GOLF DESTINATIONS

Pinehurst: Where Serious Golfers Experience the Sport

By Shane Sharp, Contributing Writer

PINEHURST, N.C. - Myrtle Beach is the self proclaimed "Golf Capital of the World." Hilton Head may boast more upscale golf courses than anyplace not named Scottsdale. But neither golfing mecca is dedicated to the game with such singular purpose as the Sand Hills region of N.C.

Anchored by the Village of Pinehurst, the Sand Hills are made up of a collection of small towns and blessed with a sampling of public access golf courses that many golf aficionados consider to be among the best in the world. The "Village" is home to the venerable Pinehurst Resort and Donald Ross' vaunted No. 2 course. The entire area oozes with layouts from Ross, Dan and Ellis Maples, Rees Jones, and Robert Trent Jones.

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This collection of golf courses comes together like ingredients in healthy portion of N.C. barbeque to produce one of the most unique golfing experiences on the planet. Just driving into and around Pinehurst is a surreal undertaking that every serious golfer must experience at least once.

The thousands of long leaf pines outshine their scrubby, coastal cousins as they tower over the area's more than 40 golf courses. On a sunny day -- which there are plenty -- the light green glow of the pines and the blazing white reflection of the sandy soil come together to produce aura unlike anywhere else in the world.

The Village is the centerpiece of this hedonistic existence, and driving through its winding, canopied roads, you are treated to a rare blend of New England architecture and old South charm.

It all started back in 1895 when Massachusetts' James Walker Tufts bought up some land near the center of the Village for a dollar an acre. His plan was to create a health resort for wintering New Englanders.

Legendary landscape architect and city planner Fredrick Law Olmstead designed the winding roads and public spaces of the Village, and Ross arrived on the scene circa 1900 to build Pinehurst No. 1.

Today, Pinehurst is golf first, everything else second. Unlike Myrtle Beach, which offers up myriad of other entertainment pastimes, Pinehurst exists for the sole purpose of promoting and sustaining the game.

"I am not sure there is another place like it in the world," says Phil Wiggins, Vice President of Golf Matrix, Inc., which owns and operates a number of Pinehurst area courses. "Traditional golf is so prominent in everything.

"It is an interesting place because the guy that delivers the mail is probably a two handicap and the garbage man can probably break 80. It is the only place where you can go to a restaurant and listen to a table full of old ladies talking about cutting 8-irons into the green."

Spring and fall are the peak seasons in Pinehurst, but golfers are welcome anytime of year. The summer brings long, hot days and some incredible stay and play deals with local resorts. The winter brings empty fairways and warm nights by the fireplace in some cozy resort.

At the center of it all is the Pinehurst Resort. Your first glimpse of its whitewashed clubhouse will bring chills to your spine. Gaze out upon No. 2's 18th fairway and envision Payne Stewart and Phil Mickelson striding up to the green during the final round of the 1999 U.S. Open.

Whatever you do, lose yourself in time and space and focus only on the golf at hand.

The Best

Donald Ross considered No. 2 to be his true masterpiece - and this coming from a man that is credited with over 500 designs. No. 2 is head and shoulders above any course in the area, and is consistently ranked as one of the best in the world. The fairways are wide open and forgiving, in the traditional fashion. But the greens are crowned and typically adorned with false fronts and gapping greenside bunkers. Miss a green on your approach and Ross will penalize you 'till the cows come home. Pinehurst Resort: 800-487-4653. Green Fees:$295. Architect: Donald Ross.

Perhaps no golf course in the U.S. has been touched by as many prominent architects as No. 4. Ross designed the original layout, Robert Trent Jones touched it up it 1973, and Tom Fazio totally revamped the course last year, adding 140 pot bunkers and some fairway mounding to create one of the most visually enticing courses on the east coast. Pinehurst Resort: 800-487-4653. Green Fees:$205. Architect: Tom Fazio.

Of all of Tom Fazio's great accomplishments over the past 20 years, being handed the keys to his own Pinehurst Resort course must standout as one of his greatest moments. In 1996, Fazio's No. 8 course opened to celebrate the 100-year of the Resort, and to pay homage to No. 2. Fazio employs the use of Ross' famous turtle back greens, waste areas, and the old masters uncanny ability to mix and match par-4's of differing lengths. Pinehurst Resort: 800-487-4653. Green Fees:$205. Architect: Tom Fazio.

There is one golf course that most locals feel can hold its own with the Pinehurst Resort courses, including No. 2, and that is Pine Needles. The course is host to the 1996 and 2001 Women's U.S. Open, and is a Ross original that exemplifies Pinehurst area golf. Pine Needles is as traditional as sipping lemonade on the front porch - everything is out in front of you and there are no gimmicks. There are six par-4's that are over 420 yards, but Ross is nothing if not fair: all the par 5's are reachable in two. 1005 Midland Road, Southern Pines, 800-747-7272. Architect: Donald Ross. Green Fees: $70-$160.

Also Awesome

Rees Jones designed No. 7, which opened back in 1986 as the second of the resorts' off campus facilities. The course is hailed as one of the most difficult in Pinehurst, as it winds its way through a variety of swamps and lakes. Pinehurst Resort: 800-487-4653. Green Fees:$195. Architect: Rees Jones.

The National Club Far be it from the Golden Bear to be left out of the golf scene at Pinehurst. The National Club is vintage late 80's Jack, complete with two-tiered greens and generous landing areas off the tee. 1 Royal Troon Drive. 910-295-4300. Architect: Jack Nicklaus. Green Fees: $100-200.

The Pit Golf Links is Dan Maples' contribution to upscale daily fee golf in the Sand Hills - one that happens to come in the form of a golf course built upon the site of a former sandpit. Maples' family goes back as far as any in Pinehurst lineage, and he has done a wonderful job of making an interesting track out of this challenging site. Highway 5, Pinehurst. Architect: Dan Maples. Green Fees: $54-90.

If you have the time, don't miss …

Mid Pines Golf Club, another Ross original that is just a shade under Pine Needles in terms of quality. The Carolina, a modern Arnold Palmer designed course with undulating greens that would make Nicklaus proud. Foxfire Resort features two traditional Gene Hamm courses that recently underwent a $2 million renovation. Woodlake is still considered one of the best stay and play facilities in the area, and the Maples course is a must play.

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