. Open merchandise before long.”

The resort booked a record amount of business in 2019 and was primed to eclipse that in 2020 before COVID-19 ground business and travel to a halt. The hotels and the resort’s 10 restaurants were closed for two months, then began welcoming guests again on May 22 when North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper allowed restaurants to reopen under certain procedural guidelines.

“There was still activity here on the golf side,” Pashley says. “But at the hotel it was sad. When restaurants had to close, we made the decision to close our lodging. We had to feed people and couldn’t do that. I remember the weather was perfect, it was a great spring. I was thinking, what a shame that guests can’t be here. The members were here, but no guests.

“Pinehurst was in the golf business, but not the hospitality business.”

The resort had to lay off more than 1,000 employees during the thick of the pandemic. Pashley nods to the front entrance of the clubhouse, where Larry Goins and Frolin Hatcher have a century of combined experience welcoming golfers to the clubhouse, unloading their golf bags from the hotel shuttle and getting them acclimated to the hubbub of the resort.

“We had to say goodbye to guys like Frolin and Larry,” Pashley says. “All of a sudden, it became personal.”

Pashley remembers fighting off the “woe-is-me” syndrome at the outset and brainstorming ideas to help employees during his regular 8-mile morning walks.

“My brain was churning,” he says. “I thought, ‘We have all these amazing experiences we can auction off and raise money.’”

In quick order the resort raised more than $300,000 for an employee relief fund — much of it earmarked to continue health benefits through June — by selling a low-ticket item like a golf ball for $25 to a high-dollar offering of a three-day golf experience with lodging in the Dornoch Cottage for $25,000. The fund got one contribution from a former executive retired in Florida for $1,895 — hearkening to the year of the resort’s founding.

“It was heartwarming seeing people overpay for things just knowing the money was going to a good cause,” Pashley says.

Now in the summer of 2021, those employees have returned — and so have the travelers. Pinehurst is back in the hospitality business.

You see it in the caddie area in the basement of the clubhouse.

“I’ve got 150 caddies, and I need 20 or 30 more,” says Jimmy Smith, the caddiemaster. “It’s insane. We just hired caddies from places like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. They know we have work for them. My biggest problem is, ‘Where do they park?’”

You see it a half mile away in the village, where shop owners like Tom Stewart at Old Sport & Gallery have transitioned from running online auctions of his paintings, books and collectibles during the thick of the pandemic to welcoming a brisk flow of foot traffic a year later.

“It blows my mind,” says Stewart. “Real estate is unbelievable here. My business, knock on wood, has been better this spring than in 10 years. People who have bought these houses come in and say, ‘I need something, I need artwork and books.’ I’ve sold a couple of big-ticket paintings, and that hasn’t happened in a while.”

Pashley and his staff are faced with the unprecedented challenge of having so much interest from leisure travelers — that group of eight guys coming down from Cleveland — that there isn’t enough golf inventory in the near term for a business group that wants to come for meetings in the morning and golf in the afternoon. Certainly, that will change when golfers are more comfortable traveling to Scotland and Ireland and take some of the demand off domestic travel that ratcheted up during the pandemic, and business travel will return more to its pre-pandemic level.

And, of course, the 2024 U.S. Open on Pinehurst No. 2 is on the horizon, not to mention the new USGA facility to be built next door, and the approval and permitting process for a potential new hotel facility next door to the Pinehurst clubhouse.

It goes to show that what goes around, comes around at Pinehurst. One century before, the founding Tufts family had the happy problem of what to do with all the golfers visiting its four golf courses.

“It has been necessary to turn away from Pinehurst some 15,000 people who wanted to come in February and March,” noted a 1923 publication. The Tuftses were getting more business at their resort than they could handle during the winter “high season” — more than 100,000 rounds a year were being played in the mid-1920s — which led to new ventures to the east in Southern Pines with what would become the Mid Pines and Pine Needles clubs.

Which leads Pashley to nod again toward the south, toward Aberdeen, where the resort owns hundreds of acres it bought nearly a decade ago. The architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw routed a course on land once occupied by The Pit Golf Links, and Pinehurst Resort owner Bob Dedman gave serious thought in 2011 to green-lighting the project. He decided against it, but now, amid a healthy golf economy at Pinehurst, that idea is back on the table.

“Down the road, we’ll have to have a more serious conversation,” Pashley says. “It’s nice to not have to go out and buy land. We’re sitting on 900-plus acres and can dream about what’s next.”

