6,576 yards, 130 slope from the Blues
While I usually submit my reviews chronologically in the order played, my trip to Pinehurst is being handled differently. Dormie is actually the third course I played, the first two being Royal New Kent (on the drive down) and Tobacco Road. Dormie and the other Pinehurst courses will be reviewed first, then a profile on Mike Stranz and his courses will follow. Because of all this, Dormie kicks things off for Pinehurst, with the intro review of Pinehurst in general, HERE.
And now, Dormie.
West End, North Carolina is about ten minutes northwest of Pinehurst proper and is where Dormie Club sits, designed by Coore and Crenshaw and opening in 2010. The course climbs and traverses over broad sweeping forested hills that rise and fall along and over wetlands and water. There are holes that impress with their inviting fairways and greens, the strategy within their contours; or those that boldly use the sand and ridges like the Seventeenth, or those with fabulous entry points to the greens, where nooks and hillocks hide and reveal various sections of the green as they please. There were reminders of Hidden Creek throughout, mainly how both of them naturally flow through the woods and sand, evincing an artistic strategy that seems to ease the soul a bit more after each swing. There are, however, a few differences between the courses as well. Dormie was routed before the state designated environmentally protected wetland areas and once such areas were designated, it unexpectedly laid on plenty of the routing. Coore has actually stated that if they knew what was designated beforehand, they would have passed on the project. Changes were made to comply with these designations, with the Tenth seeing the most change. There are a good amount of forced carries over water and wetlands, uncharacteristic of most Coore and Crenshaw designs. The sequencing of the holes translates to a stiff front nine, finally letting up on the back.
I mention Hidden Creek because perhaps my perceptions were skewed into expecting more of it as the round wore on. Instead, Dormie proved to be a little more direct with its challenge and less tolerant horizontally. The grace of Coore and Crenshaw courses took on a little more of a sterner side in parts and really, is a driving course through and through. Or more succinctly, a challenging course off the tee. A well executed tee shot opens the grace of this course from there, which is really the converse of other courses, like Pine Valley, where the tee shots are more inviting and the approaches much stricter.
Many revere Dormie and I would even say rightly so. There is much of note and it was very much a part of starting a transition in the area to an embracing and incorporation of native scrub and brush into play, as well as emphasizing the finer side of minimalism with the area’s rich topography. Yet personally, the forced carries, especially on the par 3’s of the front nine, the routing and the harshness off fairway interrupted the flow more than I was comfortable with. As mentioned, there were several holes and features I was impressed with and perhaps another round on another day is just what is needed but simply put, I was expecting to click with the place more than I did. It almost pains me to write that based on my love for their work and this area in general but that’s how it is, at least for now.
This could be for a few reasons out of anyone’s control, really. The third course I had played in 24 hours after driving down from Philadelphia and immediately after playing Tobacco Road is a tall order. The lofty expectations I had before the round were also there. The unusually strong wind perhaps. Whatever it is, that is not to say I did not appreciate the course and enjoyed myself thoroughly. Regardless, with remnants of Basil Hayden still lingering (that story to come in the Tobacco Road review), the wind yielded to a quiet stillness as I stepped to the First tee and continued my sojourn in Pinehurst.
The First is a 402 yard par 4 (from the Blues). A gentle dog leg left makes its way uphill with a right to left cant. The right side welcomes you to settle in like a warm bath while the approach is to a larger green with a couple bunkers short to keep things honest. A very promising opener.
The Second is a 378 yard par 4. A mild forced carry to another dog leg left that goes just a little uphill. Like the First, bunkers are on the left inside but bushels of room off to the right. This approach is even more inviting because the bunkers are set off to the side. And hopefully we’re warmed up now.
Yet let’s pause and take in the setting. A low profile course surrounded by conifers yielding enough space to manage several ways, the focus turns to the ground contours. I admire a lot of Coore and Crenshaw’s artistry in how they follow the terrain, enhancing its deep rolling nature, which is full of subtlety. This comes out a lot at places I’ve played of theirs like Hidden Creek and Bandon Trails and even Kapalua and, in spots, here. These first two holes showcase this well, allow us to settle in and get in the right frame of mind for the journey before us.
The Third is a 298 yard par 4. A shorter par 4 yet now it starts. The tee shot is key in dodging the bunkers yet equally important is keeping it straight. Anything too far off to the sides will be in the trees, or sand, ways from the green. Sand likewise frames the greens on each side, again emphasizing straight and aerial is cracking the code here. A bit nervy and a sudden shift from the starting duo.
