Part 1 of this two-part series:
Golf is a unique sport. I can think of no other sport that requires as much time to play. No two golf courses are the same. And golf is the only sport where anyone can play in the same places as the legends of the game. In contrast, you must be a top pro to compete at Wimbledon, Yankee Stadium, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, or Wembley Stadium.
At Pinehurst, Donald Ross’ masterpiece, Pinehurst N0. 2, has hosted more top professional and amateur golf tournaments than any course in America, including multiple U.S. Men’s Opens, the U.S. Women’s Open, the U.S. Men’s and Women’s Amateur, the PGA Championship, the PGA Tour Championship, the U.S. Senior Open, the North and South Men’s and Women’s Open and Amateur, and the Ryder Cup.
A high handicapper like me and my friend from college and law school days who made the trip from Phoenix would walk the same fairways and putt the same greens as Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, and Rory McIlroy.
At check in we were each given a golf bag tag printed with our golf courses and tee times displayed.
A shuttle that takes golfers to and from each course. The bag tags tell the staff on the shuttles and at the golf courses where to your clubs each day. There is no need to schlep your clubs back to your room each night.
Pinehurst has nine courses. Each course has a driving range with unlimited free range balls and chipping and putting greens. There is no additional charge for golf carts. Attendants make sure each cart goes out with tees, wet towels, ice, and a scorecard. Caddies are available on each course but are required on none.
As reported in Part 1, the four rounds of golf, daily breakfast buffet and three course dinner, and three nights in the Carolina Hotel cost $982. There was also a 10% service charge. The service charge allegedly covered tips. The staff, however, said that the resort did not share this fee with them, and any food and drink purchases had a small gratuity included.
Pinehurst is not part of any hotel loyalty programs so I did not get any hotel points for the stay. I did earn triple ThankYou Rewards Points by paying with my Citi Prestige card.
Day One – Pinehurst No. 7
Our first course was No.7, a Rees Jones design built in 1986 on the site of an employee course laid out by Donald Ross. The course plays between 5700 and 7200 yards depending on the tees. Being old farts, we played a mixture of green and white tees on all courses.
The fairways and rough are bermuda grass for all Pinehurst courses. The greens on No. 7 are Penn G-2. N0. 7’s greens had been recently aerated and were still a little bumpy.
View from No. 7 clubhouse, 18th Green on left
The day we played No. 7 was the hottest day of the year. The temperature was around 99 degrees when we teed off. Amazingly the heat never got to me. Maybe it was the excitement of being at Pinehurst. No. 7 has many elevated greens. Approach shots often play two and sometimes three clubs longer. Tiger Woods won his only Pinehurst tournament, the 1991 Big I Junior Classic, on No. 7.
Day 2 – Pinehurst No.8
The second day we played No. 8, a Tom Fazio course. It opened in 1996. No. 8 plays between 5800 and 7100 yards. Golf magazines have ranked No. 8 in the top 100 courses in America for public play. This course has twice hosted the Club Pro Championship.
We played No. 8 with a gentleman from New Jersey who would try to qualify for the 116th Men’s North & South Amateur Championship being held on No. 2 the day after we would leave. He was a long hitter but did not qualify for the tournament.
The youngest of the Pinehurst courses, No. 8 combines many of the features and influences of the other courses. The greens are Ultradwarf grass. They had a little more speed and undulation compared to No. 7.
Day Three – Pinehurst No. 9
Jack Nicklaus built No. 9 in 1988. This course plays from about 5500 to 7100 yards. Water is in play here more than other Pinehurst courses. The greens have substantial undulation. No. 9 is the only Pinehurst course with bent grass greens.
Like many Nicklaus courses, No. 9 has wide fairways. Bunkers, water, some raised greens, and tricky putting surfaces make scoring tough. For me, No. 8 was a more enjoyable course.
Day 4 – Pinehurst No. 2
After being wined and dined and playing great golf courses for the previous three days, at last it was time for Pinehurst No. 2. This is what coming to Pinehurst is all about.
After a myriad of changes to the course following Ross’ death in 1948, in 2010, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw restored Pinehurst No. 2 to the natural and strategic concepts of the original 1907 design. The restoration removed acres of turf and expanded the natural bunkers and wire and native grass areas.
A major difference in the restoration and the original layout was lengthening the course because today’s pros hit the ball so much farther than the pros in 1907.
Playing No. 2 is a true experience. A big part of that experience is walking the course. While caddies are not required, they are highly recommended. The resort charges a $60 caddie fee. A cash tip of $40 – $60 per player is standard. One caddie works two bags. The golf shop stated that the green fee for Pinehurst No. 2 is $450 without a package discount. With our package we had a surcharge of $195 for N0. 2.
Using a caddie is worth the cost for the experience of walking the course, giving accurate distances to the pin or to avoid hazards, and for reading the greens. More often than not I would have played the wrong break without the caddie’s advice.
For our round we were paired with two golfers who were playing from the blue tees. They did not have a caddie and were using a cart. They were better golfers than we were but by playing from a mixture of the green and white tees, we kept the same pace and had a very enjoyable and friendly round. The other twosome also benefited from our caddie’s knowledge on the greens.
The Ultradwarf grass greens on No. 2 were not only difficult to read but it was very easy to putt the ball off the green or to come up woefully short of the hole. Our caddie estimated the greens were running at a 10.5 to 11 stimp meter speed not the 13+ speeds of a U.S. Open. At those speeds, it would be incredibly difficult to putt these greens or keep the ball on the green with approach shots and chips.
The areas of native grasses and sand are not difficult to play from unless the ball comes to rest directly behind a clump of grass. There are no bunkers. Even green side sand traps are considered waste areas where it is permissible to take practice swings and ground the club. Sand is, of course, the natural soil of the Sand Hills area.
For the 2014 Men’s and Women’s U.S. Opens, over 250,000 wire and other native grass plants were added to the natural areas. Because the renovation also removed much of the artificial irrigation system, about 100,000 of these plants have now been lost. They will be replaced for the 2019 Men’s U.S. Amateur and 2024 U.S. Open championships.
Pinehurst No. 2 Clubhouse
The clubhouse holds the pro shop, locker room, cart and caddie facility, the Donald Ross grill and 91st Hole bar.
After the round I used the locker room to freshen up before the drive back to Charlotte.
This is where the pros change when they play the Open. Its not spectacular but functional with showers, towels, razors, dental kits, deodorant, mouthwash, combs, etc. There aren’t enough lockers for 150+ golfers. Of course they are not all at the course at the same time.
The clubhouse is also a Pinehurst history museum. A sign said the Men’s U.S. Open trophy was absent because it had been sent for engraving (?) but other trophies were there.
Among the many items of memorabilia were Payne Stewart’s golf bag and scorecard from his 1999 U.S. Open victory and Micheal Campbell’s scorecard from his 2005 Open victory.
Pinehurst seems to be the best golf resort on the east coast. Kiawah, with the Ocean Course and its South Carolina low country location, is also a fantastic experience. Having stayed and played at both locations, I give the edge to Pinehurst.
It’s not just Pinehurst No.2 but also the strength and variety of the other eight courses that makes Pinehurst a top golf resort. The excellence of the lodging and dining (See Part 1 of this post) not to mention the outstanding hospitality of the staff complete the Pinehurst experience.
On a “value for your dollar” basis, I’d be so bold as to say Pinehurst is even better than fantastic resorts like Bandon Dunes, Whistling Straights, and dare I say it… Pebble Beach. (Tip to make playing at Pebble a less expensive — you can play Poppy Hills for free up to three times per year with the Citi Prestige credit card.)
I have no doubt I will play Pinehurst many more times.