At Pinehurst, what’s next has always been part of the equation.  PS

Lee Pace’s first book about Pinehurst and its history, Pinehurst Stories — A Celebration of Great Golf and Good Times, was published 30 years ago.

Golftown Journal

Golf on Foot

The delights of having a bag on your shoulder

By Lee Pace

Howard Lee was an administrator in Gov. Jim Hunt’s administration in 1977 when he initiated what would become a walking trail of some 1,200 miles from the North Carolina mountains to the Outer Banks. “To be able to get out here and see the trees and the flowers and to be able to see the animals and the natural areas is just so relaxing and so soothing,” Lee said on the 40th anniversary of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in 2017.

Lee finds exercise and solace on another trail, too — a golf course.

One April afternoon in 2019, Lee and I were walking the fifth fairway at Old Chatham Golf Club just east of Chapel Hill, with the green complex set amid a hillside resplendent in white and pink azalea bushes at full bloom.

“If you can’t be relaxed looking at this kind of beauty, I don’t know,” said Lee, 84 at the time. “And that’s the beauty of walking, whether it’s a trail or the golf course, you learn so much when you can commune with nature. There’s always something to appreciate, a bird or flower or something in nature.”

Over four hours and 6 miles you come to understand how Lee, the former mayor of Chapel Hill and N.C. state senator, is a poster boy for playing golf the old-fashioned way — on foot.

Slinging the bag over his shoulder after one tee shot: “I enjoy carrying the bag, so I just think as long as someone my age can walk, it would be a sin not to do it.”

Strolling up to another shot: “I’ve been struck by the number of young people who are riders. They just jump in the cart and off they go. I hate to see that.”

And on his surprise at seeing newfangled golf carts equipped with a means to power up a cellphone: “For what good reason would you put a USB port in a golf cart? Isn’t the whole point of golf to get away from your cellphone for a few hours?”

Howard Lee and I sing from the same hymnal — with choruses abounding on the joys of walking the golf course and avoiding, at all costs, planting your bum in an artificial contraption. And I found over the last three years there are many more of our ilk.

Which is why I’m delighted this month with the release of my book Good Walks — Rediscovering the Soul of Golf at 18 Top Carolinas Courses. The coffee-table format volume was published by University of North Carolina Press and is built around essays, photographs and historic artifacts from a blend of private, resort and daily-fee courses around the Carolinas. The goal was to weave the architecture, ambience and culture into an essay about each of the courses, tipping the cap to those already in the choir of the walking golfer and offering a welcoming gesture to those on the outside.

That there is even a hook for a volume like this is a sad commentary on the state of golf in America. Walking golf? What’s the angle? Of course you walk when you play golf. I played Mid Pines in Southern Pines one afternoon in June 2019 with Ran Morrissett, an avowed walker and traditionalist and co-founder of the Golf Club Atlas website built around stories, photos and conversation about golf architecture. We arrived at the golf shop, checked in and were on the way to the first tee when a young attendant approached and offered to put our bags on a cart.

“It’s a walking sport,” Morrissett told him in a pleasant but direct and matter-of-fact tone and never broke stride walking toward the first tee. Later we were striding down the first fairway, enjoying the day. “I get nothing out of riding through corridors of condos or houses. That will not lift my spirit. Walking will.”

I play golf for a myriad of reasons. One is the never-ending challenge and the occasional pat on the head from the golf gods with that sub-80 score. Another is exercise. A third is the meditative quality of walking the ground and embracing nature. Enjoying the companionship of my playing partners is important as well — all the better if that’s split three ways while walking along rather than spending four hours-plus with one guy in a cart. Betting? Lame jokes? Hearing a guy tell some careworn story when it’s his turn to hit? Pounding beverages? Those don’t even register.

One of golf’s earliest appeals was its health-giving benefits, the player walking some 5 to 6 miles over varied terrain, making strength and endurance a key element of the sport. Too often today that component has been lost, with many golfers playing in a default mode of mandatory riding in motorized carts. I remember setting a last-minute round in Pinehurst many years ago, getting a tee time and two others to play. One of them showed up and said he’d invited a fourth, which was fine.

“Might as well fill up the carts,” he said. Apparently, it did not even register that someone would prefer to walk.

