Pinehurst – The Land of Ross

In the sandhills of North Carolina and about two hours east of Charlotte lies Pinehurst, North Carolina. A place that’s part of the storied history of American golf with almost all of it available to the golfing public. The Tufts family and Donald Ross were responsible in large part for the initial growth and development of the area’s golf courses, with others expanding it from there, and now it has become one of the notable golf destinations in the country, if not the world.

While I always assumed Pinehurst enjoyed a lofty reputation and a steady stream of guests from its inception, that is far from its actual history. To make a long story short, the Tufts started the Pinehurst Resort and as they began to build golf courses, they were met with an array of challenges. Finding the right type of grass, transitioning from sand to grass greens, dealing with the effects of the Great Depression, then moving from a family and friends destination to one that was more tourist driven; it’s all part of it and took considerable work and effort, as well as evolution through the years as the courses went through change, literally and figuratively. The history of the place will be shown through all the course reviews and a little bit below, but where Pinehurst is today, and what it stands for, is fascinating. Richard Mandell’s “The Legendary Evolution of Pinehurst” is a comprehensive and intriguing book that lays out this history in enthralling detail. For anyone who is interested in learning more about Pinehurst, it is essential reading.

I have heard Pinehurst spoken of as the “St. Andrews” of America.” The Carolina Hotel sits about five minutes away from the main clubhouse, where a lot of the golf courses are located. A few blocks away from the Carolina is the village, which is where a lot of shops and restaurants are located, all of it quaint and quiet. All of this is ensconced in leafy residential streets and as one walks the area, the charm and history of the place come to the forefront. A short drive away is Southern Pines, where Mid-Pines, Pine Needles and Southern Pines Country Club reside. There’s plenty of other notable golf as well, such as the Dormie Club and Country Club of North Carolina, all a stone’s throw from the other.

The Carolina Hotel

The main clubhouse at the resort is remarkable. Walking its halls and seeing the history of what has taken place on the courses, the U.S. Open trophies abounding, gives one perspective. Outside at the rear is Thistle Dew, the putting course, open to anyone who feels inclined to roll a few. A bit further down the hill is The Cradle, the recently installed short course, where a high ridge houses chairs and a beverage cart, perfect for lounging and watching the golfers make their way around. Following on the other side, the start and finish of Pinehurst 2 is before you. The clubhouse bar and grill, The Deuce, is steps away, where those of us who want to take it all in with a pint or two can feel free. The enormous driving range and short game area are also back here, as well as the opener for Pinehurst 4. Then of course, you have the Cricket grounds.

Thistle Dhu

Having been to Pinehurst yet never to St. Andrews, I can see why and agree with it being called the St. Andrews of American golf. It’s a Mecca that conjoins a lot of different aspects of golf. From the modern golf tournament championship structure to the classic strategic charm inherent in this land, just about any golfer will feel at home here. This universality of appeal is one of its underrated traits. To this point, Pinehurst in general is impressive because it showcases so many different styles and ways in which the land is used by the respective designer, which in turn underscores just how versatile course design can be. Yet Pinehurst also demonstrates how one designer used the land in so many different ways. I am unapologetic in my enthusiasm for Donald Ross and this area is where he devoted so much attention and innovation. Indeed, my main motivation for coming down here was to pay homage to, “The Land of Ross.” I was not disappointed and if anything, feel I have a better understanding of his work having experienced a lot of his courses down there.

Pinehurst falls into one of those places that I’ve been meaning to get to but never did. It’s actually an easy drive, even stopping midway to get a round in each way. Now that I’ve been, I see a lot more trips in my future. The quality of golf was impressive and the relaxed charm of the place agreed with me. Notwithstanding the pandemic, my tumultuous swing journey that season was in an interesting spot when I got there, but I left much more centered and finally, broke through. Maybe it was all the golf at once, but I think it had more to do with connecting with what this place is all about. Once that happened, the swing came easy.

There are many great stories about one finding his or her swing again. This isn’t one of them. But it is one man’s story of following his passion for a few days and finding something new, different and enlightening, both in an area he had always wanted to go for this very reason, and within himself. Whether the man needed the area to show him the way or he simply happened to be at that place when he came to these revelations is subject to discussion, but what matters is such revelations took place at that place. That will always make that place a special place to that man and if, over time, those revelations start to lose effect, the man can always look back to that place and find them again. In that way, that place became a part of that man at that time. 

The beginning of the end of the troubles started, believe it or not, randomly hitting a used hybrid at Golf Galaxy a month before the trip. One of the problems I had faced all season was finding a hybrid I felt comfortable with. This some how set off a chain reaction of other random events, the next one taking place on the patio at Squires, after my round there. Talking to one of the guys in our group, he mentioned something about cupping the left wrist at the top of the back swing. Realizing I wasn’t actively doing that for some reason, a range session the next day returned the zip to my shots and a few more range sessions bolstered this. And in this state is how I drove down to Pinehurst, stopping at Royal New Kent for a round. The first nine was a disaster, yet I played some of the best golf of the season on the back nine. The next morning found me at Tobacco Road, where I basically shanked my way through the First before a strong stretch, then some wheels falling off every now and then. That afternoon was at Dormie Club, where the swing became much more suspect, even though I realized I had just played three rounds in less than 24 hours.

