Pine Needles Resort Golf Course
PINEHURST, NC -- A number of people who play a lot of golf in North Carolina will tell you that Pine Needles is their favorite golf course. In a survey determining the best course in the state, they might vote for Pinehurst #2 or Wade Hampton or Charlotte Country, but if you asked a lot of golfers where they would really, really, really like to play, then Pine Needles would be their choice.
Pine Needles has always been a tournament site, but in 1996, the course hosted the U.S. Women's Open and only Annika Sorenstam managed to tame it, under par for the tournament, but not by much. With the course playing to almost 6,500 yards that week, the rough up, and the greens superfast, nobody in that field was going to bring Pine Needles to its knees. It can play tough, but it's also a course that's usually set up to be friendly to the visitor and thus decent scoring is always a possibility.
Built in 1927 by Donald Ross, little has changed architecturally at Pine Needles. The original first hole is now the second and the massive structure at the top of the hill behind what's now the second tee is an old people's home. Pre-war photos of the par 3 third prove that Pine Needles is pretty much as advertised: a classic Donald Ross designed on perfect terrain.
At Pine Needles, you'll see all the architectural features most often associated with Donald Ross. Wide fairways with traps close to the best spot for a tee shot. Deep, grass-faced greenside traps. Medium-sized flattish greens with steep drop-offs around the edges. Ross spent years tweaking nearby Pinehurst #2, but it's hard to imagine that he could have improved much at Pine Needles. He got it right first time around.
If there's a perceived weakness at Pine Needles, then it's the par 5s: the first, tenth, and fourteenth. On a modern course, these might be long par 4s but so what? These holes present scoring opportunities for most but can be treacherous. During the 1996 Women's Open, big hitting Laura Davies bogeyed the "easy" tenth before the weekend. The green on the first is no picnic if you're above the hole and the tee shot on the fourteenth is deceiving: it's easy to drive through the fairway.
The par 3s at Pine Needles are among the best in the Pinehurst area. The third is short at about 130 yards, but correct club selection is crucial because anything above the hole means instant three-putt. The fifth is much meatier: a solid 200 yards from the back tee downhill to the most difficult green on the course; anything above the hole might run off if the pin is anywhere in the front half of the putting surface. The thirteenth is a fine hole, just a mid-iron for most to a flattish green set in a bowl; it's harder than it looks. The flattish sixteenth looks boring from the tee, but it might be the best par 3 at Pine Needles. Once again, it's just a mid-iron for most but the slippery green plays small, and every lie in the traps seems like it's downhill. It's an easy four, a difficult three.
There's little argument among most cognoscenti that Pine Needles' superb collection of par 4s are the foundation of its brilliance. Each is a gem. The hardest come last: the fifteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth can ruin what's been a good score. These holes narrow significantly near the green complexes, yet few are firing short irons from the fairway: these are frightening approach shots.
The second is a great introduction to the par 4s at Pine Needles - almost 450 yards from the back tees downhill to a green that slopes front to back, with many approach shots finding the back bunker and almost certain bogey.
The four par 4s at the end of the front nine are all solid, but the best of this quartet might be the ninth with its slick narrow green and tee shot that's narrower than it looks. The down then up eleventh is justifiably one of the more photographed holes but the twelfth is better with its semi-blind tee shot and fairway that kicks anything left towards the rough, leaving a difficult approach to a green set at 45 degrees to the fairway.
There's more to Pine Needles than a great course. Peggy Kirk Bell, one of the founders of the LPGA Tour and a huge figure in women's golf, owns Pine Needles. The lodging and associated facilities are pleasant, but the prime adjunct is the massive teaching area with its multiple teeing areas and practice traps. Pinehurst Resort wishes it had Pine Needles' teaching facility. The hardest green on the course: the one just by the clubhouse.
It's there that you'll need to develop a skill that's important to master at Pine Needles: holing short putts. The greens here might look somewhat benign, but even a three footer can prove tough. There are no gimees at Pine Needles.
Adding to Pine Needles' attraction is a walk anytime policy. And it's a wonderful stroll.
One of these days, every golf course architect who has ever over-built or discoed up a golf course should be taken to Pine Needles for a lesson in how to create a course that's fun and playable, yet easily strong enough to host a national championship. Why anyone would try to out-design this most excellent of Donald Ross layouts is a bit of a mystery.
Pine Needles Resort
1000 Midland Rd., Southern Pines
Championship Yardage: 6708
Slope: 131 Par: 71
Men's Yardage: 6318
Slope: 126 Par: 71
Other Yardage: 6003
Slope: 124 Par: 71
Ladies' Yardage: 5039
Slope: 118 Par: 71
Practice Fac.: A
Club House/Pro Shop: A
Pace of Play: A
Overall Rating: A
Approximate cost, including cart, is $110 high and $85 low.
TravelGolf.com Rating System
A - Tour Style - bring your camera
B - Solid Birdie Effort
C - Par---rty Time
D - Three Jack
F - Double Bogey