My brother is currently stationed at Fort Bragg just outside of Fayetteville, North Carolina. It’s about 45 minutes away from Southern Pines and a little less than a hour away from Pinehurst. I did some research beforehand, and if you want to play the famed Pinehurst No. 2, it’ll cost you $425 plus another $100 for a caddie.
Sure it’s old! It was founded in 1895, but it’s not worth the money in my opinion. Pebble Beach? Definitely – for the views as much as anything. But there are plenty of other quality golf courses you can play in and around Southern Pines (including the other eight Pinehurst courses) for a lot less.
Let’s talk about Southern Pines. It’s a cute little town of about 13,000 with a walkable downtown full of interesting shops, cafes, and restaurants. Thankfully, my wife likes to play golf, but if you need an excuse to tee it up, it’s a great place to send your wife or girlfriend for a few hours. Trust me, she won’t even know you were gone. If you get dragged along, there are worse places to get lost.
I highly recommend The Country Bookshop. It’s locally owned, and noted golf writer James Dodson, author of A Golfer’s Life (with Arnold Palmer), Ben Hogan: An American Life, and American Trimverate: Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and the Age of Modern Golf, works right around the corner (or is it write around the corner?). I hear he’s willing to inscribe your purchase if he’s in the office.
But back to golf. While I was still working in Greenville, I got the chance to play Pine Needles Golf Club just before the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open. There are two courses on property, Mid Pines and Pine Needles, both Donald Ross designs. Mid Pines was numbered and routed by Ross in 1921. Pine Needles wasn’t built until the 1950s. Then I stumbled upon Southern Pines Golf Club. Like a lot of the older courses along the east coast, it has a lot of history.
Southern Pines is just the 3rd course ever designed by Ross. He laid out the first nine holes in 1906 before coming back a few years later to re-route a couple and add nine more. Ross considered Southern Pines one of his more remarkable designs. Who knows? Maybe he was just sentimental about it. It’s located right in the heart of the North Carolina Sandhills, which is what makes golf in this part of the country so unique. The Sandhills are just what they sound like – elevation-changing terrain atop a layer of fine beach-like sand. I found a tee time Saturday at 11:14a for just $88 on golfnow.com.
The course is going through a bit of a transition at the moment. The course plays 6,354 yards from the Blue Tees to a Par of 71, a course rating of 70.2, and a slope of 129… for now. But the staff is in the process of adding Black Tees even further back, which will add another 300 yards when completed. Most of the holes already have the Black Tees present, although the scorecard doesn’t reflect the new distances yet, and because some of the tee boxes are still under construction, there’s also no new course rating or slope. I thought the vertical, two-toned color scorecard was a classic touch, even if it was a little harder to follow because of its rarity. Here are some of the highlights of the round:
Holes Worth Writing Home About
The greens here are bent grass, and they are good. When I asked which way they tended to break, the guy in the pro shop who looked like he’d enjoyed a dip or two in his life told me, “Toward the afternoon sun.” Classic. The Par 3s here stole the show, but the 542-yard Par 5 5th hole was great too. The hole is a downhill dogleg left after a blind tee shot up the hill. As you’re clearing the fairway, you’re asked to ring a bell to let the tee box know it’s safe to hit up. The hole is guarded by greenside bunkers short right and pin-high right, and if you’re going to go for the green in two, you’re probably going to have a downhill like. The greens are very undulating. It’s one of the course’s best defense mechanisms.
My favorite hole was the Par 3 14th. The hole measures 175 yards on the card, but I lasered it at 191 yards from the Black Tees. The hole is in a really pretty spot on the course – with a lilly-padded pond short and a greenside bunker left. The bunker short and right does’t really come into play unless you really mishit your tee shot. It’s a long green with multiple tiers to accomodate multiple hole locations. Most if not all of the greens on the course have multiple tiers. There’s very little room between holes, which makes the course walkable if that’s your preference. It might be a better way to play the course if only so you can appreciate all of the tiers and undulations and you approach each green complex.
Roger, the starter, told us that the course plays to or just slightly longer than its yardage. There were some sneaky long holes from the Black Tees, and I can’t wait to come back and play this course when the new tee boxes have matured and the scorecard has been updated.
You’ll love the views. When you’re standing on the 1st tee preparing for a downhill opening tee shot, you can see you’re even with the surrounding tree line. From the 2nd tee, you can see the 1st green, the 2nd fairway, the 17th green, and the 18th hole. It’s a great panoramic view.
The halfway house is located not between holes nine and ten but between the 10th green and the 11th hole maybe because No. 9 is a quick 185-yard Par 3. Miss Jane will be happy to hand you a six-pack of Yuengling on ice and a hot dog any way you like it. They also have wine. Red and white. No joke.
Like a lot of courses in the Sandhills, many of the cart paths on the course are packed beach sand. I like the natural look, and I wish more courses throughout the country would remove asphalt cart paths in favor of au natural. If you’re lucky, you might also catch a glipse of the North Carolina black squirrel, which looks like a cross between a squirrel and a skunk.
There was plenty of room in the fairway, but for some reason, I decided to hit my drive on the 423-yard Par 4 6th hole into the righthand trees. Good news is that if you hit your ball into the trees, you can probably find it and hit it again from the pinestraw. I had to punch out with an 8-iron but was able to get up and down for par. Sometimes a par can feel like a birdie.
I also birdied the 18th hole, which, as my buddy and I like to say, “Makes dinner taste a little better.”
While We’re Young
We teed off a little before 11:00a but didn’t finish until around 4:00p – FIVE hours later! A few holes from the finish, the course marshall apologized for the pace of play, saying “It’s not usually like this.” Five hours is too long, but you know what? It was a great place to be after enduring three, couped-up, rain-filled days, and it was a beautiful 75 degrees. Come ready to soak up the history of a really great golf course, and know there’s a chance the pace of play could be a little slower than you would like. Consider walking, and bring a cigar to puff on.
Next On the Tee
Arizona National Golf Club near my old stomping grounds in Tucson. I’m going to try to squeeze in a round of golf with the wife on my 35th birthday.