6,166 yards, 128 slope from the White tees
In Southern Pines and opening in 1924, it was the first private club in Moore County. Donald Ross was involved in selecting the land for the course, which he did because of its rolling nature and its protection from prevailing winds. While Number 2 was crafted for strategy, here there’s more of a demand on ball striking; control of one’s ball in an entire different matter. A more straight forward difficulty, also with its length. Trees were placed carefully to achieve this, setting the tone for future courses like Harbour Town to model after. Despite the changes in ownership over the years, the course remained well preserved because the routing was the same as well almost all of the greens. In 1994, the Mid-Pines Development Company, which included Peggy Kirk Bell, purchased Mid-Pines and began reversing some of the efforts to modernize the course, such as errant place of cart paths, and dramatically improved conditioning. Work on the bunkers also took place throughout the 1990’s.
The restoration of Number 2 grabbed the attention of the entire area. Kyle Franz, a shaper on Coore and Crenshaw’s team for Number 2, realized that the preservation of Mid-Pines meant a restoration at the course could bring things back to Ross’ version; very similar to the Number 2 project. Fairway widening, the wire grass treatment off the fairways and letting other native areas simply do as they pleased. The differences in terrain and soil meant a different technical project than Number 2, especially when it came to dealing with erosion issues on the much hillier site. The bunkers were restored to a more flashing style that Ross favored in the mid 1930’s, which is now one of its more memorable features, both visually and in play. One height mowing was reissued as well, just like it was in the 1930’s. The course re-opened in 2013 to general acclaim. Franz went on to lead Ross restoration projects at Pine Needles, Raleigh Country Club, Minikahda and as touched on in the last review, Southern Pines.
Like Southern Pines, Mid-Pines is set on hilly terrain yet distinguishes itself with more cross ridges and valleys that result in bolder variety and the interaction between sand and grass is fascinating. High ramped bunker lips flow into high contours of greens and fairways while more natural native sandy areas coalesce with fairways and even transition into shaped bunkering in parts. Native areas off fairway are also very much in play, bringing in elements of Number 2 with very little to no rough. The routing is intricate as it winds through the woods and uses the ridges and valleys from brilliant angles. There is certainly more twisting and turning here than at Southern Pines. The greens moved fast, yet stayed within the confines of their contours. Trees are incorporated into the design as well, which is indeed something Ross would do while ensuring proper width.
In all, I loved Mid-Pines. It was rugged and diverse. The diagonal and horizontal nature in which the terrain is used really stood out as fascinating. Instead of playing up and down hills, you played across them. The bunkering was very well done, even as I ended up in plenty of them. The green complexes had the strategic adversity I found at Number 2 with bunkerscapes and short grass contours surrounding them in an array of challenge. Every hole was a new adventure and I caught myself hoping the holes never ran out. Playing with a couple members and getting their insight was fortunate and welcome as well. I loved how it felt out there. No pretension; just a straightforward course where indeed I found myself hooking shots on purpose or fading them to the extent I could because I had to. It’s much more of a driver’s course than it lets on. While the mountain and pine old school charm and a smile lulls you into thinking this will be more of a memory lane stroll than anything else, you need to get off the tee well or it’ll be a long day.
Deep into the trip and starting to feel the effects of eight rounds in four days, a frost delay pushed my tee time a couple hours off. This jeopardized my round at Pine Needles, where I was meeting a friend for my last round in the area later in the day. A bit burned out and trying to enjoy the course while keeping watch of the time, those circumstances couldn’t even keep my adoration of this course in check. It simply means I need to return and properly enjoy the place, as well as play it better, God willing.
A crisp late fall morn, I settled in to my routine and looked out to the forested hills shrouding the brilliance of the holes among them. I swung and journeyed on.
The First is a 365 yard par 4 (from the White tees). The green is out yonder ahead of us, the fairway dropping from the tee then rising up again to it. Majestic pines are on both sides yet with the wide fairways our objective is clear. Take advantage of the downhill, as a precarious approach awaits to an uphill green with bunkers on its sides. The green is deep, one of the deepest on the course, so our work is not done by simply being on the green. Mind the speed from back to front if you need to come back towards the pin in that direction. Advice I could have used myself early on.
The Second is a 162 yard par 3. The tee area is a converging point of several tees and greens, something we see a few times during the round, which shows the genius of the routing using ridges multiple times. This converging point includes the First green, Second tee, Fifth green and Sixth tee. Here, we have a forced carry tee shot over native brush and water off to the left, a nice open entry point that has deep set bunkers on either side of it. There’s room to miss, although any miss off the green will face a tough recovery in one form or another. It’s a stiff par 3 and it was at this point I realized the challenge was on.
