January 14, 2020 By: Brian Mull — Perched atop The Cradle on a brisk December morning, the future of Pinehurst Resort and Country Club shines brightly, clear as the Carolina sky above.
The nine hole par-3 course, 789 yards of pure golf joy, has delighted golfers of any age and ability since it opened in the fall of 2017. Requiring merely a handful of wedges and a putter, the unique adventure tests a golfer’s touch and imagination but primarily provides a forum to have fun. The on-course bar opens each day at noon.
Forever an integral piece of American golf history, Pinehurst is pressing onward into the next decade and beyond, balancing a rich tradition built upon the footsteps of Nicklaus, Palmer and every golf legend against a progressive mindset focused on providing the total experience for the modern golfer. Always a haven for interesting golf, Pinehurst has enhanced not only its courses in recent years, but dining, entertainment and accommodations, creating incentive for guests to park their car, unpack their bag and settle in for a spell.
“There are so many great things going on in golf right now,” Pinehurst president Tom Pashley said. “When you’re at Pinehurst you’re celebrating this game we all love.”
Pashley is responsible for carrying out the vision of the Dedman Family, who bought the resort in 1984 and have spent more than $100 million in upgrades and renovations during their ownership.
“This story could have gone the opposite way if you didn’t have an owner, a family who believes in stewardship, who believes in preparing for the future and isn’t just trying to pull everything out of the investment already made but is willing to reinvest,” Pashley said. “We’ve had a lot of fun implementing these ideas but it’s only because of the vision of the ownership.”
Pinehurst No. 1 opened in 1899, the first of four courses designed by the Scotsman Donald Ross, who became a legendary architect with more than 400 layouts to his credit. Ross built wonderful courses throughout the country but the village remained home, residing in a lovely cottage adjacent to the third fairway of on his famed No. 2.
Photos of Ross and the many famous guests who have visited Pinehurst, from Annie Oakley to Nelson Rockefeller, adorn the walls inside the clubhouse. There are quotations from golf greats Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods, among others, professing their admiration and respect for No. 2. Architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw returned the course to its roots in 2011, widening the fairways, removing the Bermudagrass rough and replacing it with native wiregrass, creating a course Ross would recognize. That restoration – just three years before No. 2 played host to the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open in consecutive weeks – triggered the flurry of recent upgrades, additions and renovations that span the property.
“It emboldened us to be true to Pinehurst’s core,” Pashley said. “Golf is a sport, a game where people do care about the past. But Pinehurst is not a time capsule. We never want this to be a place where people say ‘this is where the greats used to play’ and marvel at what used to happen here. You can still come here and celebrate the past but we want to be a living museum. I think about adding color photos to our black-and-white photos.”
Pinehurst accelerated to golf’s front page over the last two decades, emerging as a familiar, comfortable home for USGA major championship golf. Since 1999, three U.S. Opens have been held at No. 2 with a fourth scheduled for 2024. Michelle Wie won the 2014 Women’s Open, wrapping a bow on a two-week celebration of golf. The 2019 U.S. Amateur, held on No. 2 and No. 4, gave golf fans a glimpse at the next wave of stars.
Positive momentum from those weeks in the global spotlight propelled the resort forward.
Recent additions include Thistle Dhu, an 18-hole putting course reminiscent of the Himalayas at St. Andrews; The Deuce, rapidly becoming one of the best 19th holes in American golf, offering guests a relaxing setting to enjoy a beverage while watching golfers finish on No.2; Gil Hanse’s ‘retrovation’ of No. 4, dotted with wildly undulating greens over land featuring dramatic changes in elevation. The course reopened in 2018 to positive reviews and provides another top tier option for those visiting Pinehurst on a golf package. The Pinehurst Brewing Co. and Smokehouse, located in the village’s old steam plant, provides the perfect setting to watch the game, while eating Carolina barbecue and sipping on a craft beverage. A short walk up the hill is the Manor Inn, built in 1923, but renovated last year. Palmer, who began coming to Pinehurst while attending college nearby at Wake Forest, always stayed at the Manor on his trips to the village.
Options like The Cradle are what golf needs to attract the next generation and keep them engaged. Set on rolling, rugged terrain adjacent to the iconic Pinehurst clubhouse, each shot asks the golfer a different question, allowing avenues for shots through the air, along the ground or a combination of the two. Music drifts through the pines. There’s a running hole-in-one tally posted on the modest starter’s shack near the first tee. And the nine holes can be walked in 45 minutes, providing the ideal setting for pre-round practice or post-round fun.
“You can play No. 2 and be as serious as you want, be as introspective and thinking about walking in the footsteps of legends. Finish your round and pose for a photo with (Payne Stewart’s) statue,” Pashley said. “Then you can go around the corner to The Cradle, take your shoes off if you want, listen to some rock-&-roll or country music, play as an eightsome, get a drink from the coolest beverage cart you’ve ever seen.”
Pinehurst has room to grow. Crenshaw and Coore have drawn out a new course, No. 10, on 950 contiguous acres five miles outside the village. With the recent influx of guests, additional accommodation options are being considered. The resort continues expanding with a clear vision of the future and a healthy respect for the past.
“Since the restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 in 2011, we’ve added all these pieces in phases,” Pashley said. “But our guests never could experience all of it until 2019 – and it was a record year (for the resort). They’ve come and enjoyed it, told their friends and shared their experiences on social media. It’s been great.”