Pinehurst Resort the Perfect Port
in Any Golfer’s Storm

By Steve Donahue

Pinehurst Resort’s atmosphere is electric. Really.

The resort has eight numerically monikered 18-hole courses.  It all starts with historic No. 2, originally designed by legendary course architect Donald Ross.

That might seem an odd take on a North Carolina golf resort renowned for its laid-back southern charm, where guests are transported to a simpler time and stress melts away.

Follow tree-lined Carolina Vista Drive to the 112-year-old Carolina hotel’s front door to check in.

Thing is, I’m talking about an honest-to-goodness electric atmosphere — as in lightning. I’ve visited the Pinehurst three separate times over a 17-year span — and stayed at the prestigious Pinehurst Resort twice, including August 2013 — and have experienced lightning delays during all three visits. Full disclosure — I’m not a storm chaser nor huge fan of thunderstorms. I am, however, an ardent admirer of Pinehurst who will gladly sprint for cover (imagine a panicked Sasquatch in shorts with a bag of clanging golf clubs bouncing off his shoulder) a few times in order to stay and play at one of the world’s finest golf meccas.

Occasional storms aside (apparently I’ve just been unlucky; I’ve been assured the area isn’t normally a lightning magnet), if you can’t relax at Pinehurst there’s no hope for y’all. It all starts when you enter the quaint, pines-engulfed Village of Pinehurst (designed by landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted, who created New York City’s Central Park), then follow tree-lined Carolina Vista Drive to the 112-year-old Carolina hotel’s front door to check in. You’ll notice the elegant “Queen of the South’s” famous copper cupola and guests occupying the sweeping verandas’ rocking chairs and Ryder Cup Lounge’s outdoor tables.

Inside, the welcoming Carolina has 230 newly renovated, Four-Diamond guest rooms, including suites. If there’s no room at the inn, so to speak, don’t despair. The resort offers other wonderful accommodations options — The Holly, Pinehurst’s first inn (1895), whose 82 guest rooms were completely renovated in 1999 and its AAA Four-Diamond 1895 Grille is outstanding; The Manor (1923), featuring 42 newly renovated guest rooms; 11 four-bedroom villas; and 30 two- and three-bedroom condominiums. The villas and condos are perfect choices for golf buddy groups and, let’s face it, golf is what Pinehurst is all about.

The resort has eight numerically monikered 18-hole courses, but it all starts with historic No. 2, originally designed by legendary course architect Donald Ross (hired in 1900 as Pinehurst’s golf professional), who also crafted Nos. 3 and 4, and redesigned No. 1. In 2011, a total restoration of No. 2 was completed by the course architect team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.

No. 2 has hosted two U.S. Opens (1999 and 2005), the 1936 PGA Championship, 1951 Ryder Cup Matches, two PGA Tour Championships, one U.S. Senior Open, two U.S. Amateurs and, in June 2014, will host its third U.S. Open and first U.S. Women’s Open in consecutive weeks. Warning — my 1996 and 2013 visits were also in June, so hopefully thunderstorms won’t affect next year’s championship fortnight, when a completely different looking No. 2 will be officially unveiled to a worldwide audience which remembers the course as wall-to-wall green, with diabolical crowned, undulating putting surfaces and green complexes serving as stout defense to the world’s top players.

 No. 2 is now classic
golf at its finest.

That course is history. No. 2’s year-long, $2.5-million Coore/Crenshaw project restored the layout to Ross’ original 1907 design (based on 1940s aerial images), reopening to high acclaim in March 2011. The main change was the removal of all rough — about 35 acres of turf — and the reintroduction of natural sand/hardpan areas, natural bunker edges and 100,000 native wire-grass plants to instead corral wayward shots. Almost 700 sprinkler heads were removed, leaving about 450 operating heads along the single, center water irrigation line that defines fairways, but leaves other areas to Mother Nature’s devices.

The firmer, faster fairways’ widths were increased by about 50 percent on average (though the natural rough is being grown in to narrow the fairways by 2014’s double Opens); the course’s U.S. Open tee length was stretched to 7,485 yards (it measures 6,930 yards from the blues); greens were sodded with A1/A4 bent to better tolerate the southern summer heat; bunkers were either restored, eliminated or reshaped; and minor tweaks were made to the 15th and 17th greens to regain lost pin placements.

Pinehurst No. 2 course, hole #17.

No. 2 is now classic golf at its finest. During my 1996 stay, the course was closed for maintenance, but I walked several holes and, quite frankly, found the course aesthetically similar to dozens of other courses I had played, aside from the wild green complexes. In other words, I wasn’t exactly wowed on that first casual date.

Fast-forward to 2013, two years post-renovation. Consider me impressed with the second date with No. 2. Very impressed. No. 2 has become an absolute gem and deserving of its No. 40 spot on Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses 2013-2014” ranking and No. 7 place on the publication’s “America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses 2013-2014” ranking.

My caddie, Sean, expertly guided me around historic No. 2, starting with a dash to a pine-covered shelter to the right of the first fairway when a five-minute-long torrential downpour (sans lightning) struck as we approached the green. He also led the way on our shortcut-sprint from the 10th fairway across several holes and through pine forest to the Pinehurst Golf Academy building for a 45-minute respite from a sudden monsoon-accompanied thunderstorm.