The book tells the stories of a handful of top golf experiences across the Carolinas, beginning with the oldest, Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken, S.C, and ending just as the 21st century beckoned and Eagle Point in Wilmington and Old Chatham were christened. Eighteen seemed like a good number for a golf book, right? The front nine clubs are pre-World War II, the so-called “Golden Age” of golf architecture when Donald Ross and Seth Raynor and their contemporaries had neither the handicap of modern environmental restrictions nor the convenience of dynamite and dozers. The back nine begins with the story of Myrtle Beach’s Dunes Club, a course that helped ignite that coastal area’s meteoric golf growth over the second half of the 20th century and continues with many of the upper-echelon clubs that mirrored the Carolina’s sporting and economic evolution into 2000.

The blend of courses leans toward the vintage, as many modern courses are stretched out for real estate purposes and lack a passionate roster of golfers treading on foot. I wanted to canvass all nooks of the Carolinas and weave in the great architects — from Ross to Raynor, from the Joneses (Robert, Trent and Rees) to Pete Dye and Tom Fazio.

I was gratified over the three years I spent writing and editing the book to see more and more clubs relaxing policies on mandatory carts and restrictions on trolleys. Pinehurst, Kiawah and Sea Pines, the venues of three courses featured in the book (No. 2, the Ocean Course and Harbour Town) all allow walking on any course, any time, any mode. Roaring Gap in the North Carolina mountains now allows walkers on weekend mornings. Biltmore Forest in Asheville has always had an outstanding walking culture and now devotes one room in its already cramped clubhouse to trolley storage.

“Mandatory carts is just not the way to do it,” says John Farrell, Sea Pines director of golf. “If you’re physically able, the way to play is to walk. It’s the easy way to roll. Here we’re at sea level, the proximity of greens to tees is good, it’s better socially, and obviously it’s better physically. There are so many benefits to walking I can’t see why you wouldn’t.”

The benefits, indeed:

Converse with everyone in your group, not just your cart mate.

Cool your emotions in private after a bad shot.

Notice every nook and cranny on the course and all the architectural details you miss from the edges.

Feel ravenous after four hours of stout exercise.

I could go on and on. Which I did, actually, in Good Walks.

I’ll leave you with the dedication and an invitation to pick up the book and enjoy the game as those old gnarly Scots did before combustion engines:

“To fellow golfers who’ve cherished the ground underfoot, the clink of clubs on their shoulder, the sun on their face and wind in their hair, the ducks by the lake and hawks in the sky — and to those waiting in the wings.  PS

Lee Pace’s Good Walks is available at bookstores and golf shops across the Carolinas and from

Golftown Journal

The Ross That Wasn’t

The lost links of James Barber

By Lee Pace

By the late 1920s, Donald Ross had designed seven golf courses in the Sandhills. There were Nos. 1-4 at Pinehurst Country Club, with the No. 2 course the annual venue for the North and South Open, and North and South Amateur. By 1912, he had designed 18 holes at Southern Pines Golf Club. And Mid Pines in 1921 and Pine Needles in 1928 were positioned on opposite sides of Midland Road on the outskirts of Southern Pines, the former serving as the linchpin of a private club and hotel, and the latter part of a combination resort and real estate venture.

Five of the seven remain today. Pinehurst No. 3 became half Ross/half Ellis Maples in the late 1950s when Maples built 18 new holes on the west side of N.C. 5 and arranged a new Pinehurst No. 5. The No. 4 course was abandoned during the Depression and World War II, later to re-emerge under various iterations, the latest a Gil Hanse redesign that opened in 2018. And Southern Pines, regarded by many knowledgeable design wonks as one of Ross’ finest routings, is under the restoration scalpel as we speak under new ownership and the design and construction acumen of architect Kyle Franz.

But there’s a fascinating story about the eighth Ross course for the Pinehurst area, the course that never was.

In 1927, Ross laid out a course on land now occupied by a housing development and The O’Neal School off Airport Road northeast of the village of Pinehurst. The client was designated on blueprints as “James Barber, Esq.”

Barber was a native of London who came to America at the age of 35 in 1887 and made his fortune with the Barber Steamship Lines, one of the world’s foremost shipping concerns. He loved golf and visited Pinehurst regularly from the early 1900s on, occupying a suite at the Holly Inn for the full winter season and then in the early 1910s building two houses just a short walk from the Carolina Hotel on Beulah Hill and Shaw roads. It was on the grounds around one of these mansions that he added a tennis court, formal gardens and a miniature golf course he called “Thistle Dhu,” which later was among the inspirations for Pinehurst’s immensely popular 18-hole putting course adjacent to the resort clubhouse.

