Pine Needles set to go under the knife

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Rumors, rantings and other things admissible as new from around the Old North State golf scene.

The Pine Needles golf course in Southern Pines, host course for the 2007 U.S. Women's Open Golf Championship, will close next May for approximately five months while extensive renovations and restorations are completed.

"It's time to catch up with modern technology and to restore the Donald Ross values to our prized possession," said Pine Needles president Kelly Miller. Architect John Fought of Scottsdale, Ariz., will supervise the project. The course will reopen in October.

Miller said about 300 yards would be added, lengthening the 1928 classic from 6,700 yards to 7,000. A number of bunkers will be removed and replaced, and a new strain of bentgrass will be used on the greens. The 14th hole, now a par-5, will revert to a par-4, and the15th hole, a long par-4, will become a par-5.

The course also hosted the 1996 and 2001 U.S. Women's Opens.

Another Ross course, No. 3 at Pinehurst Resort, will a close this year for four to five months of renovation work A new irrigation system will be installed and all greens will be resurfaced. Golf Director Matt Massei said the course would close in early August and would be out of commission until the end of the year.

The 46th North and South Women's Amateur championship and the 52nd Men's championship tournaments will be held at Pinehurst on Aug. 19-21. The events annually attract the nation's top seniors for three rounds over courses No. 8, 5 and 2 for the men, and courses No. 4, 8 and 1 for the women.

From the "need for lessons defies economic times department," last year, 14 Golfaris -- a "for women only" golf school run by legendary teacher Peggy Kirk Bell -- drew more than 1,500 students. Bell oversees the school from her headquarters at Pine Needles Resort. Fifteen-year PGA Tour player Patrick Ray McGowan heads a staff of 49; the student/teacher ratio is 3:1. With an emphasis on short-game development, the Learning Center has more than 80 hitting stations, four practice putting greens, five bunkers and a four-hole practice course.

A Golden Bear sighting in the Queen City: The Club at Longview, a private club designed by Jack Nicklaus, will open near Charlotte this fall. Graham Biggs, a Roaring Gap native, is the Director of Golf. He formerly was an assistant at the Old North State Club and was head pro at Tot Hill Farm in Asheboro before taking a job in Virginia two years ago. Mel Graham, of International World Tour Golf Links fame and Steve Puckett are the developers.

And news from the mountains: Fifteen greens at the recently reopened Grove Park Inn course in Asheville were damaged by vandals, but the course was repaired in one day and did not have to be closed to members or resort guests. Spokesman Phil Werz said that someone dug up the cups on 15 holes during the night, but that the maintenance staff was able to make immediate repairs.

Mimosa Hills Country Club in Morganton reopened July 4 following an extensive restoration by architect Kris Spence of Greensboro.

Spence, who specializes in restoring Ross courses, was fortunate to have original plans and field notes made by Ross in 1929 during construction. That allowed him to recapture the mastery of this Ross creation in the North Carolina foothills.

"I can easily say that Mimosa Hills is among the most authentic and original versions of Donald Ross architecture that you will ever find," said Spence. "It was untouched for all these years. All we had to do was uncover it."

"That gives me chills when he says that," responded Dan Dobson, head pro at Mimosa. "Kris really followed the original design intent to the letter. He was great at explaining to us what was in the notes and how things should be done."

During the project, Spence's company restored all greens to their original specifications, with careful attention paid to Ross's contours. Bunkers were excavated from years of sand buildup and returned to their original shapes and depths, with new drainage and sand added. Extensive tree work restored lines of play and removed over plantings of non-native trees.

A complete irrigation system was installed. Greens were resurfaced with A-4 bent grass, while tees were laser leveled and grassed with Tif-Sport Bermuda, a winter-hearty hybrid. Heather-type grasses were added to perimeters and selected bunker faces.

Spence also gave Mimosa Hills a dosage of added length for the modern game, stretching it to 6,750 yards from 6,590. A new set of senior tees was created in the process.

"The routing and the topography will adequately challenge new technology, and the firm and fast playing conditions intended by Ross can now be accomplished without jeopardizing the health of the golf course," Spence said.

Dobson said his membership is thrilled with the restoration results.

"I'd give Kris the highest grade you could give him," said Dobson. "It's going to take some time for the course to mature, but everybody is very pleased."

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 from 1997 to 2003.

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