Golf Course Travel Destination: Pinehurst Resort in Pinehurst, NC

One of America’s oldest golf resorts brings its past into the future — and knocks our socks off



When Peter Allen wrote “Everything Old Is New Again,” he could have easily been talking about Pinehurst Resort, where the recent restyling of famed Pinehurst No. 2 has breathed new life into the venerable North Carolina must-visit golf destination. Today, you won’t find men playing golf in ties and top hats, nor many women wearing bustles and shoes with a dozen buttons, but you will be able to play a unique and exciting golf course, much the way it was originally envisioned. And the experience will delight you.

You’ll also find an enchanting village with a host of amenities and activities ranging from stellar restaurants to lawn bowling, croquet, and horseback riding; tours of historic homes; and a festival of some sort nearly every weekend. But golf is the main attraction. The Pinehurst Resort is home to not just one course, but eight, each one distinct and providing golf fun for players of every level. If those eight aren’t enough to scratch your golf itch, there are dozens and dozens of other courses within easy driving distance.

The big draw, though, is Pinehurst No. 2, fabled for its turtle-back greens and as the site of countless championship tournaments, including two U.S. Opens (1999 and 2005), the PGA Championship (1936), and the Ryder Cup (1951). Walking the same fairways trod by Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Payne Stewart, and other luminaries of the game adds a whole other dimension to your round on No. 2. In 2014, today’s stars will light up the course as it sets another record, becoming the first venue to host both the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women’s Open Championships within a week of each other.

payne stewart memorialPayne Stewart memorial near No. 2’s 18th green

The course the pros tackle will be completely different from the one where Payne Stewart punctuated his win of the U.S. Open in 1999 with an iconic fist pump that’s memorialized by a statue overlooking the 18th green. Today’s No. 2 has been restored so that it plays the way Donald Ross intended in the mid-1930s. Architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw (who also managed the rebuild of Wykagyl Country Club in New Rochelle) took a long hard look at photographs of the course from that era. They discovered that the modern course, with its lush fairways; even lusher Bermuda grass roughs; and sharply-defined bunkers, greens, and tees, was nothing like Ross’s original design. The duo kept the routing and the basic green contours, but changed — for the better — just about everything else.

There is no more rough on Pinehurst No. 2, but before you start celebrating, take a close look at what replaced the 35 acres of thick but boring grass off the fairways. Now you’ll find sand, pine needles, hardpan, and hundreds of thousands of wiregrass plants, spiky tufts of toughness that will eat your errant ball and maybe even the club you used to hit it. Bunkers that had been covered by turf over the years were reclaimed, while some of the existing ones were tugged further into the fairways to squeeze landing areas and torment those who dare challenge the layout. The characteristic Pinehurst No. 2 greens were restored to profiles that more naturally tie into the surrounding grades, although they remain distinctly turtle-backed and can be devilishly cruel. The result: there’s simply more to deal with on every shot.

The course not only plays differently, it looks different, too. The number of sprinkler heads was cut by more than half so that water reaches only the center of the fairways, which in turn blend into the sandy soil the way nature (and Donald Ross) originally intended. Tee areas, fairways, and even the aprons around the green are all mowed to the same height, making for a visually stunning and unique golf experience.

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no. 2 14th holeContending with a bunker on No. 2’s 14th hole

The second hole, which played as the most difficult in the 2005 U.S. Open, represents everything the restoration was meant to accomplish. As a 503-yard par four, it’s obviously long. What’s not so obvious from the tee, though, is exactly where you’re supposed to hit the ball. Aim straight for the green, and you’ll end up in the hardpan or in a clump of wiregrass. And plan your approach carefully, too, since this is the first of the true turtle-backs on the course. More than one golfer has rolled off, chipped over, bounced back over, and more — all before getting a chance to putt.

It’s tempting, but don’t spend all your golf time on No. 2. There are seven other courses at Pinehurst that are well worth exploring. More than 140 pot bunkers will complicate your round on No. 4, a 6,658-yard par 72 Tom Fazio redesign that was the site of the 2008 U.S. Amateur. It’s definitely a must-play. Traditionalists should also play No. 5, designed by Ellis Maples, where you’ll encounter more water than on any other course at the resort. No. 6 was renovated in 2005 with new bunkers and faster greens, making it a real test. Hudson Valley golfers will feel right at home on No. 7, where elevation changes, wetlands, and large, undulating greens add to the challenge designed by Rees Jones. Tom Fazio built many traditional dips and swales around sloping greens to daunt players on the 6,698-yard No. 8, which commemorated Pinehurst’s centennial in 1996.

With so much golf to play and so many other things to do, Pinehurst is a place worth more than a three-day weekend. Available accommodations include the historic Holly, a boutique hotel with charmingly decorated rooms and public areas; the original grand copper-roofed Carolina; the Manor, a sportsman-style lodge; and numerous condominiums to handle groups of all sizes and budgets. Complimentary shuttle service throughout the property is responsive and efficient.

1895 grille at the holly hotel1895 Grille at the Holly Hotel

For lunch and/or libations, the Ryder Cup Lounge is hard to beat. Combine a Carolina Peach Tee (vodka, gin, rum, tequila, peach schnapps, and sweet tea) with a Pretzel Panini stacked with chicken breast, bacon, and Monterey Jack and slathered with aïoli mayonnaise, and you’re set for the day. For dinner, the best choice is the 1895 Grille at the Holly Hotel, the only Four Diamond restaurant in the area. The lobster mac and cheese with broccolini is not to be missed — it’s the perfect accompaniment to prime filet mignon.

One other thing not to miss at Pinehurst is the Carolina’s extensive display of artifacts and photos chronicling the resort’s history. The team pictures from the 1951 Ryder Cup with Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Jack Burke, Jr., et al. is fascinating. The wide-angle shot of Payne Stewart pumping his fist on the 18th green just months before his death will send shivers up your spine. But there are fun displays, too, like the photos of Annie Oakley, who ran the Pinehurst Gun Club from 1916 to 1920 and gave exhibitions at the hotel twice a week. Makes you wonder what kind of golfer she was, doesn’t it?

Pinehurst Resort
80 Carolina Vista Dr., Pinehurst, NC
855-235-8507; www.pinehurst.com

Fly to Raleigh-Durham International Airport (75 miles from the resort) Shuttle — $65 each way
The Classic Golf Package, as of spring 2012, starts at $241 per person with overnight stay, one round of golf (on course No. 1, 3, or 5), breakfast, and a sleeve of Titleist golf balls. (See Web site for 30-percent-discount applicable dates.)
The Pinehurst Golf Package, including accommodations, one round of golf per night (choose course No. 1, or from courses 3 through 8), breakfast, use of practice range, club storage, and a sleeve of Titleist golf balls starts at $361 for double occupancy at the Manor, and $466 for single occupancy.