The Fourth is a 415 yard par 4. A dog leg left going down hill, we essentially loop around and this is the closing turn of it before heading off over the water to the east. A forced carry tee shot down the fairway, a bit of room to the left to play with but not much. Driver must be dialed in at this point. The approach is a great one, with the fairway funneling from either side down to the green, which is pushed up at the last second. Water is off to the right while bunkers angle in across the fairway from the left. This essentially cuts off most ground game approaches, which is a shame, but there is room short and left of the green to try and finesse the ball close to the pin.
The Fifth is a 414 yard par 4. A forced carry tee shot that reminded me a little of the Fifteenth at Pine Valley with how the fairway tilts from left to right and angles in the same direction. Shorter tee shots find refuge to the left but that’s also where the tree line is. Unlike Pine Valley, this hole is a much tamer climb to the green and a wide fairway and the tilt eventually dissipates. The transition from the fairway to green is more of what I enjoy from C&C, maintaining that elegant ground note.
The Sixth is a 511 yard par 5. Climbing uphill from the tee, the sandy scrub area to the right steers you right into the tree line on the left, so take it on directly. The fairway is wide all the way to the green narrowing only slightly with a nice old entry point at the front. The throat of the green does pool in subtle directions, so a firm finesse is needed to stay the course. Nail the tee shot and reap the rewards.
The Seventh is a 206 yard par 3. A forced carry over marsh and long grass. There’s room on the left to play with but short of the green slopes back into the marsh area so that area is less than desirable. Bunkers are off to the right. A long forced carry par 3 is fine and here, the green is terrific, but I found it a bit uncharacteristic of our architects here. It didn’t fit in with what we’ve seen so far either, yet provides a different kind of challenge. Instead of versatility, there’s no hiding or improvising here. Hit the shot.
The Eighth is a 472 yard par 4. Pine Lakes Shooting Preserve Lake is off to the left and the fairway beyond the native curtilage slopes from right to left towards it. The land show you the tee shot should unmistakably start on the right so it falls to the left. The right side ends on a higher shelf from the left and that left side comes in and seems tuck the right shelf under it. Staying on the right side is ideal even with this convergence, especially with the larger fairway bunker on the left. Well executed drives are rewarded with a nice wide area after the fairway bunker to the green, and what seemed to me one of the larger greens on the course. More of this. The discovery of this marvelous terrain and then accentuating it so well is what I’m here for. It’s simply a spectacularly lovely hole.
The Ninth is a 147 yard par 3. Oh, another forced carry par 3. This one is shorter and surrounded by bunkers with a lot of back to front movement at the green. Aerial precision here and again the challenge shifts. The contrast between the flexibility and versatile nature of the prior hole to the singularity here had me hoping for more.
The front nine finds it way around the ideal terrain nicely. There were several holes that showcased masterful enhancement of that terrain that were a joy to play, especially the par 4’s and 5, and most particularly, the Eighth. I would rank them 8, 6, 4, 1, 2, 5, 3, 9, 7.
The back nine starts with the 632 yard par 5 Tenth. As mentioned above, the wetlands designation caused this hole to change substantially, mainly by forcing it to move off to the right before dog legging back to the left to the green. Similar to the Eighth, the fairway moves right to left from the hillside leading down to the water so the right side off the tee accounts for that movement. Even the stronger tee shots will be left eons from the green, which can now be seen down the hill below. That native green encroaches on the left side and needs to be carried, although you’re probably already getting your ball in the air a good amount since you’re so far from the green. The third shot should be from the flat area before the green. A principal’s nose bunker on the left and a couple on the right side further up, as well as scattered bunkers on the left side, complete the approach shot scene. The green is large, a refuge from the arduous journey that seemed to have started years ago from the tee, yet those subtle shifts and contours are there, making sure all the contemplation of the terrain remains with each stroke.
The Eleventh is a 395 yard par 4. Moving uphill from the water, the tee shot is inviting but mind the massive sandy area off to the right that runs along most of the right side and moves into more of the middle of the fairway about midway. If the golfer is able to stay on the left side and avoid the sand on the right, the green is there for the taking. So take it.
The Twelfth is a 108 yard par 3. Sill moving up that hill, the visual presentation of the bunkers interacting with the green enveloped in the wooded setting is sublime. At its core, however, this is shorter par 3 where the sand needs to be carried and the green is large and complex. While hitting the green may be one of the more accessible shots of the course, that is only half the story, as hitting to the ideal areas of the green to negotiate its tiers and undulations becomes just as important to scoring here. This hole and the hole prior are a nice refresh and change of pace.
