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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Pinehurst - America's Golf Town Gets Better and Better

I have just returned from a glorious four days in Pinehurst, North Carolina. It’s a straightforward drive down from DC, especially in the Covid-19 times with considerably less traffic on the roads, especially around the beltway (oh, and my brother in law was driving too)! From the north it’s less than five hours to the Mike Strantz gem, Tobacco Road.

We stayed at the Pine Crest Inn in the village, as we often do, but it is beginning to show signs of its age and needs some serious TLC in the rooms and public areas. We love the history of the place (the Ross family owned and operated it for decades) and the staff are terrific, but with so many other good options in the town owned by the Resort for only $50 more a night, we may choose another hotel on our next visit.

Day One - Tobacco Road

Golf, pure, crazy golf! This is the late Mike Stranz’s gift to the world of golf. If you haven’t played Tobacco Road, you have missed something very special. I would throw out one caveat - you need to be able to play a reasonable game or you will shoot 150! My advice is not to keep score, simply enjoy the view, the sheer audacity of what he pulled off and the trust the owner had in allowing this course to get built. It is truly like nothing you have ever played, or will play. From the opening tee shot through two huge hills, with ball spotter perched precariously on the right hill, to the blind tee shot on 18 it is sensory overload. And so much fun! Forget the scorecard, this is a matchplay golf course and makes no apologies for that. Go. Enjoy! I recommend playing Tobacco on the way to Pinehurst or as your final course on the way home as it is a 30 minute drive from the village of Pinehurst.

Day Two - The Cradle and Thistle Dhu at Pinehurst Resort

Just outside the clubhouse are two magnificent additions to Pinehurst Resort. The first you’ll likely encounter is a HUGE putting green, Thistle Dhu. For those who have played The Himalayas Putting Course at St. Andrews, you’ll notice some similarities. It’s impossible to play without a huge smile on your face. You can play the 18 holes as laid out by the superintendent or simply choose a hole 30 to 100 feet away and go for it. Three putts is quite an accomplishment on many holes! This is not the place to work on your stroke - it’s a place for a beer and a great time. The Pinehurst mascot, Putter Boy, is situated in the middle of the green overseeing the action. Thistle Dhu is an inspirational idea that more and more clubs and resorts would do well to copy.

Next up, grab a wedge or two and your putter and wander down to the starters hut for The Cradle. We were informed by the delightful starter there had been 500 holes in one around the short course, but sadly we didn’t add to the number. Designed by Gil Hanse, the short holes vary in length from about 50 yards to 110 yards. Several allow the option of using a putter off the tee, which I did to great effect. There was an eightsome a few holes ahead of us and groups of kids, groups of mums - golfers and non golfers having fun - isn’t that what we are all here for?! It’s a wonderful innovation and what’s better than making a few twos on the scorecard.

Day Two - Number 2

Designed by the legendary Donald Ross in 1907, Number 2 is a must play course on any trip to the Pinehurst area. You’ll get more out of it if you can play a bit, for sure, but even if you can’t, enjoy the subtlety of Mr. Ross’ work and also marvel at the 2010 restoration by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. The greens that seem like upturned saucers are tough to hit and sometimes tougher to read. The course is an absolute joy to play with short walks from greens to tees, variety of short holes, glorious par fives and degree of difficulty that can “go to eleven” when the greens get quick. The next time we see that will be the U.S. Open, scheduled for 2024.

Day Three - Pine Needles

About 10 minutes from the village of Pinehurst is the magical combo of Pine Needles and Mid Pines. On opposite sides of the road, but sharing similar topography, both are designed by Donald Ross, with restorations by the skilled architect Kyle Franz. Kyle’s pedigree is first class, having worked with Tom Doak, Coore & Crenshaw and Gil Hanse. His own work here at “Pine” and “Mid” is exceptional. From the uphill opening par five to the sweeping downhill par four Pine Needles is a joyful experience.


I last played Mid Pines prior to Kyle’s 2013 renovation and his injection of drama to the golf course is extraordinary. He has breathed life into the par fives by opening up the vistas and the set of par threes match up to anything in the country. For the first time ever I played using a golf scooter - a fun way to zoom around the course. Your clubs rest on the handlebars and we were encouraged to drive everywhere except the greens. The renovation at Mid Pines has, quite rightly, put it back in the “Top 100 courses you can play.” I highly recommend you take the short drive to this Ross/Franz gem.

The owners of Pine Needles and Mid Pines recently announced their purchase of another Ross gem, Southern Pines, a course that has fallen from grace after year of neglect. Sounds like a good reason to revisit!

So, there you have it, three nights, four days and five courses. My favorite golf town in America, Pinehurst. 

PS - Whilst you are there, stop off at the newly opened Pinehurst Brewing Co. The food was great, the beer plentiful and it’s a short walk from any hotel in the village.