Pinewild Country Club golf: Not another Pinehurst No. 2 imitator

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

PINEHURST, N.C. — You get up into the Sandhills area of North Carolina and you can feel the presence of Pinehurst No. 2 all around you, like an aura emanating from the hallowed halls of golf.

No. 2 shines a bright light on the area, with the other courses built since the turn of the century having to at least try to live up to certain standards. No. 2, site of this year's U.S. Open, was Donald Ross' homage to the game, a traditional, fairly open and straightforward course with few hazards other than bunkers until you get to the extraordinarily difficult, turtleback greens.

There are plenty of imitations, but there are courses in the area that have dared to be different and break the mold. One of those is Pinewild Country Club and its two 18-hole courses, the Holly and Magnolia.

"Your typical Pinehurst course is like No. 2 — not a lot of water, tree-lined fairways with everything right there in front of you," said Pinewild director of golf, Chris Little. "The Holly's different: a lot of wetlands and a lot of wasteland. It's not a typical Pinehurst course."

Of the country club's two courses — it also has a nine-holer — the Magnolia is the more difficult.

"The Magnolia is more your typical Pinehurst course and it's always a couple shots tougher than Holly, only because it's a little longer and the greens are bigger," Little said. "There are no tricks to Magnolia, but it's a difficult course to score on compared to Holly. It's difficult to get it under par at Magnolia."

Even for the pros. Magnolia was the site of U.S. Open two years running. Of the 250 golfers that came through each year, less than a handful broke par.

Holly has more forced carries and, unlike the Magnolia, you can't always roll it up on the green. Still, it's shorter and a tad easier.

"With Holly, you can get on a roll and make a few birdies if you take some chances," Little said. "I've always described it as a fun, risk/reward layout that doesn't overly penalize you. You can take your chances, but it doesn't beat you up. That's what's fun about it."

Like Holly's No. 16: it's a 458-yard par-4 with a dry creek bed fronting the green and bunkers right and left; the bulkheaded green falls off right to a bunker. Your second shot is slightly downhill and with the pin tucked behind the right bunker, it's a very difficult approach. There is a bail-out area to the left.

"It's a nice course, I just don't understand why they over-seed some fairways and not others," said Mike Bailey, a Canadian pro playing the course for the first time. "But, it's a really good layout; it has some interesting holes."

Little said there was a reason for interval over-seeding: "A few years ago, we relied a lot more on outside resort play and we would over-seed every hole," he said. "But, now we have 930 members, 700 homes, and we don't rely on that much outside play.

"We'll elect not to over-seed the fairways in the sun, so some holes the grass can come back better in late spring and early summer."

The Verdict

Pinewild is a pretty course, though it's in a gated, country club setting with homes along its holes. But, significant areas of long-leaf pine were left untouched and the lakes, ponds and streams that run through the wooded areas give it a touch of wildness. It seems to be a little hillier than most other courses in the area.

Pinewild is known for having excellent greens. In March they were still a tad spotty; but still in decent shape for the 36,000 rounds the course hosts.

"This year's been a little tougher with the growing season," Little said. "We're about two weeks behind, so it's been a little frustrating. But, the grass is starting to kick in."

Holly is 7,021 yards from the back tees, compared to 7,276 for the Magnolia. Green fees for visitors are $135 with cart and tax during prime time and in the $60 range offseason. Members pay only dues and cart fees.

Pinewild advertises itself as semi-private, but be advised it's difficult for non-members to get on. Members get preferred tee times.

"You can play for a price, but most of our (outside) play is through packages," Little said. "I probably don't have any tee times left in April, for example. My true, non-member play is probably only about 15 percent and that is decreasing. It will get to some point where it's very limited at a higher dollar value."

Club officials are re-doing the greens at the Magnolia course this June.

Places to Stay

The Pinehurst Resort and its statue of Payne Stewart is like a living museum. There are other lodging options as well, if the Pinehurst Resort and its eight courses are a little too pricey for you.

Aside from the usual chain motels, there is the Magnolia Inn, an 1896 Victorian bed and breakfast where $290 gets you two nights, breakfast, dinner and two rounds of golf, picking from 25 courses.

There are also condos, villa and private homes. Most of the golf courses are within short driving range, unlike Myrtle Beach where you can drive up to 45 minutes or more to reach your course.

As far as nightlife, the Sandhills doesn't really compare to Myrtle Beach and its gentlemen clubs, but it does have the Broad Street Bar, a sports bar with 30 televisions, the Red Room night club and Brooks on Main Street. Also, there are a few gentlemen's clubs and honky-tonks in Aberdeen and Southern Pines.

Fast Fact

Pinewild Golf Academy is led by Tom Ream, head instructor for John Jacobs Golf Schools. It offers one-, two- and four-day schools March through October.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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