5,155 yards, 123 slope from the White tees

Across from the Cradle and the bustle of the main clubhouse, Number 3 sits with a quiet knowing smirk. While the crowds mainly stick with numbers 2 and 4 and 8, and now the Cradle, number 3 waits for those who seek it out. Those who ignore the urgings of their friends and even the resort booking reps, all trying to steer you to the more popular venues. When those who do so make their way across the road, away from the hoopla, they will find one of the better examples of strategic golf starting at the greens. It does this without a whole lot of length, which is all the more remarkable. The terrain is the way, along with extraordinary shaping, routing and variety.

This is what I came for.

The course was originally designed by Donald Ross in 1910. While it underwent changes over the years, what stands now is very much in Ross style in terms of use of the land, routing strategic concepts and of course, the greens. Design credit remains with him as well. I had heard the greens at number 3 were more interesting, and certainly more difficult than number 4, so I decided to fit in a round here, even at the expense of Southern Pines (which I ended up getting in last minute anyways). Booking a round at 3, however, is no simple matter. It holds tee times for the members of Pinehurst CC and only releases them to resort guests 24 hours in advance. The resort folks told me to book a round at number 8 and then see if I could switch it in that 24 hour window, which is what I did. As I was making my way around Tobacco Road, I was able to switch my tee time to early morning and was told I would have the place to myself. I was having so much fun at TR that I almost forgot to call. And then when I remembered I had to call, I almost decided to forget again because I didn’t feel like going through the motions. Boy am I glad something out there directed me otherwise.

The course features a number of abrupt small hills that are used for green and tee sites, dog legs that vary in severity of turn, bunkers are used creatively amongst sharp mounding and, of course, there are the greens. Slick, rolling with both subtle yet strong large undulations and sharper bold contours, they must be handled with care. It is not enough to hit the green and expect to two putt, or even that your ball will stay on the green. Planning and thought are necessary to use the terrain movement appropriately. A level of finesse is likewise required so as not to overpower the stroke and have the greens promptly dispose of your ball. It’s short game strategy at an advanced level and it reverberates backwards to every other shot on the course. While Ross was one of the best at subtle challenge, it is fairly bold here. What is subtle, however, is the strategy needed to deal with the greens.

Three holes in and I realized an adjustment of my game was sorely needed. Watching balls skirt across the green to fall off the other side, and keep going far far away, hitting sound iron shots only to watch them bounce a couple times before careening off one side or the other; it was time to think things through and address the situation. I like the bump and run around the greens but it was proving to impart too much roll for the greens, unless I nailed the speed perfectly. Not enough speed and the ball would be at my feet again. The first order of business was ignoring the pin altogether. Look at the green as a whole and where the flat areas were, then work the ball there, worry about the pin later. The next order had to do with technique. I used a shit ton of wrist hinge on my chips to get a little bite into them. Much crisper, the impact felt splendid and I started experimenting with my irons. Then the hybrids and so on. Alas, the swing funk of 2020 came to an end here. I ended the round a wiser, more adept golfer than when I hit the opening tee shot. Because the design of the course willed me to it.

I finally managed to find out where Number 3 is (after driving around the neighborhood for 10 minutes blindly following my GPS). You check in at the main clubhouse, then need a cart to drive across the street. As I drove away from the crowds and fanfare, I crossed the road and was met by a starter in a small shack. Parking the cart next to it for the trip back, the course was still and quiet. While I had no idea what was in store the next couple hours, the course did. And it inwardly smirked yet was delighted. For those who seek it out, they shall find it here.

The First is a 283 yard par 4 (from the White tees). A touch of morning fog lingering, I made out the fairway from the tee, which is relatively straight out with bunkers on the left and a menacing tree line on the left. The native scrub areas are there as they please, generally off towards the fairway edges. While there is plenty of room as we get close to the green, a large bunker guards the front right while mounds and contours create a ridge, separating the green on one side while short grass is on the other. The green moves left to right, so those who end up to the left of this ridge will need to negotiate the mounds and the fleeting movement of the green, away from you.

