Each group of friends has a planner. Ours was John. For years he organized golf trips for a group of four enthusiastic players, some of which go back to childhood. In early 2020, he began orchestrating a long-debated bucket list trip: Six Days in Pinehurst, NC, a world-renowned golf destination that may have more good golf courses within 15 miles, including the legendary Pinehurst No. 2 than anywhere else in the world.
We were originally supposed to go in May and then in early October, but the pandemic forced us to cancel both times. Finally, John postponed our trip to April 2021.
He died in late October.
After some soul searching, we decided to honor his memory by walking. And when the first of our two caddies on the first tee of Pinehurst # 2 introduced himself as John Ross – our friend’s first name was Ross John – it seemed like it should be.
We chose Pinehurst because of another Ross, the famous golf course designer Donald Ross. Ross was born in Scotland and came to Pinehurst in 1900 at the behest of its founder, Boston soda fountain magnate James Walker Tufts. Donald Ross designed the first four courses at Pinehurst Resort, including Pinehurst No. 2, probably the most famous of the 400 or so places he created.
Pinehurst No. 2 has hosted more golf championships than any other American golf course. What makes it special are Ross’ signature crowned greens, or turtleback greens, that block all but the best shots off the putting surface and into collection areas; This can result in diabolical recovery chips or putts on an uphill green that often return to where the previous shot started. I saw that on the first hole. On another, I putt all the way over a green and to the other side.
The historic Carolina Hotel oozes southern charm and is Pinehurst, NC’s flagship hotel. It opened 120 years ago, six years after Pinehurst was founded in 1895.
Nevertheless, the course was a highlight of our vacation. My goal was to play as many top courses as possible in the Pinehurst area and we ended up playing 11 during our six day stay. This part of central North Carolina is known as the Sandhills, a result of ancient sand dunes formed thousands of years ago by the receding oceans. The result is sandy soil ideal for golf courses, one reason why there are more than 40 in the area.
My trip began with a six hour drive from Takoma Park, Maryland to Raleigh-Durham Airport to pick up my high school friend Greg, who arrived on a 1:30 pm flight. My other high school buddy, Steve, arrived at 9:30 am, so Greg and I decided to take an unplanned round of the deceptively challenging Hillandale Golf Course in Durham, NC to pass the time while we were on Steves Flight waited.
Then we drove an hour to the Springhill Suites by Marriott in Pinehurst, our home for the first three nights. (We started our Pinehurst package on day four and stayed in condos near the resort that have five different types of accommodation.) On the first official day of our trip, we played the sister courses Pine Needles and Mid Pines, both run by Ross in. were designed in the 1920s and both were on the list of Golf Digest’s 25 Best Golf Courses in North Carolina. We quickly got a feel for the rest of the week – challenging and very fast greens, lots of sandy fallow areas, long-leaved pines that frame most of the holes and a feeling of being transported back in time, easier. From hitting balls on the pristine driving range of the Pine Needles at 7am to the end of our 36th start.
Tired and hungry, we got our first taste of North Carolina cuisine at Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-BQ, where we ordered coleslaw barbecue sandwiches, baked beans, and honey butter hush puppies.
The next day’s first course, Dormie Club, was supposed to go private just a few days after playing, and we felt like members for the day on the pristine and beautiful square. The same couldn’t be said of our afternoon round. Tobacco Road in nearby Sanford, NC is a course that must be seen and experienced to be believed. Designer Mike Strantz combined his two passions, art and golf to create an extreme, visually striking and intense course that is the exact opposite of the minimalist Ross designs we played on our trip.
Look at the first hole: players have to hit between two artificial hills 12 meters high to reach the fairway. There are more sandy wastelands here than on any course I’ve seen, and with the wind blowing at 25 mph, we literally tasted them too. (Speaking of which, be sure to order the barbecue sandwich at the clubhouse.) This is a course that is going to be very dear to you in one way or another. I’m glad we tried, but glad to get on a more familiar – and level – basis the next day.
Pinehurst’s seventh par 4 No. 2 hole at the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, the most famous layout by Scottish golf course designer Donald Ross.
From there it went on to the Pinehurst Resort. We started with Pinehurst No. 1, the first course built at Pinehurst, and another Ross design before heading out to No. 1 on the afternoon. 9 played, a Jack Nicklaus layout. Both were good seats, but we thought of going to Pinehurst No. the next morning. 2 to play.