Barber was among a group of prominent businessmen in the Sandhills who joined Leonard Tufts, the owner of Pinehurst and son of founder James W. Tufts, in developing thousands of acres of land between Pinehurst and Southern Pines known as Knollwood. As World War II ended and the 1920s beckoned, they envisioned a posh private club with golf and lodging, and a surrounding residential community. That was the impetus for Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club. The first official meeting of Mid Pines was held in January 1921, and Barber was elected president. Tufts was vice president and general manager. A.S. Newcomb, a real estate agent, was secretary/treasurer. Ross was a founding member, as was L.M. Boomer, a partner with the du Pont family in owning the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.

“James Barber is a man not heard of as often as some,” The Pilot noted in 1921, “but he is one of the big forces in the development of the Sandhills. His holdings in Pinehurst and Mid Pines are huge, and between the two places he has a small empire.”

That empire in time included the land for his private golf course.

At the time what is now known as Airport Road was called Seals Road. The clubhouse was located on the southwest corner of the tract on land near what in the 1980s would become the 14th hole of Longleaf Golf and Family Club, later changed to the fifth hole when the nines were flipped. Seven holes were on the south side of Seals Road on what is now a housing development accessed by Tall Timbers Drive and Laurel Lane. The Southern Pines Waterworks lake was just to the east.

Both front and back nines crossed Seals Road, and the holes on the north side ran on ground that today includes homes along Chesterfield Drive within the Forest Creek community, and runs eastward to the baseball and soccer fields of The O’Neal School. Ross’ design indicates residential lots alongside some of the holes.

Bill Patton, the course superintendent at Forest Creek from 1994 to 2014, remembers hearing talk that parts of the Forest Creek property once included an abandoned Ross design.

“The president of the Donald Ross Society came sometime around 1996 or ’97, looked at the property near the entrance to The O’Neal School,” Patton says. “He thought it looked like an old golf course. Personally, I couldn’t see it.”

What is certain is that the course was routed on paper by Ross. What is not quite as clear is how much, if any, was actually built, though documents in the Tufts Archives indicate the clubhouse was, in fact, built of native stone and had “a prominent view” of what would later be two small lakes within the back nine of the Longleaf course. There are no remnants of that structure today.

“Mr. Ross has designed a picturesque tract on the summit of the hills which gives a constant outlook over all the country,” The Pilot observed in 1927. “Below the fairways the reservoir with its sixty acres of open lake spreads out along the whole west side of the course. From the high spots on the course, Southern Pines is visible, Carthage, the territory around Vass, Pinehurst and into indefinite distance in all directions.”

Two events derailed Barber’s vision.

First, his death in February 1928.

And second, the Great Depression that began with the October 1929 stock market crash. If his son and heir, Edward, had any designs on completing his father’s plan, they were scuttled during hard economic times.

Edward Barber had little insight into his father’s vision when the elder Barber died. Leonard Tufts wrote to Ross in 1928 and said he had corresponded with Edward, who was at a loss what to do with the land.

“He does of course want to know what his father had in mind in spending all that money out there in the woods,” Tufts wrote. Tufts then conferred with Ross and wrote back to Barber: “Your father’s idea was to build 18 holes of golf and use it for his private course where he could take his friends to play, and eventually to sell this property to a club that would have rooms, in a good deal the same way that we sold the Mid Pines property.”

Author Daniel Wexler included this Barber course in his book Lost Links: “Ross’ design for Barber was serious business, measuring over 6,500 yards and featuring strategic elements generally found only among the architect’s most prominent works . . .  In fact, it probably fell among the upper 10 percent of the celebrated architect’s massive portfolio.”

High cotton, indeed, and worth some mental marinating next time you’re backed up on the roundabout waiting to head for Airport Road.   PS

Lee Pace has written about golf in the Sandhills for three decades. His newest book, Good Walks — Rediscovering the Soul of Golf at 18 Top Carolinas Courses, will be available in May from UNC Press.

Golftown Journal

Story Time

Classic voices and classic memories

By Lee Pace

I was merely a babe in the pines in 1990 when the powers that be at Pinehurst Inc. put their historic life in my hands. Why anyone would entrust the concept and execution of a coffee table book on what then was a 95-year-old golf club and resort to the hands of a 33-year-old is beyond me. To write about history, you need a little history yourself, right?

