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The Happy Head Guy

Benevolence begins at the top

By Jim Dodson  

Photographs by John Gessner


Bob Dedman Jr. is one pleased fellow.

On a gray and windy afternoon threatening rain — not quite the “beautiful day in Pinehurst” that resort operators chime as they answer phones — the owner of the Pinehurst Resort can’t stop smiling.

“Isn’t this something?” says Dedman with the tempered excitement of the father of a newborn. “You know, we just started this last November, and it amazes me to see how quickly it has all come together. It turned out to be something very special, a bit different from what many would expect to find at Pinehurst — but very much in our tradition.”

The “baby” Dedman speaks of happens to be the new Course No. 10 — the Pinehurst Sandmines — a spacious, soulful, sweeping links-style layout created by acclaimed golf course designer Tom Doak that weaves its way through the surviving mounds of a former sand mining operation and the remains of The Pit Golf Links. Dedman has graciously invited a friend to join him for a casual look at the course, where flags have just been set.

The key word in Dedman’s reflection is “tradition,” an indication that the past may indeed be prelude to the continuing evolution of Pinehurst, America’s oldest and most influential golf resort, which is in full readiness to host the 2024 United States Open Championship, its fourth staging of the Open in 25 years.

“This year marks the 40th anniversary of our family’s involvement here,” Dedman points out as he and his friend limber up on the first tee of No. 10, the resort’s first new golf course since the opening of No. 8 that celebrated Pinehurst’s centennial three decades ago. The buzz has it that an 11th layout by the design firm of Coore and Crenshaw may already be in the planning stages for the same 900-acre track southeast of town.

“The first two decades were spent restoring what was already here and reacquiring parts of the resort,” Dedman says. “And now we believe we have the opportunity to make Pinehurst relevant for the next 100 years with new projects and experiences for our members, guests and visitors. Building on that tradition is the core of what we hope to do.”

This easygoing single-index (7.1) son of the game stripes a drive to the heart of the first fairway, a 350-yard jewel that appears harder than it plays. The boss clearly has game. “It’s been quite a journey,” he allows in the next breath.

In a sense, the journey has come full-circle since his dad, Robert Dedman Sr., owner of Dallas-based ClubCorp, acquired Pinehurst in 1984 from a consortium of banks that owned it in the aftermath of Diamondhead Corporation’s pyrrhic effort to “modernize” a threadbare Pinehurst Resort during the 1970s. Principally a real estate development company, Diamondhead controversially built hundreds of condos snug against the fairways of the No. 3 and No. 5 courses, removed the famous porches of The Carolina Hotel (renamed The Pinehurst Hotel) and sent its beloved wicker interiors to the town dump, replacing Southern comfort with coastal chic. Longtime customers weren’t amused.

On the plus side, Diamondhead did bring professional golf tournaments back to the Sandhills two decades after Richard Tufts ended the much-loved North and South Open in 1951. This effort was highlighted by a mammoth 144-hole tournament modestly called the “World Open” in 1973. The following year heralded the opening of the $2.5 million World Golf Hall of Fame on the hill behind the fourth green of No. 2, a move some Diamondhead execs believed might eventually persuade the USGA to bring a U.S. Open to Pinehurst. Instead, Diamondhead itself ran into financial difficulties, leaving the Pinehurst Resort to the banks.

Dedman Sr. was its savior, a hard-charging but philanthropic billionaire lawyer who grew up in deep poverty in Arkansas, made his first million by age 50, and built an empire from buying distressed golf courses and private clubs, and spectacularly turning them around.

Recalling the day he first laid eyes on Pinehurst No. 2, Dedman Sr. told a Sports Illustrated writer: “The first time I stood in front of the clubhouse and looked out on those ribbons of fairways, I got tears in my eyes. . . . I had always venerated Pinehurst for its place in the history of golf, and when I finally saw it, I knew instantly that we would take this fallen angel and make it not as good as it was, but better than it had ever been.”

Four decades later, as the younger Dedman scoots along No. 10’s rumpled fairways, there’s time to reflect. “It didn’t happen overnight, and it took a lot of hard work by many talented people over many years to bring back the grace and charm of Pinehurst,” he says. “I’m just very fortunate to be following in my dad’s footsteps. When our family got involved with Pinehurst, there were six golf courses and one very run-down hotel. He liked to tell the story of how the chef actually fell through the kitchen floor into the basement.

“Now we have four excellent hotels and 10 1/2 golf courses,” he adds with a chuckle, referring to The Cradle, the delightful and wildly popular nine-hole, par-3 course created by architect Gil Hanse and his partner Jim Wagner in 2017, shortly before the duo spectacularly revised Pinehurst No. 4.

Following his father’s passing in August 2002, the younger Dedman became chairman of ClubCorp. Four years later, along with his mother, Nancy, and sister Patty, the family sold its portfolio of 170 top-tier clubs to a Denver-based private investment equity group for a reported $1.8 billion. They chose to keep ownership of Pinehurst, a decision Dedman says was shaped by his father’s promise to restore a fallen angel known as the Home of American Golf. Not long afterward, Dedman purchased the historic Fownes house in the village for his wife, Rachael, and two daughters, Catherine and Nancy, and began spending increasingly lengthy periods of time in Pinehurst.

