Love it or Hate it, The Pit is Still One of Pinehurst's Best

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

PINEHURST, NC - They say you either love or hate The Pit Golf Links. Head golf professional Ray Perry says this isn't true - he loves it and hates it. To be more accurate, Perry hated the course once upon a time.

That time was when The Pit first opened in 1985. The Pinehurst area had never seen anything like it back then, and if it wasn't for Mike Strantz's recently opened Tobacco Road golf course outside Fayetteville, this Dan Maples masterpiece would still be the local stick in the mud today.

Perry, and a good number of players that played The Pit in the months after it opened, were upset about the cabbage patch-like rough. They were upset that something so quirky, so penal and so devious could have been built in this, the birthplace of traditional resort golf.

"I played it after it first opened and I said I would never, never come back again," Perry says. "The next time I played it, though, it was so much more playable. One tenth of one percent of the people that play this course hate it now. And if that percentile comes back to play again, they love it then. If you hit out of the fairway back then, the ball was lost. That is where the hate part came in."

Love and hate are pretty strong emotions, normally reserved for movies, novels and in-laws, so why all the fuss about a golf course?

You see, The Pit, as the name suggests, isn't you average tree lined, love grassed, gently rolling Sandhills layout. The course is routed through, over and around an old sand quarry that closed back in 1935.

The sand was lifted to mix with the concrete that eventually became the Blue Ridge Parkway. What remained, after the last load was lifted and sent on its way to the mountains, was a landscape that didn't exactly scream "golf course!"

Dozens of sand mounds, laden with scrap pines and craggy brush were the property's most dramatic feature, and only a lake that now sits in the middle of the back nine lent some form of natural order to the site.

But what Maples saw was a chance to do something different in a region were different is about as welcome as George O'Leary at a Notre Dame mixer. By the early 1980's, the scrap pines had turned into the majestic, long leaf version, and the soil was loamy, workable and drained like a bathtub on speed.

Maples took the front nine and routed it like a links course, each hole strung together like an unhitched necklace and no two holes playing parallel to each other. On the back nine, he molded holes No. 11, 12, and 13 into one of the best par 4, par 3, par 4 combinations in the state by routing them around the quarry's lake front property.

No. 11 plays 360 yards from the middle tees, and features a downhill tee shot and an approach shot over the lake. The 137-yard par 3 12th hole is one of the best one-shotters in the Sandhills with its island green and view out over the lake. The 348-yard 13th completes the stretch with a challenging, 200 plus yard carry over the lake to a fairway that gradually doglegs left.

Maples left the old sand mounds in tact throughout the entire course, creating one of the truly unique golfing experiences in North Carolina.

"Maples really wanted the course to be more of a links style golf course. For example we don't have colored pins identifying pin placements like you have on most modern courses," Perry says. "Its not a wide open course, but its more of a what you see is what you get golf course."

Blindfold a golfer, plunk him down on The Pit's par 3 fourth hole with its surreal mounding, and tell him that he's playing a Dan Maples designed golf course. Chances are he'll politely let you know that you're out of you mind. After all, Maples designed the Golf Club at Longleaf, one of the most straightforward, traditional courses in Pinehurst.

Yet, Perry says that The Pit's surroundings belie the fact that it is a fair, playable golf course that actually receives as much repeat play as any course in the area.

"If you focus on the golf course here, you will realize that it is not tricked up," he says. "If you miss the fairways, there is not a lot of room to recover, but some of the landing areas are so big, you should be penalized if you miss them."

If you'd prefer to play The Pit from the back tees, you'll be teeing up from the course's "Screw Tees," which will put you at about 6600 yards. Move down to the "Spike Tees," where most mid-handicappers should be playing, and you'll get 6138 yards that play a great deal longer. The Pit also offers the "Half Rail Anchor Tees," ideal for senior and high handicappers at 5690 yards, and the "Rail Anchor Tees" (4759 yards) for the ladies.

"Like any other course, if you choose the right tees, you'll enjoy the course more," Perry says. "At 6600 yards, its not one of your 7000 plus yard championship courses, but it's plenty of test from the Screw Tees if you want to take it on."

The toughest test, as No. 1 handicap rating suggests, might be the par 5 15th, which plays to 550 yards from the Screw Tees. Some locals claim that the elevated tee box is the highest point in the Sandhills, and the hole is almost birdie proof, with its double doglegging fairway.

Three par 4's at The Pit that play over 400 yards from the back tees, and the par 5's average well over 500 yards. Still, Perry says that The Pit is a shotmakers course at heart.

"I think it is more of a finesse golf course," he says. "There are a couple of holes, like the par 5's on the front, that longer hitters would have an advantage on. But most of the par 4's, with good drives, are accessible with high irons."

If for some reason you end up in the growing minority of golfers that hates The Pit, it won't be because of the conditions. Even during the winter months, the course is tightly manicured with a rye grass overseed and the bentgrass greens are closely cropped and true rolling.

The Pit Golf Course

Designer: Dan Maples
Year Opened: 1985 Turf: Greens - bentgrass, Fairways - Bermuda with rye overseed.
Slope/Ratings:
Screw 71.8/133, Spike 69.9/123, Half Rail Anchor 68/115, Rail Anchor 68/116
Yardage:Screw 6600, Spike 6138, Half Rail Anchor 5690, Rail Anchor 4759
Head Professional: Ray Perry

Sharp Says: The term "Must-Play" is overused in the golf course industry, but if you're planning a golf trip to Pinehurst, and you've already played No. 2, No. 4, No. 8 and Pine Needles, the Pit should be next up on your list. Don't expect resort-style service, scented towels between holes, or a snooty clubhouse. The Pit is all about the golf course, and Maples has crafted one of the most memorable layouts in the state.

Scorecard

Conditions: A
Layout: A+
Service: B
Practice Facilities: B
Club House/Pro Shop: B -
Pace of Play: A
Value: B
Overall Rating: A-

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.


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