“We were figuring it out as we went along,” says Pat Corso, the man who commissioned that book as part of the club’s branding and campaign to land a major championship on Pinehurst No. 2 — a U.S. Open, PGA Championship or Ryder Cup chief among the targets. Corso, the president and CEO of the resort, was himself not quite 40 at the time.   

And he needed that youthful vigor. In 1990 Pinehurst was in year six of being owned by Robert Dedman Sr. and his Dallas-based company, Club Corporation of America, as it was known at the time. Old-timers today forget the degree of problems Dedman inherited, and newbies don’t even know about them. But the grand old resort that has now been the venue for three U.S. Opens since 1999 and is on the docket for five more was gasping for breath in 1984 after two years being run by a consortium of banks holding the bad paper from the previous owner, the Diamondhead Corp.

“Remember that no one wanted this place,” said Corso, who ran the resort from 1987-2004. “The banks brought every big company in the golf and hospitality business through here and everyone went thumbs-down. They thought it was gone. Literally, the place had died. Now, not all the citizens would agree with that. But to a lot of people inside the game and outside, Pinehurst was dead. It was unredeemable. The banks were going to sell off the golf to someone and the hotel to someone else. They made Robert buy the hotel. He just wanted the golf. But marrying the golf to the hotel kept the whole thing alive. Otherwise, you’d have five or six owners and it would have been a free-for-all.”

Corso and his chief lieutenant, Director of Golf Don Padgett Sr., were diligently trying in the late 1980s to restore the good name Pinehurst enjoyed in the golf universe for 75 years under the founding Tufts family. Staging the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1989 on No. 2 was one step. Now they wanted the PGA Tour or a men’s USGA championship.

And they wanted to remind the current generation and make them aware of what those before had known of “the St. Andrews of American golf.”

So off I went in October 1990 with exactly one year to write, design and print a book with factual and aesthetic substance for Corso and resort officials to hand to golf’s power brokers, competitors, talking heads and ink-stained scribes and say, “This is our story. This is who we are.”

I was rummaging through the files at the Tufts Archives in the village of Pinehurst just as I was getting started when I found Ben Hogan’s file and learned he won his first professional tournament in Pinehurst in 1940, that he teetered on quitting competitive golf altogether after eight fallow years on tour, and that the injection of confidence and swagger he found in the North and South Open on Pinehurst No. 2 catapulted him to one of golf’s most storied careers.

What about, I mused, a book built around the stories of noted individuals in golf and their experiences at Pinehurst?

The dominoes started to fall, and I set about making arrangements over the next six months to visit some very high-profile golfers who had a good Pinehurst story. Now, exactly three decades later, the images of those visits bound past like 35 mm slides in a vintage carousel projector:

Hogan, the “wee ice mon” himself, sitting nattily attired in a seersucker sports coat in his office in Fort Worth, reflecting on that landmark win half a century before;

Ben Crenshaw the very next day in the grill at Barton Creek in Austin remembering his second PGA Tour event, that 144-hole colossus known as the World Open played on the No. 2 and 4 courses in November 1973 and his second-place finish to Miller Barber;

Bill Campbell having lunch at a meat-and-three diner across the street from his insurance office in Huntington, West Virginia, words like “salutary” and “winsome” rolling from his tongue as he talked of his annual April visit to Pinehurst for the North and South Amateur;

Sam Snead rubbing the head of his golden retriever, Meister, sitting in his living room in Fort Pierce, Florida, ruminating on his three victories in the North and South Open and how he thought the short par-4 third hole on No. 2 “was one of the nicest little holes;”

Frank Stranahan appearing in workout togs drinking a vitamin-laced smoothie in the lobby of The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, recounting stroke-by-stroke his North and South Amateur finals matches with Harvie Ward in 1948-49;

Harvie Ward himself with that ever-present twinkle in the eye sitting on the porch of the Carolina Hotel in Pinehurst, having returned home to North Carolina in the twilight of his life and admitting it was a little embarrassing the ruckus his Chapel Hill fraternity brothers made in the gallery of those matches with Stranahan, which they split with one championship apiece;

Arnold Palmer and his vice-like handshake and welcoming demeanor in his office at Bay Hill in Orlando and a self-deprecating story about Stranahan dusting his rear end 12 and 11 in the 1949 North and South Amateur and then offering to give Arnie a lesson on bunker play;

Curtis Strange walking a fairway during a practice round at Doral and talking about all his visits to Pinehurst while on the Wake Forest golf team and how caddie Fletcher Gaines helped manage him around the course in winning the 1975-76 North and South Amateurs;

Golf architect Pete Dye rambling into the wee hours at Kiawah Island during Ocean Course construction and speaking of how the tenets of Donald Ross were never far from his mind on every course design project;

Billy Joe Patton pausing from a conversation at his home in Morganton to leave the room and compose himself, the memories of his salad days in Pinehurst in the 1950s and ’60s with his favorite caddie, Jerry Boggan, washing over him.