This is the first example of a shorter, thought provoking hole that comprises this course. The green demands a much more precise approach than tee shot, so plotting what approach distance you’re most comfortable with is vital. Hitting driver probably puts a wedge in your hand and maybe that works for you, or puts you in an awkward yardage. Maybe 100 yards is a lot more reliable for you, so think about that here and throughout the round.

The First
Approach shot territory
The green, from the left side

The Second is a 119 yard par 3. Steps away from the First green, the tee shot is some what blinded by the sandy native. The green falls off harshly on the right and also moves that way in general. This is the home of the short par 3’s foaming at he mouth with interest and this is our introduction. The movement of the green and obstructed view off the tee mean an uncompromising faith is needed in the club you decide on off the tee. Keep that faith as the ball is in flight and really hold on to it as the ball lands and starts rolling about.

The Second

The Third is a 346 yard par 4. If we needed any confirmation that this course wants you to think off the tee, I introduce Exhibit A into evidence. I call this a bunker ridge and it stares at us from the tee. Whether you want to try and carry that ridge, go to the left of it or maybe lay up short of it is a personal decision but whatever you do, stay out of it. Spoiler alert, of course I went in. After the ridge, the hole turns to the right, a wide green downhill from us. Large bunkers at the front right and right, the fescue shining like rows of teeth, are unabashed in their swagger. A low running shot can enter the higher left side while most all other approach shots need to carry the bunker and land softly. While the green is wide, it is fairly shallow.

I’ve mentioned this in a few places already but it bears elaborating on here. Golf is a series of peaks, valleys, heartache, triumph, as well as, revelation and turning points. It’s inherent in the journey, the game is organic and volatile, fleeting and fickle. Those low points end up making us inflect and search, maybe even question what we always assumed were fundamental truths. Yet coming out out of it and once behind us, only then can we appreciate that as part of the journey, and how it’s some times needed or, naturally part of the whole thing. Last season was indeed one of the low points. Rounds where I forgot how to swing the club, then would find it again, only for it to drastically disappear again. Consistency became a comical concept and stepping on to the First tee, it was always a spinning wheel of chance what would happen the next couple of hours.

And then, off the green of this hole, all that strife shattered and faded. The planets aligned and I saw the way. The much crisper chip on this green was a bolt of lightning for me and I walked to the Fourth tee, a knowing smirk likely similar to the one this course held for its players. Looking back at the cavernous valley I finally climbed out of, I nodded. A sign of appreciation for its place and role in my experience with this wonderful, God forsaken, game. And with that, I moved on.

The Third
A close up of the fairway ridge bunker
Approach shot territory
To the right of this green is where the a-ha moment happened

The Fourth is a 151 yard par 3. A forced carry over water to a raised green, bunkers draped on the right and a short grass run off on the left. While wide, it’s shallow just like the Third so distance control and which quadrant of the green you land on/aim for is critical.

The Fourth

The Fifth is a 296 yard par 4. All we see from the tee is a hill that we must hit over. The tree line on the right cues us to the angle on that side while the scrubby left side can be carried, yet it’s hard to tell what lies on the other side of the hill. You hit and hope and try to see a live of a bounce or two before the ball hurls itself out of view. Cresting the ridge, the fairway widens and the green is off to the right, below. The further left you are on the approach, the better angle in and the more of the the entry point available to you. The green moves; darts really; from back to front. The approach will be touchy from just about any where and again, it’s all in how it is set up from the tee. Bombing away from the tee may mean a downhill lie that needs to get up in a hurry. Yet long hitters may be able to get it all the way down the hill to the left, leaving a nice wedge in with the green at their disposal. Some may prefer to top of the crest, where they enjoy a flat lie and a drop shot approach. There is something to say for the height of that shot, coming in, landing and staying put.

The Fifth
Approach shot territory
Looking back

The Sixth is a 166 yard par 3. A twisted rift runs between two hillsides where the next few holes run. Here, the tee shot is at the floor of this rift to the green that’s perched on the hillside to the left, with a large bunker guarding the front left. There’s plenty of room to miss off to the right, where the entry point to the green is open, but you’ll get movement away from the green. Figuring out how far left you need to aim off the tee to account for that movement and carry that bunker, is key. A really cool par 3.