The Thirteenth is a 465 yard par 4. Now traversing across the hill, the trees part ways to allow a bounding tee shot downhill that is blind as it crests over. The fairway leads straight to the green with a mild left to right tilt. It’s a longer par 4 and the scale and hazard placement is adjusted accordingly, yet the left to right movement gets a little stronger just short of the green. The course has now settled into a more mellow cadence where the nuances of the terrain reveal themselves as the sunlight comes in from various angles over and through the trees.
The Fourteenth is a 296 yard par 4. A short par 4 where the fairway cants left to right. The green is on the left, next to the tree line on that side and at the top of the hillside. Aiming to that left side at the tee accommodates the movement of the terrain snd while there is lots of room to the right, the further right you go, the further from the hole you are, and more downhill from it. Navigate the terrain and plot the approach from the tee and avoid the trees. The strategy comes naturally and it’s a very good short par 4.
The Fifteenth is a 360 yard par 4. An angled tee shot over some native area, the fairway runs left to right at a 2:00 angle with bunkers on the far left side to collect overly ambitious tee shots. Like we’ve seen, there’s incentive in nailing the tee shot and here, the more right (and closer to the forced carry) you end up, the cleaner of an approach you’ll have. Conversely, the more right you are, the more the approach is blind, as the hillside on the left bumps up to obstruct things. That hillside can actually be used as a side board as needed as the shots fall down to the green from there and the green generally moves left to right. Another brilliant hole discovered within the topography.
The Sixteenth is a 178 yard par 3. We have circled back to Pine Lakes Shooting Preserve Lake, which is behind the green. A mild drop shot is to a green beset on all sides by bunkers. A tiny bit of Pine Valley here, with the Fourteenth similar in green shape, bunker configuration and forced carry to the green. You either hit the green or are in the sand, or I suppose native ground among the trees if the shot is really offline. The green does run off into the bunkers in spots, so mind the speed to stay on the table.
The Seventeenth is a 489 yard par 5. The sun was in my eyes on the tee and all I could decipher was my tee shot needed to carry yet another native area to the fairway straight out and it looked like the hole moved left. So I hit my tee shot and as I moved over the bridge of the native stuff, the tree line on the right sheltered my vision from the sun and as I looked on to the fairway and green, I audibly gasped. The bunker wall, with the green on top of the ridge, was extraordinary. There’s no mistaking the similarity to Pine Valley here, as visions of the Second, Seventeenth and Eighteenth approaches danced in my head. Here as a par 5, you have that second shot to set up exactly how you’d like to attack it. Gorgeous intimidation, any approach that’s meek, mild, without valor or simply short will get swallowed up in the bunkers, which instantly complicates the hole tenfold. Face it head on, with conviction and force. There’s a lot more room up there than it appears and even a good amount of room between the top of the mound and the green.
This is the hole that comes to me when I think about Dormie Club. Fascinating and enchanting, the penultimate hole is a crisper, clearer recitation of this course and epitomizes its mission of complementing the Pinehurst design style found elsewhere.
The Eighteenth is a 410 yard par 4. A final forced carry tee shot over lots of native plants, like a bunch of ponytail plants, to a fairway that’s wider than it looks. Sand eventually closes out the first part of the fairway while the sand continues on, dominating a good part of the right side up to the green. A deep green it is, with large bunkers cut below, it basically sets up as a stage for the final scene. Make it a good one.
The back nine features a strong closing and a much more fluid mixture of holes throughout, as well as the best hole on the course. I would rank them 17, 10, 12, 15, 18, 13, 14, 11, 16.
Generally, Dormie Club has lots of magnificence found within its land and it starts with the greens. Those greens follow the contours and arches and rises, most of it subtle yet tectonically developing for millions of years, all of it captured in its artistry. The fairways take the cues from the greens accentuating those contours and seem to float from the tee to the greens. Most tee shots and par 3’s, however, detract from the rest of these bright spots and the harmony in general, yet when taken in the context of the wetlands and a more challenging driving venue, it seems to become more agreeable. While Coore and Crenshaw restored Pinehurst 2, they have always maintained this course has its own identity and while there is a similarity in both relying on native plants, Dormie was always meant to complement Pinehurst with its individuality. While I have my few gripes, the artistry here will not be denied and I appreciate that very much. In rounding out what Pinehurst can offer to the golfer, Dormie Club has quickly become an integral part of that story.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: It was being built when I played but looks to be located behind the Eighteenth and driving range.
Practice area: It was fitting that the driving range features a sloping hillside moving left to right. Get used to it; there is a lot more of it on the course.