By Brad King
The history of golf in the Sandhills of North Carolina practically writes itself. National championships, titans of the game, legendary architects and award-winning golf course designs, all have their place in Pinehurst and the surrounding Southern Pines and Aberdeen area.
The Sandhills boasts a number of courses well known in the golf world. In fact, we’ve previously documented the variety of courses around Midland Road — or the “Fifth Avenue of Golf” as it has been called.
Yet while it can be challenging at times to secure tee times during your preferred travel dates, there are plenty more outstanding, if lesser-known, layouts around the Sandhills that are equally enjoyable and provide a memorable Home of American Golf experience.
Located on Midland Road, Longleaf Golf & Family Club is a premier semi-private golf club featuring a Dan Maples-designed, Bill Bergin-remodeled course that consistently offers some of the best conditions found anywhere in the Carolinas, as well as plenty of history.
Originally constructed on the site of Starland Farms, a former thoroughbred horse training facility, Longleaf debuted in November of 1988 with the Inaugural Golf Hall of Fame writer’s tournament, and the Golf Hall of Fame opened in the Pinehurst Village the following day. Many of the farm’s original features including white fences, rail posts and hedgerows have been retained as a tribute to the original site. Longleaf’s front and back nines are two distinctively different layouts. The front is more links style and the back more tree lined with nice elevation changes.
Now, as home to the now world-famous Longleaf Tee System, the course provides a data-based way to scale every hole making each a fair, fun test for players of every age and ability. Additionally, members and visitors can sign up for lessons at the U.S. Kids Golf Academy, play a quick six holes at Bottlebrush Short Course, or get in some practice on the expansive range and the 10,000 square foot putting green.
One former U.S. Open champion — the legendary South African, Gary Player — will forever be linked to Pinewild Country Club, which he helped open in 1996. Located just one mile from the quaint and historic village of Pinehurst, this gated club offers its residents and guests 48 holes of golf, including two championship layouts, the Magnolia and the Holly, both of which are visually appealing yet challenging to golfers of all skill levels.
The Holly, a Player signature design, is an area favorite due to its panoramic beauty, risk-reward opportunities, and some the best greens in the Sandhills. The Holly has played host to many USGA Qualifying events, as well as Carolinas PGA Championships. The Magnolia was designed by Gene Hamm, and has played host to the PGA Tour Qualifying School, the LPGA’s Pinewild Championship in l995, and U.S. Open qualifying events.
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 Hamm, who constructed each course to take advantage of the land’s rolling hills, soft sandy soils and plentiful lakes.
The Red Fox, with its wide, manicured fairways and large, elevated, fast-rolling greens, is the member’s favorite. Widely considered the most challenging course, the Grey Fox features hilly terrain, several doglegs and towering pines, and emphasizes shot-making on a well-bunkered layout with characteristic elevated greens. The Grey Fox is also in the best condition it has been in more than a decade.
Membership at Foxfire Resort & Golf Club also includes the 36-hole Country Club of Whispering Pines. The club’s hybrid bent grass greens hold shots well, but may confound even the best of putters with their characteristic subtle breaks.
Whispering Pines features two of local legend Ellis Maples’ finest designs. The Pines Course — formerly the East — is an “inland links” course. The River Course — formerly the West — is more reminiscent of courses found in North Carolina’s foothills. The Pines 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 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.
Designed by Peter Tufts III, godson of Donald Ross, and opened in 1976, 7 Lakes Country Club in West End boasts a history and heritage of excellence in course design. Located 10 miles from the Village of Pinehurst, this classic layout, paired with the area’s natural beauty, delivers a spectacular golf course emphasizing the traditional and classic design elements that present a true Sandhills experience. Amateurs and professionals alike will attest 7 Lakes Golf Club should be on the radar of any golf aficionado during an excursion to the Pinehurst area.
Nearby in West End, proudly serving the greater Seven Lakes community for more than three decades, Beacon Ridge Golf & Country Club was also designed by Hamm and opened in 1988. Beacon Ridge is accented by narrow, rolling and flowing Bermuda fairways accentuated by small, undulating, New Sunday Bermuda greens that demand an array of well-placed shots.
Meandering through towering pines and rolling mounds, Beacon Ridge will provide a uniquely satisfying experience for those who love traditional golf. This classic layout provides a memorable Village of Pinehurst area challenge to golfers of every ability — and kids play for free.
Not to be outdone by his famous father, Jack Nicklaus II stamped his name on Aberdeen’s Legacy Golf Links in 1991. Offering a challenging variety of holes, wide fairways and strategic use of water hazards, this “Jackie” design features Mini Verde greens and is beautifully routed around five lakes. The collection of par 3s are among the best in the area, while the 18th hole, nicknamed “The Bear,” has been rated as the area’s best finishing hole.
Further down Hwy 15-501 South, “the new” Deercroft Golf Club in Wagram is well worth the drive. Acclaimed consulting architect Kyle Franz has helped keep Deercroft scenic and challenging, yet fair without being tricked up. The layout is full of elevation changes and beautiful fairways lined by the tall pines of the Sandhills, and is regularly in fabulous condition.
Site of a 1986 PGA Tour Qualifier, this classic, semi-private layout was ranked in Golfweek’s Top-50 Courses for five consecutive years, while Golf Digest once called Deercroft “the best-kept secret in the Pinehurst Area.” Now, the main focus at Deercroft is customer service and creating an exceptional golfing experience.
Located on US 1 approaching from the north, 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.
With nearly 40 golf courses within a 15-mile radius, including the host courses for the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open Championship and the 2024 U.S. Open, it’s little surprise that the Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen area is renowned as the Home of American Golf.