The Sixth

The Seventh is a 327 yard par 4. A double dog leg that I forgot to photo from the tee, but you start on that rift floor yet again just to the right of the Sixth green. The fairway turns right before curling left to the green. I ended up flailing my approach off to the right. I went to find it and it was literally a few feet into someone’s backyard. There was a sign to the effect of if I came into the yard, I would trespassing and therefore “shot.” I remember seeing this sign when I watched the NLU video of this course, and even though it would have been a few steps in and no one would have even knew, I thought better of it. No reason to risk getting shot for a golf ball.

This green is devious. Almost set up like a Redan where all the movement is to the bunkers on the left and below. It seems like the further left you are is the better line into the green. Yeah you bring the bunkers into play, but that line takes the most advantage of the furious movement of the green. The further right you are, the higher up you are on the green and the more precarious you need to be in approaching the green speed. A very very cool hole.

The Seventh
Approach shot territory
Looking back, from the back right

The Eighth is a 111 yard par 3. A shorter par 3 that feels like a bit of a reprieve for the first time since the Second. Water is off to the left and while the hillside blocks a view of the green partially, it’s pretty large yet more subtle in its undulations.

The Eighth

The Ninth is a 327 yard par 4. Sandy scrub dominates the first part of the hole, demanding attention. Pre-Third hole old me would take driver out and swing for the fences, consequences be damned. I’d either carry it or not and if not, I’d then lash away in the bunker, hoping for a miracle shot bounding for the pin. But the new, Post Third hole me is wiser, sage in a maturity that knows better. Hit a more reliable club short of and to the left of the scrub and settle for a longer approach. Take the risk out of the hole to deal with the true culprit, the green. The course of time (less than an hour) really has done wonders. The fairway dog legs right around the scrub and climbs up to the green, which hides its tee roll off the rear very well. Another solid short par 4.

The Ninth
Approach shot territory
A look at the homes
The green

The front nine is a wonderful array of par 3’s and short par 4’s that attack the golfer’s arsenal of skills in different ways, but mainly with the short game. Decisions are at every shot, with the sudden shifty terrain used adroitly. I’d rank them 3, 7, 5, 9, 4, 6, 1, 8, 2.

The back nine starts with the 338 yard par 4 Tenth. The hillside comes in from the right while some of the native intrudes on the left, enough to need an effective tee strategy. After that native area, the fairway opens up and climbs uphill to the green. The left side pulls down steeply, but other than that, the contours and undulations are what remains for the character near and on the green.

The Tenth
Approach shot territory
Looking back

The Eleventh is a 502 yard par 5. The first par 5 on the course is a big old dog leg right. Lots of sand to contend with on the right side up to the turn so staying left is safe, but makes the hole a bit longer. That may not matter since the fairway starts moving downhill after the turn to the green. The green has an amphitheater feel to it, the hillside around it on the left and rear with all kinds of bunkers around the rear as well. The right side is open and serves as a good area to miss the approach.

The Eleventh
Moving down the fairway
The green in distant view
Approach shot territory

The Twelfth is a 196 yard par 3. An uphill par 3, the large bunker on the left grabs your attention while those that try to hedge to the right may find their ball pulled into the native scrub area over there. A lot of the green is also blind from the tee based on the hill and it also plays a little longer than the stated yardage. It’s a stern challenge of a hole, the course assuring you here and now that despite its shorter overall length, you’re still going to be tested thoroughly.

The Twelfth
Looking back

The Thirteenth is a 423 yard par 5. Yeah you read that right, a par 5, with that distance. A dog leg left, the tee shot is above the hole, so either getting the tee shot to turn with the fairway or getting it to stop before the fairway runs out is key. After the turn, we go a bit uphill to the green, a series of bunkers on varying sides leading up to it. A well hit tee shot means yo almost have an extra shot to play with, so whether you want to go for the green in two or lay up to a particular distance, it’s all up to you. The green is large, running from back to front. It’s a great green site and approach.