The Third is a 386 yard par 4. A forced carry tee shot over the same water we saw as the Second, the fairway cuts off to the right on the other side. Again, I found this to be a tough tee shot, maybe even tougher than anything I remember from Number 2. Carrying the water is fine, but the slightest pull will end up in the tree line on the left while there is more room on the right, it will leave you with a long uphill approach in. It screams for a left to right shot. The tree line remains on that left side, along with sand and pine straw, up to the green. Those flashing deep set bunkers are on either side of the green, with short grass surrounding them, once again making recoveries on to the green a sporting proposition.
The Fourth is a 309 yard par 4. Heading in the same direction, the tilt of the fairway and high grass on the right now seems to strong suggest a right to left ball flight is in order. We continue to head uphill, the long sand strands off on the sides. The green is set off to the right and moves away from the fairway to the right, eventually down the hillside and off the green. While a bump and run may look appropriate for some approaches, bear that movement in mind, as it will take many running shots straight off if not at the proper speed. Same with aerial approaches; they need to account for that movement and those who are some how able to come in more from the right could use it to their advantage. It’s a brilliant par 4 and again, I started realizing this course meant business.
The Fifth is a 458 yard par 5. Running parallel with the First, the loop on this side of the property is almost complete before heading to the interior. Downhill we go, with a some what blind tee shot. The tree line on the right remains rigid, yet we must favor it, as the fairway cants left and down, towards the water we also encountered on the Second and Third. That movement to the water continues at the green, which brings in the ramped up flashing bunker on the right side for the approach. That bunker actually starts at the bottom of the hill, then climbs with the fairway to the green.
The Sixth is a 480 yard par 5. As promised, we head to the interior of the course and another converging point. A gradual downhill from the tee to one of the wider fairways we’ve seen thus far. Things start to get interesting at the second shot, where the bunker positioning leading up to the green confounds our visuals and strategic plotting. There’s more room amongst the bunkers than it appears from the fairway and the broad width is at the golfer’s disposal, so decide on a line and account for the bunkers in view. A wide green awaits, a center bunker at its front with entry points on either side of it. The back to back par 5’s, of different character and shots, is remarkable and the array of options here was fantastic.
The Seventh is a 366 yard par 4. The converging point includes the Sixth green, Seventh tee, Twelfth green, Thirteenth tee, Sixteenth green and Seventeenth tee. That’s seven different holes Ross managed to tie together here. The hole feels like a diagonal traverse over the hills and the tile of the fairway supports that, as the golfer sees the tee shot bound off to the right. Sand and pines are along both sides and on the right, trees encroach, signaling to favor the left despite the pull of the terrain.
The Eighth is a 165 yard par 3. The green is downhill from the tee and stretches off to the side down the hillside. A bunker fronts the wide right side and one begins to wonder where the tee shot must land to stay on the green. A steep entry point looks like a possibility but anything too short there will end up rolling back downhill. I almost like the back of the green but this is one of those holes that must be learned over time. The members I played with went for the left side of the green, past the bunker on that side. I ended up short, then was able to run it up from there.
The Ninth is a 324 yard par 4. A dog leg right around the tree line on that side while the fairway bows in that direction as well. A right to left ball flight off the tee seems like the best idea while that sandy pine straw we’ve come to love is along both sides before the left side becomes a deeper bunker. The green below the fairway with bunkers at the front to complicate things, it’s a demanding shorter par 4 to close out the front nine.
It may not be immediately apparent, but we are at the clubhouse, just on the extreme left side of it.
The front nine expertly navigates the holes and best takes advantage of the hight points and ridges, over and over again. Stern, yet with options, the sequencing felt flawless and there were no weak holes. I would rank them 6, 4, 5, 9, 3, 7, 1, 8, 2.
The back nine starts with the 485 yard par 5 Tenth. Uphill with a right to left cant, the fairway crests a ridge at which point the fairway shifts to downhill and a left to right cant. The green is set to the right and staggered bunkers on the sides short of the green complicate the approach. The second shot should be the opportunity to set up maneuvering about the bunkers and getting on to the green, which moves back to front.
The Eleventh is a 163 yard par 3. Native sand dominate the land short of the green but there is still plenty of short grass short of it and the green itself is quite deep. Bunkers line both sides of the green so it’s better to be short or long than sideways. A reprieve hole at the right time if there ever was one.
The Twelfth is a 360 yard par 4. A dog leg left that follows the terrain as that too moves to the left. Width greets us in spades but the trees try to hide that from us at the tee. A well hit tee shot will dart and fall down and to the left towards the hole, leaving an approach to the green with an entry point revealing itself straight on. A deep green set at an angle awaits us with bunkers on the sides at the front half yet opens up to a short grass collection area surrounding the rear. One should use the movement of the land to achieve a preferred angle into the green, again accounting for its configuration and movement. A terrific hole that encapsulates the joys of the course.