Earlier that morning I tackled the resort’s superb No. 4, Tom Fazio’s 7,117-yard, par-72 creation that is not a remodel of Ross’ original — it’s a completely new course that debuted in 2000 on the old No. 4’s site. The new layout — tabbed “Tom Fazio’s Tribute to Pinehurst” — pays homage to Pinehurst’s tradition and ambience with strategic holes, crowned putting surfaces and soft-yet-bold contouring. Fazio, as an ode to Ross’ Scottish homeland, peppered No. 4 with clusters of small pot bunkers — 180 all told.

No. 4, like No. 2, has 18 unique holes, which might be a big reason why it’s No. 44 on Golf Digest’s current “America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses 2013-2014” list. There are no tricks, everything is right in front of you. My Cape Cod, Mass.-based playing companions — John, Chris and Griffith — loved No. 4 as much as I did.

The 402-yard, dogleg-right opening hole provides a trademark introduction to the course with a large waste bunker left of the fairway and five pot bunkers clustered in the rough just right of the tee-shot landing area. Three holes feature massive waste bunkers that come into play on every shot — Nos. 7 (down the hole’s entire right side), 12 (the entire left side) and 18 (left of the tee extending down the fairway, across the fairway, stretching to the right side of, then behind, the green).

The par 3s — the 197-yard fourth, 182-yard sixth, 210-yard 12th and 229-yard 14th — are all strong. We all made par on the spectacular signature fourth, which necessitates a downhill tee shot to a shallow, 120-foot-wide green guarded by water front and right. I guarantee there aren’t too many groups in which everyone hits that green in regulation and walks off with par. Water also plays a key role down the left sides of the picturesque 510-yard 13th and above-mentioned 14th holes.

No. 8 — a Fazio layout that opened in 1996 — is ranked 57th on Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses 2013-2014” list. I hoped to play the 7,092-yard, par-72 No. 8 during my 2013 visit, but its, and the No. 3 course’s, putting surfaces were closed while converting to ultradwarf Bermuda grass, a more durable, smoother surface during hot Pinehurst summers and faster year-round. No. 2’s greens will be converted to the same strain immediately following 2014’s double U.S. Opens.

Meanwhile, the Rees Jones-designed No. 7 was the site of my original Pinehurst brush with lightning in ’96. The 7,216-yard, par-72 course opened a decade earlier as perhaps Pinehurst’s boldest, most-dramatic layout, with a number of elevated tee shots and uphill approaches into large, undulating greens. Wetlands come into play, perhaps most memorably on the 394-yard seventh hole. Our foursome was chased off the course by a huge thunderstorm after hitting our second shots on the 525-yard 12th hole. After the all-clear signal was issued about an hour later, we returned to the 12th fairway and discovered our balls had been pilfered. When it rains it pours, I guess.

Pinehurst serves some outstanding and delicious dishes.

Unfortunately, during my recent visit I didn’t have an opportunity to enjoy one of the more than 50 treatments at the 31,000-square-foot Spa at Pinehurst, but I became a huge fan of the resort’s dining offerings. Those who enjoy Southern gentility atmosphere will love the Carolina’s elegant namesake dining room, where a popular buffet breakfast and dinner are served. But because I finished golf late both days, I opted for the Carolina’s more casual Ryder Cup Lounge, where no reservations are needed and the dress code is resort casual. There are also eight beers are on tap, quite a selling feature to a thirsty golfer. I savored every tapped brewski — some multiple times (over the two days, just for the record) — as well as my entrees. The first night I had Jumbo Lump Crab Cake Sliders and a Pinehurst Bean Soup (“Kettle cooked with smoked ham hocks, northern white beans & tomato”) appetizer. Night Two was a Barbecue Pork Sandwich accompanied by a Deviled Eggs starter (“Wilma’s secret recipe, pimento cheese, truffle oil & baby greens”).

I also had an outstanding late lunch at the 91st Hole restaurant, at the main golf clubhouse, which services course Nos. 1 through 5. My giant Reuben Sandwich, accompanied by a bowl of Pinehurst Three-Bean Chili, was topped off with an outrageous Iron Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie Sundae dessert.

Needless to say golf balls, not weight, were all I lost at Pinehurst Resort.

Next time I stay at Pinehurst I will dine at The Holly’s two fine eateries — The 1895 Grille (an upscale AAA Four-Diamond restaurant featuring fresh seafood and Carolina-inspired cuisine) and The Tavern (an authentic recreation of a 19th-century Scottish pub), even if I again bunk at the Carolina. Or maybe I’ll spread my wings and stay at The Holly. Decisions, decisions.

You know, it really doesn’t matter. Regardless where you lay your head at the resort, it doesn’t get any better than a trip to Pinehurst. Just keep your fingers crossed that I’m not in town during your stay and Mother Nature is in a good mood. 

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Steve Donahue is a veteran freelance writer and editor who has played nearly 900 golf courses in all 50 states and 10 countries. He is based in Watertown, Conn. He can be reached at steve.donahuecomm@gmail.com.


FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Pinehurst Resort
80 Carolina Vista Drive
Village of Pinehurst, NC 28374
855-235-8507
www.pinehurst.com