By Art Stricklin
The Pinehurst Golf Resort has been in place in the rolling and wooded South Carolina Sand Hills, ever since James Walker Tufts came down from the snowy and cold Northeast and decided this tranquil and scenic area would make a fine place for relaxation and recreation in 1895.
Then along comes Donald Ross who teamed with Tufts to make sure that recreation included golf, lots and lots of world class golf. Since then the resort with links history as the self-styled Capital of American Golf has hosted a Ryder Cup, multiple U.S. Opens for men and women, a Tour Championship plus tens of thousands of rounds for amateur golfers of all shapes and sizes and skill levels.
But even the most tradition-bound resort, of which Pinehurst certainly qualifies, must change with the times and this latest version of Pinehurst mainly crafted by owner Robert Dedman, Jr., President Tom Pashley and architect Gil Hanse have done quite well on that front as well.
Change within the unchanging, polishing the jewel, fun with tradition, whatever saying you want to use, Pinehurst is as alive and inviting, new and fun, as it’s ever been in its century-plus history.
To look at a roadmap for its resort wide fun restoration, Pinehurst looked to large public resorts like Bandon Dunes on the Coast of Oregon and Sand Valley in Central Wisconsin.
While both places lack the history, tradition and grandeur of Pinehurst, they make sure their guests have plenty of fun with their golf and can’t wait to return for more of the same.
The first step in the process at Pinehurst actually happened five years ago when Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore were hired to restore the famed No. 2 Course to the original Donald Ross design. One of the major steps was to rip out dozens of acres of turf and replace it with sand and wire grass which Ross had originally designed when he first opened the course in 1907.
“When we first got the opportunity to work on the No. 2 course, it was very nerve wracking, like a sacred trust, but we got a call that somebody had some old photographs of the original design and we were able to restore a lot of the course original to the Ross landscape,” Crenshaw said.
Not only did the absence of grass save the resort thousands of dollars in water bills, but it greatly reduced the number of lost balls, the number one complaint among amateur golfers.
The Fun Golf Movement at Pinehurst was officially on.
Another huge step forward took place with the opening in the fall of 2017 of The Cradle. Located on the original land for the Pinehurst No. 1 layout, it was the first short course, par 3 in Pinehurst history.
The new nine short holes add up to 789 yards with the holes ranging from 60 to 120 yards, complete with the small sand bunkers, wire grass and saucer-like greens, which made the adjacent No. 2 Course one of the most famous in the world and a multiple US Open site.
“Our goal wasn’t shot values or extensive routing, but just creating a fun course and I think we did that, “said Olympic Golf Designer Gil Hanse, who was chosen as the architect of The Cradle. He added it was an honor to add the first-ever, on-site short course at Pinehurst.
“My partners and I were honored to design this course at Pinehurst. To work at the same facility as (architects) Donald Ross, Tom Fazio, Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore and so many others was a great pleasure.”
Ross, who designed the No. 2 course and many others in the area and lived here for nearly 40 years, is at least partially responsible for The Cradle’s Pinehurst location.
Shortly after Tufts hired Ross to oversee the golf creation at Pinehurst, Ross ordered the original holes, where The Cradle now sits, plowed up saying it was not worthy of a championship design. He then went on to design other courses in the resort and area and helped it became the so-called American golf capital it is today.
With the extensive renovations to the No. 4 course which Hanse oversaw along with some changes to courses No. 1 and 3, the compact, 10-acre, and hilly piece of land was available for Hanse and his crew. They arrived to create something the golf resort lacked, another chance to soak up the green grass pleasures of the iconic property.
The price for The Cradle is just $50 for resort guests and includes all day play while Pinehurst country club members pay various levels of lesser fees.
The first couple of holes start fairly simply with the first a slightly downhill 90-yard shot with plenty of room for jeering or cheering golf buddies or other Pinehurst golfers to watch.
The holes get steadily harder in challenge with the par 3 9th one of the longest at 103 yards with the trademark sandy and scrubby wire grass all along the left side.
To take the sting out of any challenges from The Cradle, the resort parked a wood paneled vintage drink cart adjacent behind the 8th green to the course where drinks of all varieties and potency will be freely available and dispensed.
The goal is long lasting fun, good-natured ribbing and possibly lots of aces and recovery shots at Pinehurst.
But still not satisfied with the fun factor, Pinehurst brought back Hanse for its most daring redo yet. They took over the Pinehurst No. 4 layout which had been designed by Tom Fazio and brought in a more original Pinehurst look, totally overhauling the course to bring in more huge bunkers, wire grass and sand dunes.
While the look is similar to No. 2, Hanse said there are some important differences as well.
“There are some greens that are squared off, a tribute to the old school, as well as bunkers 30-40 yards short of greens,” says Hanse. “There are a couple greens that are reminiscent of No. 2, but the greens on No. 4 have their own character and strategy.
“The highest compliment we received was from Bill Coore; he was very impressed with how we managed the material onsite,” Hanse says. “And our ability to re-establish a landscape that looked like it had been there forever.”
There is the same huge lake that was present when Fazio first did the No. 4 course and a much more dramatic landscape.
“It is a companion in the landscape, but it is not a tribute in the features,” Hanse added. “The greens are different, the approaches are different and we wanted to take advantage of the landforms, which are much more dramatic than those on No. 2.”
To make sure he got the right inspiration for the project, Hanse lived in the former Donald Ross house which borders the No. 2 course, a destination he called one of the great thrills of his life.
Of course, the fun was not totally done yet. A huge new Putting Course, the Thistle Dhu, was added behind the main clubhouse, featuring 18 holes of various slopes and variety to settle any on course bets or sharpen your short game for another Pinehurst golfing test.
The name itself has a fun story. One of the original miniature golf courses In America was built at Pinehurst in 1916 and upon seeing the course for the first time, original short course designer James Barber was reported to have said, “This’ll Do.”
Of course the final step in the fun makeover at Pinehurst had to involve some food and drink. The Pinehurst Brewing Company, a new age sports bar theme made to look old, occupies the original spot for the steam plant which powered the village in 1895, just behind the Manor Inn.
Today it’s crowded with flat screen TVs lining the walls along with old pictures of the steam plant and a working brewery where Pinehurst brews are pumped out fresh daily.
Of course, Pinehurst has made sure all of that fun doesn’t crowd out what made the resort special for 100 years. Walking the historic No. 2 course with a caddy, listing to the bells chime at the nearby Methodist church, and thinking about the greats who have walked the very same path remains one of the great thrills in golf.
The traditional and overflowing Southern Breakfast Buffet at the century-old Carolina Hotel should never be missed for any reason and the adjacent Village of Pinehurst is a cool walk for anybody who embraces the golf loving lifestyle.
History, fun, tradition and memories. Pinehurst, still the spiritual Capital of American Golf, now has them all and visiting golfers are that much the richer for the new experience.