Dinner at the 1895 Grille that night was just what the doctor ordered. Finally getting a chance to relax from all the golfing and driving, taking in the village a little and a few glasses of wine renewed the fight in me and it was the next day where things culminated. As one of the first to head out on Pinehurst 3 that morning, I realized early on I needed to figure out a way to hold the greens better. Experimenting with a chip shot, I focused more on swinging down than at the ball (if that makes any sense), which maintained some lag in the club and imparted divots at the front of the ball. The chips started this way, which made their way to half shots, then full ones, before finally coming to the irons, then hybrids and fairway woods. Not all at once, but starting at that round. The fog and funk finally cleared and the path was evident. During that round, the will to become more strategic and mindful finally dawned on me as well. Likely inspired from the brilliance of the course, I finished that round. . . enlightened. Lunch on the Carolina Hotel porch and a walk through the village, followed by a casual round at the Cradle, was indeed another chamber of commerce type of day. Capping it off with dinner in the Carolina Dining Room tied it all together nicely, with another glorious day to look forward to.

The Holly Inn

The next morning was a round at Pinehurst 4, where the wedges and irons reverberated from the strides made the day before. The wind was out in force, yet we would not be deterred. Now was the time to linger in the pro shop, grab a couple beers on the porch and relax. One last dinner at the Carolina Dining Room to get me ready for the following day. A round I had been looking forward to, intensely – Pinehurst 2. Number 2 was a glorious battle that I enjoyed every second of. Much more on it in the review. We cruised through the round in the morning and after lunch on the patio at the Deuce, I realized there was more than enough time for another round. Southern Pines was wide open, so I drove over and essentially had the place to myself. With these new swing revelations, the irons really stuck out here (although the driver was demanding the wrong kind of attention). A final visit to the main clubhouse, then the onslaught of all these golf swings made their presence known. Room service it was and an early bed time. 36 holes awaited the next day, no room for the weary.

Even though it was mid-November, I had lucked out dodging any kind of daylight or freeze delay issues, but that would end today. My round at Mid-Pines delayed by a few hours, I reveled in the design as the members I played with started calling me “Wood Man” for all the trees I kept hitting, but had to jet over to Pine Needles immediately afterwards, where a friend had already began our round and I met up at the Fourth. The fading daylight mirrored my fading swing and as we gave up and walked back to the parking lot in the dark, I knew I needed to return sooner rather than later and give these places the time they deserved.

The barrage of rounds behind me, this game makes us do crazy things and I wasn’t ready to call it a trip. I’d play Stonehouse on the drive back up. I’d go off in the morning and be home by the afternoon. Of course, this meant waking up at 3:30 a.m., but no matter. With the rest of Pinehurst still in its slumber, I hurtled northwards for one final round. My resolve was strong that day. To cap off the trip that hit so many fitting notes, but in many ways, to signify closure to a season of search and strife. The journey wasn’t ending and never will, but I knew a chapter was at a close and a new one was beginning. I closed with the best round of the season, drove home, put my clubs away and went to bed that night, fulfilled.

So I played the following, in this order:

  • Royal New Kent
  • Tobacco Road
  • Dormie Club
  • Pinehurst 3
  • The Cradle
  • Pinehurst 4
  • Pinehurst 2
  • Southern Pines
  • Mid Pines
  • Pine Needles
  • Stonehouse

Reviews will be coming out in the order played, starting with Dormie Club, all of them falling under the Pinehurst menu. After the Pine Needles review, Mike Strantz will be profiled and then Royal New Kent, Tobacco Road and Stonehouse will be reviewed.

Like St. Andrews, Pinehurst exists interchangeably with the surrounding community. Unlike places like Bandon and Streamsong that are their own little fiefdoms because they have to be, Pinehurst seeps in to the village and surrounds. I was also pleased that there was a lack of what I’ll call, “commercialization.” There were no big chain stores any where I could see, no fast food joints or strip malls. The charm is evident and it simply adds to the ease of the place. If it wasn’t COVID time when I was down there, I envisioned grabbing a drink or two at one place before moving on to another for dinner, before some where else for a night cap and then enjoying the leisurely stroll among the pines back to the Carolina. Some day. Yet the ability to do so and interact with the local setting so close to the resort and courses is rare in the U.S. So too are the volume and variety of quality courses in one area.

Like St. Andrews and maybe most significant, Pinehurst is an area where golf is part of the culture. It’s an area that appreciates its tenets, and honors them. It’s an area that elevates the joys of the game, and celebrates them. While many other resorts or destinations are terrific places to visit, Pinehurst felt like a terrific place to belong. And this seemed possible without having to live there.