And those were just the highlights.

I assembled the fruit of these conversations with essays commissioned from golf writing heavyweights Charles Price, Dick Taylor and Herbert Warren Wind, and the result was Pinehurst Stories — A Celebration of Great Golf and Good Times. I know for a fact the book didn’t make any money, but that wasn’t the goal. Two years later the USGA did, in fact, award Pinehurst the 1999 U.S. Open, and the dominoes have been falling ever since. Not that one caused the other, mind you, but perhaps it factored into the mix.

Thirty years. Roll that around in your mind.

I’ve been chasing another assignment like that for three decades to no avail and with a keen appreciation for the old saw, “Youth is wasted on the young.”  PS

Lee Pace has made countless drives from his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to the Sandhills 70 miles away to chronicle the Pinehurst story, which includes four books, most recently the 2014 volume, The Golden Age of Pinehurst.

Golftown Journal

All Four One

A magic number creating memories

By Lee Pace

There are the four seasons, the four corners of the globe, four points on a compass, four phases of the moon, the four Gospels, the four elements. There are the Four Horsemen and the Four Tops. The number four in East Asia is considered unlucky; some hospitals and apartment buildings skip the number four as many in America do with the dreaded number 13.

And in golf, there are four players. The foursome.

There is no pat answer on the number’s evolution through the history of golf as the standard size of a group taking to the course. The fact that in the early days clubs and balls were expensive and often shared by two or more players lends credence to the idea that golf developed in Scotland as a game for two players playing alternate shot, aka foursomes. The Rules of Golf of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in 1858 specifically mentions that golf is played “by two persons, or by four (two a side) playing alternately.”

And so it was that four men in their late 20s arrived by happenstance on the first tee of a small-town Illinois country club in 1978.

Bill Shaw, a fifth-generation newspaperman.

Jock Heaton and Bob Branson, both attorneys.

And Dr. Joe Crisham, an orthodontist.

“The club had a traditional men’s day — you played golf in the afternoon and stayed for drinks and dinner afterward,” Shaw says. “You needed to play in a group, so the four of us hooked up. We clicked for whatever reason.

“The same four guys — for 39 years.”

Dixon is a town of about 16,000 located a hundred miles west of Chicago, and its claim to fame is being the boyhood home of Ronald Reagan, who worked as a lifeguard at a park just north of town and caddied at the golf course (known today as Timber Creek Golf Course). The golfer who hit the first shot in the first Masters, Ralph Stonehouse, was the club pro in the early 1940s.

“After about 20 years, we became the senior group at the club, and we kept going,” Shaw says. “We not only shared our golf together, but life experiences, the good and the bad as our conversations evolved from raising our young families to Social Security and Medicare.”

They played a game of nine point that revolved around the standard low-ball and low-total from two-man sides but featured extra points for birdies, sandies, a “sneaky par” (getting up-and-down) and a “poley” (making a putt longer than the length of the flagstick). Rarely did anyone lose more than $100. But unlike most foursomes, they never settled up at the end of the round. Crisham was appointed the group’s treasurer, set up a checking account and sent out a bill every month for each player’s obligation. A tidy sum of a few thousand bucks accumulated, and the guys decided in the mid-1990s to spend their money on a golf trip. They picked Pinehurst and in 1996 traveled south and played Pine Needles, Pinewild and Pinehurst Plantation (later renamed Mid South Club).

“What small-town Midwestern golfer would not be impressed with what Pinehurst has to offer?” Shaw reflects. “It has a multitude of fine golfing venues, as well as watering holes like the Pine Crest Inn and Dugan’s Pub. The village with its winding streets and old-time charm captivated us from the beginning.”

“Pinehurst, I love it,” Branson adds. “It’s the best place in the world.”

About this time a burgeoning golf enterprise was evolving on land just northeast of the village. The Meyer family had Chicago and Illinois roots and for many years had used “The Farm,” as they called their expanse that at its height numbered 2,500 acres, for family trips to pursue equestrian and golfing pursuits. The family’s third generation, comprised of brothers Terry and Louis Brown and their cousin Heidi Hall-Jones, decided to develop some of their land into a private golf and residential community. The first course at Forest Creek Golf Club opened in 1996, and the family used its connections in Chicago and throughout the Midwest to promote the club and the Sandhills community.

