Golf in the USA: Our man plays and reviews Pinehurst

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Our roving reporter is lost for words (not really) when tackling this stunning course in North Carolina, USA...

About Connoisseur Clive, our roving reporter

The three-time Major champion Tommy Armour once wrote of Pinehurst: ‘The man who doesn’t feel emotionally stirred when he golfs at Pinehurst beneath those clear blue skies and with the pine fragrance in his nostrils is one who should be ruled out of golf for life. It’s the kind of course that gets into the blood of an old trooper.’

Well this old trooper had been stirred from the moment he arrived at the North Carolina resort. In short it’s majestic and the United States is very lucky to have it as its spiritual home of golf.

Like me, Pinehurst has its Scottish roots to thank for being what it is today. Donald Ross was originally hired as the head professional and by 1903 it consisted of Pinehurst No 1 and nine holes on No 2. The Scot was then asked to redesign the first and extend the second as well as adding a third and fourth layout. These days there are eight courses here.                                   
                                  
By the early 1920s it was turning away golfers during its seven-month season. Note to selves: do not think of visiting in the summer months. The local caddies have the right idea and leave town until things cool down in September.

But in April it’s perfect, in every sense. Temperatures in the mid 70s and one boast of Pinehurst’s most famous creation is that you won’t lose a ball. Despite our trying very hard to disprove this theory, we were able to join the one-ball club. And not get within six shots of our handicaps.

Think of a US Open set-up – in a unique move by the USGA both the men’s and women’s American showpiece visit here next year in successive weeks – and you might think of rough, maybe no longer the thick, gnarly stuff but still the graded longer grass. 

At Pinehurst No 2 there is none. There were 121 bunkers before Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore made their recent changes, over 80 have either gone or theybleed into waste bunkers. The pair widened the fairways and returned native wire grass and natural bunker edges in more than a notable nod to Ross. Though it will host the game’s very best players within the space of a fortnight next year, the changes are for us, the amateurs.

Most holes begin with longleaf pines and end with crowned greens so the visual aspect is maintained from the first shot to the last. And in between a variety of recoveries from the waste land that occasionally and briefly threaten to mount the putting surface before falling away.

This is where Johnny Miller desscribed the 15th green as like ‘trying to hit a ball on top of a VW Beetle’.

For the better players there are options aplenty around the greens; for one or two of us the old bread and putter will be the club of choice, and three more is just fine.
Like me, Pinehurst has its Scottish roots to thank for being what it is today. Donald Ross was originally hired as the head professional and by 1903 it consisted of Pinehurst No 1 and nine holes on No 2. The place to play No 2 from is the fairway. Jack Nicklaus describes it as his favourite golf course from a design standpoint as well as ‘seeing a totally tree-lined golf course without a tree coming into play’.

By the 3rd hole this was one theory that was safely disproved.
Ross considered the second shot to the 5th as the hardest on the course, a view shared by the majority of the members we quizzed on the eve of our assault. And all delivered in a long, lazy and soothing southern accent and always followed by collective teenage giggles from 70-year-old men. I liked it here a lot.

As did the great Bobby Jones. The most special charm of Pinehurst for him was the people, the hosts of the place who ‘always make you feel happily at home’. 
Something that remains the case today in the clubhouse bar.

‘Make sure you go leeeft on fiiive.’ More laughter.
We don’t go left. 

Otherwise we do go left, rather too often. We rarely rescue our pars but we act giddily for the three-and-a-half-hour treat that we have been given, helped by the words and stories of our caddy Bryan (a former Nationwide Tour player and peer of Tiger Woods) and the sheer majesty of the whole place. 

There is no sense that we are surrounded by so many other courses, you rarely get to see other parts of the one you are on and any par is a strategy solved and mini battle won.

And so to the 18th and the scene of Payne Stewart’s iconic celebration; every Sunday they put the pin in the same spot where Stewart holed his 15-footer for par. They also change the flag to one which reads ‘One moment in time’. My moment comes and quickly goes as a 15-foot par putt dribbles up pathetically to the hole’s side though nothing could spoil this moment in the sun. 

  • Pinehurst features eight courses making it the largest golf resort in America. Nos 2, 8 and 4 are ranked among the best in the US but, ask around, and you will always get a different answer as to everyone’s favourite. Otherwise there are two stunning, award-winning hotels as well as lodges and villas. You can also enjoy the spa, croquet, gym and even kayaks on the private lake. w: pinehurst.com  
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