By Lee Pace
Tucked between the century-plus traditions of Pinehurst three miles to the west and Mid Pines one mile to the east, two 1990s era courses have established golfing bona fides of their own. Judging by tee sheets, package bookings and the clinking of post-round beverage glasses, life is good at the Talamore and Mid South golf properties positioned on opposite sides of Midland Road in the heart of the Sandhills.
Talamore is a 1991 Rees Jones-designed course developed and still owned by Philadelphia businessman Bob Levy Jr. It was conceived as a daily-fee/resort course amidst the 1990s golf boom and remains so today.
Mid South is a 1994 Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay creation originally known as Pinehurst Plantation and planned as the centerpiece of a gated, residential community. It changed owners in the early days and was later rebranded as Mid South and then picked up by Levy in 2004 as a companion course to Talamore. Mid South remains a private club, but guests in the hundred lodges built over two decades at the two addresses combined have access to the course.
Both courses and the club facilities have undergone extensive renovations in the 2016-17 window, each now sporting Bermuda greens and updated dining and drinking facilities.
“I’ll put our two courses up against anyone,” says Matt Hausser, the general manager over the two courses who started as an assistant golf pro in 2003. “Both courses are in fantastic shape—fast greens and good fairways. It’s a great one-two punch. Mid South has a lot more water, and Talamore has more rolling topography and makes you play a lot of shots. You get a different feel at each course.”
Rees Jones has extensive personal history in the Sandhills and remembers as a kid staying at the Holly Inn when his father, noted architect Robert Trent Jones, visited to attend golf architect meetings and work on the re-design of Pinehurst No. 4 prior to the PGA Tour visiting in 1973 and on the collaboration with Willard Byrd on the design of the Cardinal Course at the Country Club of North Carolina. Rees designed Pinehurst No. 7 in the mid-1980s and immediately afterward was commissioned by Levy for Talamore, the name coming from a Gaelic word meaning “land of great value.”
“Anytime you get an offer to design a golf course in Pinehurst, you get pretty darn excited,” Jones says. “I couldn’t wait to come back here and do Talamore. The land is very rugged. It has an awful lot of character. It lent to a very dramatic golf course. Strategy is a big part of the game at Talamore. In Pinehurst, you’ve got to build character and challenge, there are so many good golf courses here.”
Levy at the beginning understood the need to have a marketing hook in a golf-intensive environment like Pinehurst and remembered seeing a story in Golf Digest in the 1970s about a course in Mexico strapping two golf bags across a donkey’s back and using the animal as a caddie. He applied the same idea to llamas at Talamore, and a photograph of the llamas schlepping golf bags around the course appeared in hundreds of newspapers and golf publications in the early 1990s.
The llamas are no longer used as caddies at Talamore, but they still have a presence at the course for petting and “selfie” photos with traveling golfers, and the outline of a llama with a flagstick emanating from the center comprises the club’s logo. That logo was once presented in the yellow and green colors similar to those of the famous Augusta National Golf Club mark, and the club received a cease-and-desist letter from Augusta’s attorneys warning Talamore that its logo was too similar to Augusta’s. That letter is proudly and humorously displayed in the golf shop at Talamore.
“Everyone knows our llama logo,” says director of golf Tag Leon. “We still use it—just not in green and yellow. We were not going to do battle with those guys. But it’s a cool image. We’ve sold a lot of merchandise with the llama over the years.”
Located directly across Midland Road is the Mid South course, which winds around a half dozen lakes, the most noteworthy one providing the anchor for the ninth and eighteenth holes and the double-green complex. The par-5 ninth runs right-to-left and downhill into the green, and 18 turns left-to-right into the green. There’s a safe approach on both holes and a more aggressive line as well. The clubhouse sits on a plateau overlooking the green complex and the lake.
“This is a dynamite golf course,” said Seay, Palmer’s longtime design associate who lived in the Sandhills area from 1964-68 while working for Ellis Maples on the design and construction of the Country Club of Whispering Pines and Woodlake Country Club. “It’s everything a golfer could want. It’s one of the best we’ve done. Every hole nestles right in. From one hole to the next, you do not find a similar piece of ground. The variation in contour is remarkable for an area thought to be flat. That’s one of the charms of this golf course.”
Mid South and Talamore operate a golf packaging business and can house golfers in villas clustered around both clubhouses and set golfers up with tee times at other area courses. Golfers are feted in-season with Monday and Thursday night pig-pickings at Talamore, and in 2022 Talamore will have installed 10 Toptracer stations and a short game area with a 12,000 square-foot putting green. The new amenities will turn the practice range into part game emporium and part sports bar, allowing golfers to experience an interactive and social experience during twilight and evening hours.
“We can sleep 400 people on property,” says Hausser. “We’re giving them more reasons to get on property and stay on-property. It will be a great hang-out spot.”
Consider the irony: Toptracer’s ball-tracking technology and array of virtual golf courses allow a golfer to tee it up on many world-renowned courses. Imagine playing the harrowing par-4 fourth on Pinehurst No. 2 from a virtual hitting bay just three miles away. Pinehurst and its U.S. Open venue have a lot of history, for sure, but Talamore and Mid South are forging new ground in remaining relevant.
Chapel Hill based writer Lee Pace has written about golf in the Sandhills since the late 1980s and has authored a dozen books about clubs, courses and the people who’d made it special over more than a century.