“After our first trip to Pinehurst, a friend heard about our experience and told me about Terry and his new club,” Shaw says. “On a lark, I called Terry and soon after returned to Pinehurst to check things out. He invited me to play golf. I was thrilled with it. It seemed like every hole was a signature hole.”

They played the Tom Fazio-designed course (it would later be deemed the South Course when Fazio completed the North Course in 2005). Then they moved on to the par-3 19th hole — a one-shotter over water that connects the 18th hole to the clubhouse. It’s called “The Hog Hole” as you can go “whole hog” and bet all of the day’s winnings on one par-3.

“Terry didn’t need to send me a bill,” Shaw says. “I wrote a check for a charter membership standing on the green.”

So now Shaw’s foursome had a home base for its annual golf trip. For two decades each autumn the golfers stayed at the Comfort Inn in Southern Pines, played two rounds of golf at Forest Creek, and ventured throughout the community as time and weather allowed. And they watched as Forest Creek matured into a club celebrating its 25-year anniversary in 2021.

“We were in golfing heaven,” Shaw says. “As the years passed, our time together became more precious. The memories piled up.”

Sadly, the group was reduced to three in June 2017, when Jock Heaton succumbed to cancer.

“He is always with us in spirit,” Shaw says. “The second seat in my golf cart is occupied by a lifetime of memories. I invited his son Jon to join us at Forest Creek in the spring of 2019. It was an emotional day, to say the least.”

Shaw still lives in Dixon but visits Forest Creek at least a couple of times a year. Branson is retired and lives in Aiken, S.C., and has joined Shaw on the membership roll at Forest Creek. Crisham lives in Vero Beach, Fla.

“When you reach retirement and a certain age, you can reflect upon what was really special in a lifetime,” Shaw says. “How lucky we were to have golf, to have our foursome, to have Forest Creek, to have Pinehurst. As I’ve gotten older, I have a few more aches and pains. But the azaleas, the birds singing, the scent of the place — all of that’s still there.”   PS

Chapel Hill-based writer Lee Pace has written about the charms of the Sandhills and Carolinas for more than three decades. Write him at and follow him at @LeePaceTweet.

Golftown Journal

Nifty 50

The bare essentials of golf

By Lee Pace

Photo: Teddy Leinbach, Jack Leinbach,  Hayden Swanson, Colin Wilkin

Donald Ross was the son of a Scottish carpenter who began his career in golf wearing overalls and hunched on his hands and knees caring for the turf and bunkers at the course in his hometown of Dornoch. No silver spoons here, which is why Ross, despite the wealth and fame he achieved as an adult designing golf courses in America, always believed, “There is no good reason why the label ‘rich man’s game’ should be hung on golf.”

That yin and yang of the elite vs. the masses, private vs. public, upstairs vs. downstairs has hovered around the sport for more than a century. But the essence of the game remains the same: club, ball, hole, lowest strokes wins.

“I have always believed being able to play golf is not necessarily a right and not necessarily a privilege,” says Karl Kimball, head pro and owner-partner at Hillandale Golf Course in Durham. “It is more of an honor because of all the history the game has wrapped itself around.

“Whether it’s a private club or a daily-fee facility, the common thread is the game of golf. That’s what ties everyone together. Unfortunately, we can get wound up on some of the idiosyncrasies of our clubs, almost like religion.”

Which is why Kimball was delighted to see a young man who grew up playing golf at Hillandale, a public course that dates in its original form to Durham Country Club in 1910, embark on an ambitious project to travel the United States and peer under the hood of golf at a grassroots level.

The idea was simple, yet ambitious: 50 states, 50 rounds of golf, 50 days.

The resulting journey organized by Teddy Leinbach that included his brother, Jack, and friends Colin Wilkins and Hayden Swanson is the subject of a film released in November titled, “50 Over.” The one hour and 20 minutes of run time explores, as Leinbach says, “the tattered fairways and diverse personalities of public courses. We wanted to strip golf of its elitist image and find out what it really means to play golf.”