Our Pinehurst No. 2 caddies John, who is 80 years old and has been with Pinehurst Caddy since he was 13, and Derek, 25, did a lot more than just carry our bags (carts are not allowed on No. 2) and read our putt. John told us that his first tip at Pinehurst in 1954 was a nickel (Pinehurst Resort recommended that each caddy tip at least $ 40 on top of a $ 65 caddy fee which was money well spent) , and Derek told us about his greatest? Tip was $ 600. “That guy was a fucking unicorn,” he said with a smile.
Despite the fabled challenge of the greens, No. 2 was very playable and none of our foursome lost a ball. One cool feature is that Pinehurst is giving a commemorative coin to anyone who gets a 2 on a hole on No. 2. We got close several times, but we couldn’t.
Immediately thereafter, we relived our # 2 adventure with lunch at Deuce, a casual pub-style eatery with outdoor seating overlooking the 18th green. After lunch, I spent time touring the Pinehurst Resort clubhouse, which resembles a golf museum with a gift shop. The show that caught my attention featured the charismatic Payne Stewart, 1999 US Open winner, who finished in 2nd place.
Stewart, who was killed in a plane crash in October of that year, is larger than life in Pinehurst thanks to the bronze statue of his dramatic fist-pump celebration on the 18th green, 50 yards from this spot.
Greg and I then went to the Cradle, Pinehurst’s nine-hole short course, just steps from the clubhouse. So named because Pinehurst is considered the home or cradle of American golf, the Cradle had a laid-back, laid-back vibe. Music was played in the square and drinks were available from the nearby vintage drinks cart, where a break was requested to sit in Adirondack chairs.
The next morning we again reserved caddies for playing Pinehurst No. 4. Caddy Greg Tew, whom I inquired about in advance on the recommendation of a friend, was friendly, knowledgeable and invariably positive. It was our conversation on the 14th tee – a long par 3 with water in front of and to the left of the green, with the pin on the left – and I will always remember what happened next.
As he handed me my 5-iron, Greg said, “We talked about holes in one, but this is not the place for that.” He said I should hit it right on the hole, my best chance at avoiding the water . I hit my best punch of the day, which started on the right but moved to the left. The ball landed about 10 feet from the cup. Greg burst into a great laugh and punched me as we walked to the green.
That afternoon we played Pinehurst No. 7, the only bad weather we encountered. But we ended our trip on a better note with a Sunday morning lap at Pinehurst No. 8. Known as the Centennial for opening 100 years after Pinehurst was founded in 1895, it deserves its bill as one of Pinehurst’s top three tracks with No. 2 and 4 and is the most underrated.
Our Pinehurst Resort package included breakfast and dinner in different locations. We chose the historic Carolina Hotel, which opened in 1901 and oozes southern charm, to start our day and have dinner at a different restaurant each night. These include the Pinehurst Brewing Co., a converted steam factory with valves and pipes to serve as table legs and lighting, and the Tavern at the Holly Inn, Pinehurst’s oldest hotel, whose antique bar was imported from Scotland. As my friend Steve said, “We used to fuck breakfast and dinner every day.”
It was the golf trip of a lifetime, just as John had planned, and more than once we toasted the memory of our absent friend knowing he would have enjoyed every minute of it.
When you go
Springhill Suites Pinehurst Southern Pines: 10024 US Highway 15/501, Pinehurst, NC; (910) 695-0234
The best thing about this hotel is that it is centrally located with easy access to all of the Pinehurst area golf courses. It also offers take-away options, including fresh fruit, yogurt, breakfast sandwiches, juice, water, and coffee, which are perfect for breakfast before golfing, snacks during your round, and drinking before bed. Prices start at $ 120 per night and vary depending on the time of year.
Pinehurst Resort: 80 Carolina Vista Drive, Pinehurst, NC; (844) 330-1673
Pinehurst Resort offers a variety of golf packages. The most popular is the Donald Ross Package, which includes two nights of accommodation and three rounds of golf on one of the Pinehurst Resort’s nine golf courses, plus breakfast each morning. Note that there is a $ 195 surcharge to play Pinehurst # 2 and does not include caddy fees. Rates start at $ 1,038 per person through September 8th. Prices are highest in autumn and spring and lowest in winter. Rates include cart fee, club storage, unlimited use of golf practice facilities, resort shuttle service, fitness center access, pools, bikes, and afternoon tea. Prices do not include taxes and resort service charge.
Copyright: Special To The Washington Post. Lindsley is a freelance writer.