By Jason Bruno
Long known for its history and Donald Ross influence on American golf design, Pinehurst Resort has never shied away from preserving and promoting its heritage (and rightly so), and for so long it was that reverence for its past that fueled campaigns to attract resort guests. Things have changed in the world of golf destinations, and just over a decade ago through the leadership of Don Padgett and now Tom Pashley, the resort began a transformation that would forever change the experience at the Cradle of American Golf.
Pinehurst has made a bold effort to embrace the present and future with a vigor that has the place buzzing with excitement. Recent additions to the resort provide an eclectic mix in delivering something for everyone – acknowledging its early beginnings, all while taking a step forward in the growth of the game.
It had been nearly a decade since our last visit to the resort, and having heard such glowing remarks from friends and colleagues – it was time to return to the North Carolina sandhills to see for ourselves.
*In July of 2011, we came to Pinehurst to see Coore & Crenshaw’s “back in time” restoration of the Donald Ross classic – No.2 course. The decision to return Ross’ Mona Lisa to what it once was required a big leap of faith for the man at the helm – Don Padgett. The risk turned out to be an absolute success for the resort and the community of Pinehurst – the transformation is superb, Bill & Ben captured the essence of Ross’ original design masterfully. In the months (and years) that followed it became apparent, there was still one element that needed to be changed. That summer after the restoration was complete (2011), temperatures reached triple digits during the week of the North & South Amateur and the agronomy staff had all it could do to keep the bent grass greens alive. It became clear that a change of greens surfaces would be the next major project.
In 2014, following the two U.S Opens (Pinehurst hosted both the Men’s & Women’s Open that summer), No.2 along with the rest of its courses were switched over from bent to Champion ultra-dwarf Bermuda grass greens – ideal for the high temperatures during the summers in the sandhills of North Carolina. According to Bob Farren Vice President of Golf Course Maintenance at Pinehurst Resort, “the move to Bermuda greens has allowed us to present the condition levels that we all want (firm & fast) 52 weeks a year, with bent grass we were fortunate to get 35 to 40 good weeks – and some of those were in the wintertime and that’s not ideal. Before (with bent greens) we were always in a state of flux.” (look for our Q&A with Bob Farren coming soon).
The nine 18-hole courses at Pinehurst will likely always be atop the marquee, but it’s the two latest attractions to the resort that have created a fresh vibe on the property with local tar heels and those traveling golf enthusiasts coming to stay for a while. We are of course talking about The Cradle short course and Thistle Dhu putting course (both located just steps from where Payne Stewart made his legendary walk-off putt in 1999). Speaking of Payne outdueling Phil to win that U.S Open, ironically our first evening at the resort was the Sunday that Phil was making his charge to a historic victory a few hundred miles south at Kiawah – and yet, during such a historic moment in the game, I looked out and the Cradle was a packed house and rockin. The following afternoon after we played No.2, a late p.m. start on the Cradle was scheduled, and surely on a Monday, we’d have it all to ourselves. Nope, it was 95 degrees and the place was SOLD OUT. When we asked the starter, he said “we have no times available through the rest of the day” (and the following evening when we returned for another stroll with wedges, the Cradle was sold out again) – incredible.
Gil Hanse & Jim Wagner expanded and reimagined the new Thistle Dhu putting course (which was previously introduced in its current location in 2012), inspired by the Himalayas of St.Andrews, it’s the ideal way to start or end the day at Pinehurst with drink in hand. If you look out on the 18-hole layout that twists in infinite directions, you see children, parents, infants, teenagers, and even the elderly out there with nothing more than putter and golf ball having the time of their lives. A true community feeling of inclusion, an atmosphere of joy – smiles, and laughter filling the air. Free to resort guests, it’s exactly the right element for what Pinehurst represents to the game.
In 2017, Hanse and Wagner created the most fun you can have with a wedge in your hand when they crafted the 789 yards of par 3 splendor. The Cradle is routed within the 10-acre parcel next to the clubhouse (that Ross had plowed over when he deemed the original holes on the rolling terrain unworthy), the Cradle’s nine holes range from 56 to 127 yards on the scorecard. With the tee and the hole locations changing regularly, you can end up playing a hole at less than 40 yards.
Bring your wedges and a putter and the starter will give you a “Sunday Bag” for the round.
In 2018, Pinehurst introduced the redesigned Hanse/Wagner No.4 course to the golf world – a worthy complement to its historical sibling. Eleven months later in the summer of 2019, No.4 co-hosted the U.S Amateur Championship along with No.2 .
Hanse’s No.4 is a worthy compliment to No.2, sharing the design philosophy of its iconic neighbor, but the land on No.4 rolls a bit more than it does on its more famous sibling. Hanse managed to re-claim the ethos and some of the original landforms that existed when Ross originally designed the course. Although the green complexes aren’t nearly as confounding as No.2, there’s enough contour to hold your attention.
Our itinerary included a spin around Fazio’s No.8, located just down the road a piece from the main clubhouse. No.8 rolls and cambers around lakes and through the Carolina pines offering generous fairways and spacious greens with enough undulation to test your nerves.
Everyone who comes to the cradle of American golf wants to tee it up on the headliner – Ross’ classic No.2, and our 8:10 am tee time the morning after the PGA Championship brought with it some anticipation. With the area in a bit of a drought in late May, we knew we were going to get the “full monty” of U.S Open firm & fast conditions (in speaking with Bob Farren the following week, he confirmed it was the firmest conditions they had seen since at the resort since the 2014 U.S Open). With the greens at No.2 being hailed among the finest and most confounding on earth, the conditions proved to be just as we anticipated, every shortgame option was in play, a true exam of the imagination and execution – brilliant.
As you walk up onto the third green on Pinehurst No.2 and mark your ball (hopefully you’re below the hole), the sight of the fifth green and the fourth tee (above) is too much to ignore. Two of the finest holes in championship golf – we’ll detail these two along with the rest in a future in-depth feature on No.2.
Heading for home . . .
After your round, the resort has many eateries to please any appetite, Carolina dining room, Ryder Cup Lounge, the Brewery, 1895 Grille, and perhaps our favorite spot that overlooks the 18th hole at No.2 – The Deuce.
Coming Soon at Pinehurst Resort:
If you’ve spent an evening chasing the sun at the Cradle recently, then you may have noticed on the ridge next to the ever-popular Pinecone beverage bar that some new construction has begun. On that high ground (that overlooks the punchbowl green of the third hole) is where the new build has begun on Cradle Crossing (digital rendering below).
Cradle Crossing coming this fall, will be an open-air pavilion area and small bar overlooking the Hanse short course – featuring seating, fire pits (and restrooms). The portable Pinecone will live on at Pinehurst, but may move around the resort once Cradle Crossings opens.
Also coming soon is a new 36 room hotel overlooking the Cradle (on what is now used for the croquet lawns) – called The Lodge at Pinehurst, it will include guest rooms, meeting spaces, locker rooms and a bar viewing area.
The USGA recently announced the building of a second USGA headquarters in Pinehurst, to be called Golf House Pinehurst. The new compound will include an $18 million equipment-testing facility, innovation hub, museum & visitor center to open in 2023. As a by-product of the new association, Pinehurst will host the U.S. Open in ‘24, ’29, ’35, ’41, and ’47.
For more information on Pinehurst: https://www.pinehurst.com/