Reinvention keeps Pinehurst Resort on the top of golfers' lists

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

PINEHURST, N.C. - It is a chamber of commerce spring morning at this resort James Tufts and Donald Ross built more than 100 years ago. The emerald green grass surrounding the 18th green on the famed No. 2 course bumps up against the cotton-white clubhouse with its glistening copper roof. Caddies and golfers set off down the first fairway, not a golf cart in sight, and you get the feeling all is right in the world.

All is right, but all is not necessarily the same.

It could be argued that pound for pound, no world-class golf resort has reinvented itself over the past decade like Pinehurst Resort. Old courses have been updated, a new course added, and a multi-million dollar spa has been thrown in for good measure. There are even plans for two new courses when and if the economy allows for them.

In a glass-is-half-empty travel market, it's good to be Pinehurst.

"We've done quite well," said Pinehurst Resort general manager Pat Corso. "It speaks to the brand, and we feel good about the future."

The economy, travel market, gas prices, and SARS considered, Pinehurst Resort has reason to feel good. The resort recently unveiled the new-look No. 7 course, which underwent an extensive renovation by Rees Jones in 2002. With the upgrade to seven, Pinehurst arguably has one of the best collections of resort tracks in the country.

"I think No. 7 brings something different to the table here. It increases the variety of golf courses," said No. 7 head professional Chad Campbell. "This is not an approach shot course like No. 2 or No. 4. This is a tee shot course."

Along with No. 7, the resort offers the No. 2, the solid No. 4 and No. 8 courses as part of its high-end, "premium" package. Designed and continually tinkered with by Ross, No. 2 is considered one of the strongest tests of golf in the world. It hosted the U.S. Open in 1999 and 2005. The No. 4 course originally was designed by Ross in 1919, but was totally retooled by Tom Fazio in 1999. Fazio also designed No. 8, the newest of the bunch, in celebration of the resort's 100th anniversary.

"This is one of the great places in golf," said Rees Jones during the press conference to announce the grand re-opening of No. 7. "I used to come here with my father (the late Robert Trent Jones) as a child on the way to Florida. It is a special place."

So special that the United States Golf Association announced last week that No.s 2 and 4 will host the U.S. Amateur Championship in 2007 - the resort's ninth major USGA championship since opening in 1895. The list includes aforementioned U.S. Opens, the 1994 U.S. Senior Open, the 1989 U.S. Women's Amateur, the 1980 Men's World Amateur Team Championship, the 1980 Women's World Amateur Team Championship, and the 1967 Senior Men's World Championship.

"The principles of amateur golf are at the very core of Pinehurst values, and the heart of our mission to continually deliver a timeless experience to all golfers," Corso said.

The Pinehurst "experience" is the aura that attracts golfers from around the world like some sort of paranormal golf homing beacon. No other place in the world - not Myrtle Beach and not even St. Andrews - is as singularly dedicated to the game as Pinehurst.

"Even the garbage men have handicaps here," said Bill Kreischer, head golf professional at Woodlake Resort and Golf Club and a bartender at Hacker's sports pub. "Everyone is here for the same reason and that is rare. If you can't strike up a conversation around here with someone about where you played and what your favorite courses are, you just aren't trying."

Here, took a few days to strike up conversations with locals and visitors about all things golf. Here's what we found out:

Best Pinehurst Resort course: Golfers come from all over the world to play No. 2, but they generally leave talking about No. 4 or 8, according a handful of local golf pros. Fazio's work at No. 4 is masterful, and to fully understand why you'll have to ask one of the guys in the pro shop how the renowned golf course designer pieced the new layout together. If you love muscular, pine-tree packed layouts with wide fairways and gently undulating greens, No. 8 is a no-brainer. It says here that No. 7 will be a force to be reckoned with in the favorites category within the next year.

Best local bar: Traveling golfers have more options these days, but Mr. B's at the Pine Crest Inn is still the place locals congregate to forget about life for a while. And talk golf, of course. Mr. B's is one of those rare places where Wednesday night can be as raucous as Saturday night. Donald Ross bought the Inn in 1921 and owned it until his death in 1948. The Barrett family has owned it for the past 42 years, so the atmosphere is family oriented to the hilt. Drink along to piano tunes on the weekends and chip golf balls into the fireplace in the winter.

Best golf resort without Pinehurst in the name: The Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club in Southern Pines, if not in the shadow of Pinehurst Resort, would get frequent mention as one of the best golf resorts in the southeastern U.S. Shadows be darned, Mid Pines is a wonderful, family owned and operated facility with a storybook Ross course to match. The Bell family, of Peggy Kirk Bell fame, is proprietors over Mid Pines and neighboring Pine Needles. Many a golfer is content to come down for a long weekend (or a long week for that matter), bed down at the charming hotel, and bounce back and forth between Ross designs at Pine Needles and Mid Pines on one of the Bell's all-you-play packages.

Best breakfast: You have neither lived, nor properly attempted to clog an artery, until you've sat for the breakfast buffet in the Carolina Hotel dining room at Pinehurst Resort. The health tip of the week came from one of the servers, who mentioned in passing that turkey sausage had recently been added to the buffet's arsenal.

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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