By Brad King
Start with Southern Pines Golf Club, a classic Donald Ross hidden gem and one of the oldest golf courses in North Carolina’s Sandhills region of Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen. Southern Pines GC is on the home stretch of an 18-month renovation project headed by architect Kyle Franz — who comes full circle reimagining a variety of Ross designs, following his previous award-winning work at Pinehurst No. 2, Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club and Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club.
Franz says the golf course will evoke the feel of a Ross original, staying true to the well-preserved routing while removing elements that have been added through the years. More than 700 trees have been removed, accentuating dramatic vistas throughout the property. The Ross greens have been revamped and the bunkers restored. Franz also uncovered Ross’s “Lost Hole” — not part of the routing — while researching historic materials prior to the restoration. “Much of the property is transformed,” said Franz. “You really get a good sense for Ross’s golf course and where we’re going with everything.”
Meanwhile, the United States Golf Association (USGA) is establishing a second home in Pinehurst. “Golf House Pinehurst” will be the site of the USGA’s equipment research and testing center, and turfgrass agronomy and management offices, as well as a museum and welcome center — all of which will be accessible to the public. The USGA tabbed the resort’s No. 2 Course at its first U.S Open anchor site, with five championships scheduled through 2047. Plans for a new, 64,000-square-foot, 34-room Lodge at Pinehurst hotel on Pinehurst Resort’s campus, overlooking The Cradle par-3 short course and the Thistle Dhu 18-hole putting course, include meeting spaces, locker rooms, a fitness center and bar.
In other exciting news, following the completion of this summer’s thrilling 2021 U.S. Junior Amateur at the Country Club of North Carolina’s Dogwood and Cardinal courses, the Sandhills will serve as host site for several more prestigious events. Just around the corner is the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles and the 2023 ACC Men’s Golf Championship at CCNC’s Dogwood Course. The big-time events will be culminated by the fourth U.S. Open Championship, on Pinehurst No. 2, in June of 2024.
All of these golf courses are well known in the golf world. In fact, we’ve documented the variety of courses around Midland Road — or the “Fifth Avenue of Golf” as it has been called — including Pinehurst No. 2.
In 2011, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw completed a restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 that brought back many of the design characteristics from Donald Ross’s own 1935 renovation. The Granddaddy of American Golf opened in 1907 and has hosted dozens of major tournaments.
History was made during the summer of 2019, when the recently redesigned Pinehurst No. 4, along with No. 2, served as the site of the 36-hole match-play final of the 119th U.S. Amateur Championship. Architect Gil Hanse and his design partner Jim Wagner’s version of No. 4 that debuted in 2018 is nearly unrecognizable from its predecessors. Pinehurst No. 8 opened in 1996 to commemorate Pinehurst’s centennial year. Architect Tom Fazio incorporated signature Ross features into the design, including dips and swales around the greens, sloping greens and false fronts.
Pine Needles is another legendary Ross masterpiece, already having served as the site of three U.S. Women’s Open Championships, the 2019 U.S. Senior Women’s Open and the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open. To play at Pine Needles — and, of course, its sister course across Midland Road, Mid Pines — is to live and breathe Donald Ross golf. Mid Pines was impeccably restored by Franz in 2013. The renovation was honored with GOLF Magazine’s Best U.S. Resort Renovation and Restoration of the Year.
The Village of Pinehurst Area Chapter of the National Golf Course Owners Association named the New Course at Talamore its “Course of the Year 2018.” The prestigious award came after a major restoration. Talamore’s nearby partner property, the Arnold Palmer-designed Mid South Club, also underwent a similar golf course restoration and greens conversion along with numerous other club enhancements. Both have also risen in state rankings since then.
And, of course, Tobacco Road Golf Club in Sanford has changed the face of Pinehurst-area golf ever since architect Mike Strantz’s masterpiece debuted in 1998. If you are planning a trip to the region, booking a round at Tobacco Road is something you need to seriously consider.
And there are plenty more outstanding, if lesser known, layouts that are especially enjoyable during autumn’s picturesque appeal.
Legacy Golf Links in Aberdeen is a memorable Jack Nicklaus II Design, with more than 7,000 yards picturesquely routed around five lakes and renovated in 2012. Legacy’s Mini Verde greens are immaculate and its collection of par 3s are regarded among the area’s best. The challenging variety of holes, wide fairways and strategic use of water hazards make Legacy a true championship test — one of the few courses in the region to play host to a USGA National Championship.
Further down Hwy 15-501 South, Deercroft Golf Club in Wagram is worth the drive. Franz has also helped keep Deercroft scenic and challenging, yet fair without being tricked up. Come experience “the best-kept secret in the Sandhills,” according to Golf Digest.
Originally built on the site of Starland Farms, a former thoroughbred horse training facility, Longleaf Golf & Family Club has been touted as “The Most Playable Course in Pinehurst” by Golf Digest. Designed by Sandhills native Dan Maples, Longleaf’s front and back nines are two distinctively different layouts. Challenging and diverse, the front is more links style with the back more tree lined with nice elevation changes. Be sure to check out their six-hole, par-3 short course, “Bottlebrush.” Owned by U.S. Kids Golf and home to the U.S. Kids Golf Academy, the course ranges from 50 to 100 yards and is fun for the whole family.
At the Country Club of Whispering Pines are two of local legend Ellis Maples’ finest designs. The Pines Course displays classic Donald Ross influence in the way it follows the land’s natural contours, by the position of the sand traps and shaping of greens. Meanwhile, the River Course will remind you of a northeastern-style country club golf course, with elevation changes uncommon in the Sandhills and fairways bordered by towering oaks and overhanging greens.
Tucked away in the quiet village of Foxfire, Foxfire Resort & Golf Club delivers 36 holes of championship golf in the form of two beautiful courses — the Grey Fox Course and the Red Fox Course — both designed by architect Gene Hamm, who constructed each course to take advantage of the land’s rolling hills, soft sandy soils and plentiful lakes. The Red Fox Course, with its wide, manicured fairways and large, elevated, fast-rolling greens, is the member’s favorite.
Beacon Ridge Country Club in West End was also designed by Hamm and opened in 1988. Accented by narrow rolling fairways and small, undulating greens, Beacon Ridge demands an array of well-placed shots. Meandering through towering pines and rolling mounds, Beacon Ridge is a must-play for those who truly love traditional golf.
Designed in 1976 by Peter Tufts III, godson of Ross, 7 Lakes Country Club in West End has a history and heritage of excellence in course design. This classic design delivers a spectacular golf course emphasizing the traditional and classic design elements that present a true Sandhills experience.
Overlooking U.S. Hwy 1, recently restored Hyland Golf Club — previously called Hyland Hills Golf Club — is now a Veteran-owned facility. Designed by Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame Member Tom Jackson, Hyland transports golfers back to a time where every shot in the bag was tested. A true, Sandhills golf experience in Southern Pines traversing rolling terrain amidst longleaf pines, Hyland offers the highest elevations, sparkling blue water and immaculate conditions — particularly its manicured, Champion Mini-dwarf Bermuda greens.
Fall golf in the Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen area is hard to beat. This year, during an ongoing season of rebirth, we treasure our past, while focusing on our exciting future.