“Having the ability to keep Pinehurst was important to my family,” he says, pausing by the eighth green, a vest pocket gem tucked artfully into the lee of the dunes. “It was all about ensuring the legacy of this unique place, which has come to mean so much to all of us. We buried my father in his Pinehurst U.S. Open jacket, a reflection of how passionate he was about bringing Pinehurst back to its rightful position, a place synonymous with the best of golf and the game’s history in this country. I view our role in taking it forward into the future as an important calling. One lesson I learned from my dad was to provide the vision and support for what needs to be done, then allow the right people to create it.”

If, at first blush, Bob Dedman appears to lack his late father’s dynamic and colorful style, he displays an internal calm and reassuring grace that matches the moment and inspires his employees with a steady vision that may be just the thing for an angel that’s once again soaring. As Ron Green Jr. of the Global Golf Post summed up, “Dedman is many things — smart, influential and bold — but he’s not brash. In fact, he fits Pinehurst almost perfectly, appreciating the legacy that began more than a century ago while believing the resort’s best days are still to come. Dedman’s touch is like that of a good cashmere sweater and Pinehurst itself, soft but with an unmistakable depth of quality.”

Under his dad’s aegis, the team of President Pat Corso and Director of Golf Don Padgett engineered the slow but steady comeback of Pinehurst. Following significant work on No. 2 by architect Rees Jones in advance of the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Opens, Dedman Jr. pulled the trigger on a gutsy decision to allow the design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to take No. 2 back to what the golf course looked and played like when Donald Ross began creating it in 1907. Starkly revised, it debuted with the staging of the historic back-to-back men’s and women’s U.S. Opens in 2014 — and proved to be a resounding success.

Against fears that the game’s best might make easy work of an Open course minus its traditional narrow fairways and brutal rough, only three men and one woman bested par during the historic Opens that year. When leader Michelle Wie faced potential disaster from a wayward approach shot on her 70th hole of play, an eagle-eyed fan named Bob Dedman Jr. found her ball nestled in a patch of wiregrass, preserving her path to victory. Talk about a sign from the golf gods.

Since that time, Dedman’s thoughtful leadership combined with the seasoned skills of Tom Pashley, who was named president of the resort following the retirement of Don Padgett II in 2014, have restored the soul and charm of Pinehurst’s past with a savvy eye to the future that’s visible almost everywhere one looks — in the transformation of the resort’s abandoned steam plant into a powerhouse brewery; a refurbished clubhouse that features lush new digs for members; an expanded Deuce Grill; the beautifully restored Manor Inn and renovation of the Magnolia Inn; and the budding partnership that attracted the USGA’s sparkling new Golf House Pinehurst and World Golf Hall of Fame, returned from St. Augustine, Florida.

Pashley says of his boss: “Bob is smart, curious, analytical, humble and funny. He constantly challenges conventional thinking and offers creative solutions to complex problems, offering up out-of-the-box thinking that has shaped much of our renovation work over the last decade. As we enter a new phase of creation versus restoration, he’s equally passionate about land planning and design. I’ve never seen him truly mad or upset except when he occasionally hits a poor golf shot.”

As the skies darken and a soft rain begins, Dedman and his guest decide to pick up their balls and finish another day, heading for a spot where No. 10’s rustic lodge and pro shop “with a barn-like feel” will rise to serve golfers and resort guests.

Possibly the golf world’s happiest resort owner easily slips into philosophic mode, chatting about the importance of giving back and quoting his famously philanthropic dad’s favorite lines from Henry Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life”: Lives of great men all remind us / We can make our lives sublime, / And, departing, leave behind us / Footprints on the sands of time.

It seems only logical to ask if he has one rule of life to live by.

Dedman smiles. “I do. I used it at the Boys and Girls Club dinner. We had the privilege of starting the first chapter in 1999 and have supported it ever since. It’s a quote by John Wesley. After all, I’m a Methodist.”

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

It’s a fitting spiritual coda for a rainy afternoon filled with talk of family, tradition and reborn angels. But make no mistake, Bob Dedman’s generous Methodist eye is fixed on the future, and the bottom line of a game and place dear to his heart. He jokes that there’s a “Fun Bob and a Business Bob.” The two are sometimes indistinguishable.

“We’ve been so blessed in Pinehurst. No one knew what to expect after the recession and COVID. But there has been a wonderful resurgence of golf, especially among women. New people are coming into the game. That’s a great thing. We believe that being given the opportunity to host the Open a total of eight times over a 50-year period is a validation of the things we are doing to provide a memorable and fun experience to everyone who comes here.”

Which prompts a final question from his slightly sodden golf partner: Is Pinehurst enjoying a second Golden Age?

Dedman smiles again. “I think it might be. Pinehurst is really the soul of American golf. Our job is to carry that soul into the next hundred years. Hopefully the things we’re doing today — rain or shine — will stand the test of time.”  PS