Pinehurst without No. 2's sticker shock? Believe it

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Talamore Golf CoursePINEHURST, N.C. - So you're checking out golf destinations and you say you want to go to Pinehurst. You've heard it's called the home of American golf and you want to play No. 2 because it's so famous.

You go online, type in 'Pinehurst' and up pops the Pinehurst Resort. You go straight to No. 2 and check out the green fees: $345. Yow! Click. Next stop, Myrtle Beach.

It's a shame more golfers don't go to Pinehurst because of the confusion with the name. The word Pinehurst usually refers to the resort. There is also the Village of Pinehurst, which is the town itself - invariably described as quaint or charming - and the Sandhills area, which usually means the region that includes Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen. It's that sandy, hilly part of North Carolina, so good for building golf courses.

Yes, No. 2 is the main attraction in the area and at the resort, which has seven other courses, and with good reason. No. 2 is the Donald Ross masterpiece where Ben Hogan won his first professional tournament. It's where the North and South Amateur Championship has been played for more than 100 years. It's where Payne Stewart won the U.S. Open in 1999, four months before his death, and where the Open will again be played this June.

You walk through the clubhouse lined with old photos and trophies and you can practically smell the history. Walk outside and there's a statue of Stewart, striking the joyous pose after he sank the winning putt.

But, the Sandhills area is also home to about 45 courses within a 10-mile radius, many of them by architects like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and, of course, Ross. Ross' home still stands alongside the course, as well as his personal practice hole, and his influence is ingrained in the area like afternoon sunlight filtering through longleaf pines.

The truth is, the Sandhills area has quite a few good golf courses without the sticker shock of No. 2. This is hardly a secret - Golf Digest named Pinehurst the No. 3 golf destination in the world and the tops on the East Coast in 2000 - but the name confusion still keeps quite a few people away.

And there are local golf packagers offering deals that can be up to 75 percent less than major resort prices.

"People go to the Internet and type in 'Pinehurst' and the resort comes up, and they think they have to spend $1,500 so they switch to Myrtle Beach," said Marcus Larose of AME Golf, a Pinehurst golf packager. "The biggest thing we're trying to do is educate people."

If you must play a Donald Ross, there is Pine Needles, which hosted the 2001 U.S. Women Open and has it again in 2007. The course finished five months of renovation late last year, designed to make it closer to the course Ross opened in 1928. Scottsdale architect John Fought restored the greens and bunkers to their original dimensions, lengthened tees and re-established native turf grasses.

Sister course Mid-Pines, across the street, is another Ross design, close in quality to Needles. Julius Boros was a golf professional there when he won a U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

Over the years, quite a few daily-fee courses have opened in the area, all using the Pinehurst name as the drawing card and inspiration.

"The daily-fees have to be held to a higher standard," said Greg Austin, a former pro at Pinehurst now with AME Golf, who has lived in the area since he was 3 years old. "There are architects in town like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Rees Jones. The resort commands a premium dollar, but really there are places and times you can come to the Sandhills area that you can do very affordably.

"Summer is not a bad time to come. The golf is not that expensive."

Pinewild Golf CourseFor example, there is Talamore, a semi-private club known for its consistently good conditioning. A Jones design, it runs, characteristically, through rolling terrain with Carolina pines and was voted North Carolina Golf Course of the Year for two straight years.

Legacy Golf Links, a Nicklaus II (the Bear's son) design, is a public course that hosted the 2000 Women's Amateur Public Links Championship.

Pinewilde Country Club is 36-hole facility a mile from the Village of Pinehurst. The Magnolia is a Gene Hamm design and the Holly is a Player course, known for having some of the best greens in the Sandhills area.

Other area courses include Tobacco Road Golf Club, about a 30-minute drive, well worth its $58 peak weekend green fees - not to mention its 155 slope rating - the Pit Golf Links, Bayonet at Puppy Creek, Hyland Hills Golf Club and Little River Farm.

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's 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.

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.


Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Pinehurst

    Tom Edmonds wrote on: Apr 26, 2005

    I've played almost all of the numbered courses and find them for the most part overrated and overpriced. Lots of great Pinehurst courses outside of the resort are a better value.
    I particularly like MidSouth and Pinehurst National. Pinecrest Inn is a great place to stay and enjoy golf, great food, a lively atmosphere, and wonderful service.

    Reply