Golf around North Carolina’s Sandhills region is legendary, first and foremost due to the world-class quality of golf offerings across the Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen area.
Yet, another strong, if less heralded, contributor to golf’s immense popularity is the region’s ideal, year-round playing climate.
Does it get a little warm during the summer? Sure. But with a sizeable contingency of area courses having converted their green complexes from bent grass to Bermuda during the past decade or so, golfers who are willing to brave the toasty temps are treated to golf courses that are less crowded, boasting greens that are perfect for putting.
Bent vs. Bermuda Grass
Historically, bent grass has provided the game’s best putting surface. Bent is a strain of grass that grows upright, allowing golfers to putt on its tips, promoting the smoothest roll. Combined with its ability to withstand a close shave, bent grass has always been lauded for producing the game’s fastest, truest putting surface.
Conversely, past Bermuda grass tended to lay prostrate, leading to a “grainy” putting surface. When golfers putted into the grain, the ball was prone to jump and break more. When putting with the grain, ball speed increased while break decreased. Golfers unaccustomed to Bermuda often struggled getting adjusted.
Yet, just as science and technology have produced medical breakthroughs in fields like stem cell research and gene therapy, similar methods have been used to create hybrid Bermuda grass strains such as Champion, Tifdwarf and MiniVerde — significantly enhancing the quality of Bermuda greens.
The challenges with bent grass tend to be issues such as heat stress, diseases, poorly drained soils, and wear during the summer. Superintendents often spent numerous hours aerating greens, watering with hand-held hoses, applying fungicides and small amounts of fertilizer, applying wetting agents, and providing good airflow — all to create better growing conditions.
As a result, on many courses around Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen during the past decade-plus, new ultradwarf Bermuda varieties have replaced bent grass. Bermuda grass has a different physiology and thrives when the temperature is 80-90 degrees. While Bermuda grass can be damaged by cold weather when the soil temperatures remain in the 20s for several days, it tends to go brown in color — but generally retains its putting quality.
Talamore Golf Resort
Visitors to the Talamore Golf Resort in Southern Pines can stay and play two of the area’s finest courses, Talamore Golf Club and its sister course, Mid South Club. Both are located on Midland Road midway between the Pinehurst Resort & Country Club and the acclaimed duo of Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club and Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club.
Talamore has been ranked in the forefront of outstanding courses since opening in 1991. Architect Rees Jones designed a golf course that is both visually striking and exceptionally enjoyable, debuting with the Penncross strain of bent grass on its greens. Yet, after a quarter-century, the club began reviewing different renewal concepts. Talamore decided to convert to Bermuda in large part based on the overwhelming success enjoyed by the other local courses that had already made the transition.
Following in the footsteps of some of its most well-known counterparts, Pinehurst No. 2, Pine Needles, Mid Pines and Tobacco Road Golf Club, the Talamore Golf Resort converted its bent grass greens to Bermuda in 2016. After a thorough review of the different strains, Talamore selected Champion Bermuda. The project was completed just in time for the annual U.S. Kids World Golf Championship held throughout the Pinehurst area, and for which Talamore is a host golf and lodging facility.
Mid South Club
Meanwhile, the Mid South Club, masterfully designed by Arnold Palmer, boasts 545 acres of towering pine trees and emerald fairways within a private, residential community. In 2017, following up on the successful remastering at Talamore, Mid South underwent a similar golf course restoration and greens conversion to Champion Bermuda, along with numerous other club enhancements. The putting surfaces on both layouts were restored to their original designs by recapturing the greens surrounds, which had been encroached by native Bermuda grasses. In addition to true-rolling and lightning-fast greens, the new strains of Bermuda have provided significantly better playing conditions year-round
“Hyland Golf Club (converted to Bermuda grass greens), Legacy (Golf Links) did it in 2012 and then Mid Pines and (Pinehurst) No. 8 did it in 2013,” said Matt Hausser, PGA, General Manager at Talamore Golf Resort. “(Pinehurst) No. 2 did it right after the U.S. Opens in 2014. And then, it kind of snowballed. Once No. 2 converted, then everybody else wanted to do it. Pine Needles converted their greens in 2017, because they did at the same time as Mid South. Mid Pines was 2013.”
Mid Pines and Pine Needles
Like Hausser at Talamore, Kelly Miller didn’t have to look far for a good sampling when he began contemplating converting the green complexes at Pine Needles from bent grass to an ultra-dwarf strand of Bermuda grass. He looked just across Midland Road, to the Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club.
As the longtime president and CEO of the company that owns and operates Pines Needles and Mid Pines — both designed by Donald Ross — Miller was able to witness the advantages of Bermuda grass first hand after Mid Pines underwent an extensive 2013 renovation headed by architect Kyle Franz. The greens were resurfaced with a mini-Verde grass that has proven not only more manageable, but also capable of being cut to lower and faster levels — and far more heat tolerant during the steamy Sandhills summers.
The Ross restoration work by Franz at Mid Pines and Pine Needles has drawn critical acclaim from wide circles in the golfing community.
For Miller, an accomplished competitor and knowledgeable Ross devotee, he first started contemplating the advantages of Bermuda greens long ago while playing two other historic courses further south — Country Club of Charleston in the South Carolina Lowcountry, where Miller had competed through the years in the prestigious Azalea Invitational, and Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla., one of Ross’s most renowned designs, where Miller is a member.
“The Bermuda grass greens at Country Club of Charleston might have been the best greens I ever putted on,” said Miller, who won the Azalea Invitational in 1995. “And Seminole has some of the best Bermuda grass greens anywhere. I have become infatuated with them through the years.”
Southern Pines Golf Club
Now, Miller and his team are overseeing a renovation of Southern Pines Golf Club, a vintage Ross-designed course dating to the early 1900s, under Franz’s watchful eye. Those greens will also be converted to Bermuda grass.
“During the summer when the greens were bent grass, we really had to manage our rounds,” Miller said. “In other words, in August, when it was really hot, we wouldn’t take a big event that would bring lots of players because your staff couldn’t get out there to properly water. Now, we’re actively looking to host events during that time period.”
“The winters can be a bit more challenging with Bermuda grass greens when extended low temperatures require us to cover the greens at night,” Miller said. “But the benefits of having outstanding Bermuda grass greens in the summer far outweigh this winter inconvenience.”
All of which adds up to a Bermuda Revolution around the Sandhills of North Carolina that has resulted in outstanding, year-round golf.