The Thirteenth is a 192 yard par 3. We are at that enormous converging point I mentioned before and thank goodness I was with members who knew the proper path to take, as a multitude of tees shooting in all directions were within races of each other. A bear of a par 3, playing long and longer than you think since it’s uphill. The native sand here, which we learned long ago is a constant and dominant theme throughout, is likewise prominent here, with us from tee to the green on either side. The hole almost looks like a short par 4 with its width leading up to the green and the bunkers on the sides of the green have a stormy appearance to them that I found very cool. The rear left of the green slopes into a short grass area and everything moves fairly strong from right to left. A great par 3, even though I don’t think I fared so well with my score here. And I’m not sure that would improve with another go unless I showed up with the sharpest of wits.
The Fourteenth is a 343 yard par 4. Moving across a new hillside, this one moves left to right for us, with tree lines on both sides. The ball will move in that direction off the tee, so be ready. Bunker placement around the greens amongst the rushing hillside is what is intriguing about this one. Around the short approach area there is one off to the right, perhaps more in play for those longer tee shots. Then there are two just before the green, one to the left and the other almost directly at the center, with short grass running to the green between them. This leaves a wider entry point off to the right, where the green runs freely off into the short grass slope, accommodating the hillside. Then there are two bunkers at the rear, one left and one right at the corners, with short grass sloping away between as well. The effect is a subversive green fraught with areas where the ball will run off and into the unknown, either avoiding the bunkers and down the hillside, or into the bunkers. Only the most carefully placed approaches will doin staying on the green and accounting for the inevitable roll that will take place upon landing. We are now cooking with gas.
The Fifteenth is a 478 yard par 5. At the top of the ridge, we traverse across as the ground below us moves perhaps faster than most other holes right to left. The members suggested I take a photo from the back tees, which is below, where you get a sense of the tree lines and terrain movement at hand. For our tees, the width is much more apparent and an inviting tee shot awaits, where a fairway bunker on the right must be dealt with. Continuing to traverse the ridge, the width remains until the approach, when the fairway gives in to the hillside and turns to the left, dropping downhill for a moment before rising back uphill to the green. A bunker to the right of the green tells us we won’t be able to use the pull of the terrain with reckless abandon. In fact, what it really tells us is that approaching the green from the left side altogether so that we may use the green slope effectively. Another fabulous hole as we near the closing stretch.
The Sixteenth is a 376 yard par 4. We plunge back into the interior valley of the course with the tee shot here, which flies among the tops of the pine before feathering down below in dramatic fashion. The fairway dog legs left around the trees on that side and heads to the green, located at the converging point mentioned prior. Lots of sand and bunkers along both sides leading up to the green but once we reach it, the sand gives way to slopes of grass, which must be handled accordingly for those who find themselves off green. The strong closing continues.
The Seventeenth is a 362 yard par 4. We take the remaining path not yet travelled at the converging point, this one lazily pointing in the direction of the clubhouse. A dog leg right that gets a little narrower than what we’ve grown accustomed to. This brings the sandy native areas on the sides more into the forefront of the golfer’s mind and from the tee, it is evident that a left to right ball flight is needed to take full advantage of the fairway. The green is a bit uphill with bunkers carved in to its sides. The movement of the green is notable here, as it seems to drift from back right to front left, which complicates the approach that will be semi blind. Taking advantage of the slightly raised knoll for the green site here pays off, distinguishing its character from the others.
The Eighteenth is a 392 yard par 4. The clubhouse and hotel framing the green in the background can be seen from the tee and makes this one of the more well known closing holes. There’s still work to be done to close out the round and where the left tree line asserts itself, demanding attention. Favoring the left side from the tee is a fine idea, but going too far that way brings the bunker over there into play and at its worst, the tree line may block your approach. The green is a wide, larger affair, terraced and moves back to front. The pines make way for the open closing scene, where one finishes, admires the hills and evergreen and is able to saunter a few paces to the clubhouse patio. A brilliant routing in all aspects.
The back nine stood out a little more for me, especially the closing stretch that really starts at the Twelfth. I would rank them 15, 16, 13, 10, 14, 12, 18, 17, 11.
Generally, Mid-Pines is a well varied, challenging and versatile course with a rustic presentation and otherworldly routing on endless intriguing terrain that relies on its natural elements superbly. There is strategy yet lots of emphasis on ball striking and getting off the tee the right way. The bunker schemes and native sand areas instill a lot of its character, as well as the trees, which Ross certainly incorporated in many of his well known designs. This is really a prime example of how best to use excellent terrain to conjure the best golf possible and it’s no surprise that Ross hand selected this site. The Ross aura here is strong. The course has a rough hewn feel to it in the best way possible. The sense of place here is evident, a distinct ambiance highlighting the preferred virtues of golf and nature in harmony with one another.
Pro shop/Clubhouse: Part of the hotel, there’s lots of history to explore and the pro shop has a lot of pretty cool stuff to ponder.
Practice area: A driving range off to the other side of the property and a putting green adjacent to the Eighteenth green.