Leinbach was a self-proclaimed “sports nut” as a kid growing up in Durham, where his father practices internal medicine and psychiatry, and Leinbach played baseball, basketball, soccer and golf, among other sports. He attended Virginia Commonwealth University to study painting and illustration, then pivoted to filmmaking his sophomore year. After graduating in 2016, he created Airball Films to tell stories of things that interested him.

Among them, golf.

“We have a lot of young stars playing golf, but I don’t think they embody enough of the counter-culture movement in golf that is going to get people outside of the golf world interested in playing,” Leinbach says.

All four golfers were in their early 20s in the summer of 2017 when they made their odyssey. The Leinbach brothers had played lots of golf growing up at Hillandale and had single-digit handicaps; the others were essentially beginners.

The only requirement in planning the trip was that every course be open to the public. They started in Westbrook, Maine, at a course called Sunset Ridge, and used the condensed geography of New England to knock out 10 courses in five days. From there they ventured down the Mid-Atlantic into the South, then wound their way across the country. The last leg of the trip had them flying from Seattle to Alaska and then hopping another plane to Hawaii.

The young golfers at various times ate canned tuna on crackers, beef jerky and bagels and stopped at Huddle Houses along the way. “I’m still waiting on that Huddle House sponsorship,” Leinbach says with a laugh. Sometimes their attire stretched to gym shorts, tank tops and Converse sneakers; at times they played golf barefoot. (Management at one course asked them to leave, since they didn’t all have collared shirts.) They stopped to play pickup basketball and film the turtles and bison they saw along the way. They slept in the van or in tents pitched along the road.

They pooled their money and bought a 1991 Dodge camper van for the trip, but the vehicle was a lemon and finally caught on fire alongside an interstate in Illinois. The flames engulfed some of their clothes and golf clubs and destroyed Leinbach’s and brother Jack’s driver’s licenses, so Swanson flew back to Durham, picked up another vehicle and drove back to Illinois to resume the trip.

“We were lucky we had banked some days early in the trip,” Leinbach says. “We were on a tight schedule the rest of the way but made the 50th course on the 50th day.”

The themes running through the film are the fresh air, the great out-of-doors, the thrill of that well-struck shot, and the interesting people they meet along the way.

“What’s not to like about golf?” muses one player they found in the Midwest. “It’s the ultimate test of patience and a game that tortures you, but for some reason you keep going.”

Adds another, “No matter where you are in the world, you can generally find a golf course, and it’s the most serene place you can be.”

In Weed, California, they found a man who used to work for ClubCorp managing its portfolio of hundreds of high-end clubs. Now he’s up with the roosters to mow the greens.

“I found this semi-chill job, I live here, work here, have fun here,” he said as he fired up the Toro greens mower. “There is a Volkswagen version of golf, where you can get a great golf experience. It’s a cool message you guys are putting out. Anyone can golf across the country and you don’t have to have a $30,000 club membership.”

They split one day surfing and golfing on the California coast and were joined by a local who compared the two sports: “You can get a dopamine rush in both,” the man said. “Surfing is like that; golf is like that. Out of nowhere, you can hit the best shot of your life, you can catch the best wave of your life, and in both you get that flood of feel-good stuff.”

Leinbach says his foursome set out to explore golf away from the country club and strip the game of its elitist stereotype. While those boilerplates do, of course, exist, it’s wrong to paint the game with that brushstroke alone.

“We saw how a love for a game can bring people together, regardless of background, how golf can inspire, create change and form relationships,” Leinbach says. “We found that money, class, race, gender and other arbitrary distinctions that keep us divided can be broken down with an easy swing of the club.”

The film certainly resonated with Kimball, who’s been at Hillandale since 2007 and grew up playing golf on a nine-hole public facility in New Lexington, Ohio.

“I could play when I was 8 years old and could prove to the owner of the course I could get around in a decent amount of time,” he says. “I watched this film and a lot of it was staring me in the face when I grew up.”

In his next breath, Kimball marvels at how healthy golf is at his facility as 2020 winds down. COVID-19 has been hell; but golf courses have been a socially distanced refuge. His driving range business is beating all records, and more than 40 percent of Hillandale’s rounds are by folks walking the course.

“It’s incredible what’s happening with the game,” he says. “If anything good has come out of COVID, it’s that golf has gotten a shot in the arm. If you play the game and get a little hankering for it, it doesn’t let you go.”

Teddy Leinbach’s foursome has proof of that in all 50 states.  PS

Lee Pace has written about the Sandhills golf scene for more than 30 years. Contact him at The film 50 Over is available for viewing at at a cost of $10.