The Thirteenth
Moving up the fairway
Approach shot territory
Looking back from the green

The Fourteenth is a 191 yard par 3. While long, there’s plenty of room to run the ball on short with bunkers on either side, the right one more prominent from the tee. The run off on the rear is worth noting but otherwise, this hole serves as a nice refuge from what came before and the closing sequence.

The Fourteenth

The Fifteenth is a 328 yard par 4. A shorter slight dog leg right with sand coming from the right, again having you think your way off the tee in managing it. Whether you carry that sand for a shorter approach or vie for the left side around it, the approach is there for the taking. The fairway leads right into the pushed up green, which falls off on all sides. Simple design, hazard placement and green shaping leading to an treasure trove of interest.

The Fifteenth
From the right side
Off green from the right side

The Sixteenth is a 319 yard par 4. The green is a ways up hill and off to the right. The sand here is bolder, encroaching more and present all over. A shorter tee shot could be more reliable to get into the fairway, but that leaves a much longer approach that is more uphill. Challenging the hazards with driver could pay off with a shorter approach, which is preferable here. Sand is every where closer to the green but the right rear falls off into the abyss. My approach went left and above the green and once I got up there, I realized the Cradle and Cricket grounds were right across the street. A train was also lingering about, all of it leading to a pretty cool scene of Pinehurst. The golfers, the Cricket players in all white, others milling about in leisure as the train made its quiet departure into the horizon of the sand hills. So I took that in then took a thousand strokes dealing with this green, which seemed to revel in torturing me.

The Sixteenth
Approach shot territory
Further up the hill

The Seventeenth is a 346 yard par 4. The tee shot heads straight, a bit narrow than we’ve grown accustomed. There’s more room after the fairway bunker on the right if you want to gamble with the unseen from the tee. After the right turn, the green appears below us. Lots of room to play with before it, yet a bunker off to the right and native scrub to the left. Just as the green of the hole prior killed me, it all came back with the approach here, to a few feet. Golf taketh and giveth back.

The Seventeenth
Approach shot territory
The area short of the green

The Eighteenth is a 386 yard par 4. Straightaway and uphill, traces of the uphill finishes of the 2 and 4 course were in the air, but just a little. Hitting the fairway is more important than how far you get out with trees on both sides and that leads to a nice clear approach with bunkers off to the sides and short of the green.

The morning gave way to a vibrant sun and the course was enjoying more and more visitors as it all began to wake. I stepped through some imaginary portal out there and all the strife of the season made sense, yet was now distant. I was suddenly unaffected by it and walking off the final green, knew it was time to move on to higher ground.

The Eighteenth
Approach shot territory
The green

The back nine brings a couple par 5’s into the mix while the focus is on an eclectic mix of par 4’s set on hillier terrain than the front. Almost 1000 yards longer as well, play is stretched yet remains strategic. I would rank them 16, 11, 12, 13, 10, 18, 15, 17, 14.

Generally, Pinehurst 3 is a wonderfully challenging strategic course with memorably tough greens. Even longer hitters will need to contend with the strategy presented and for me, it meant being a lot more mindful around the green. Studying the greens for their ridge lines and flat spots, then using those as cues where to get the ball while some time out right ignoring the pin altogether was the type of fun I was hoping for on this trip. While I have heard members grouse at how much more difficult the course now is after all the work it went through, I felt it really brought forth the best golf the land has. I had the course to myself, finished in a relaxed brisk pace and was back at the hotel to relax a bit before lunch. For some where a little off the beaten path (but not much) that showcases a set of greens worth experience and a wealth of strategy, all of which I found to be a fitting primer for my round at Pinehurst 2, the 3 course is highly suggested. It ended up being one of the high points of the trip.

Clubhouse/Pro Shop/Practice Area: While some course have their own clubhouse and facilities, Number 3 does not, so the main clubhouse and practice area are where to go for all that.