Header Image courtesy of Matt Gibson.
* Videos Courtesy of Pinehurst Resort.
By Jeff Neuman
Have you ever taken on a project specifically because it has an extremely tight deadline? Me neither, but that’s just one of the ways we’re different from Tom Doak.
The Pinehurst Resort wanted to open its 10th course around the time Donald Ross’s masterpiece No. 2 hosts its fourth U.S. Open in June 2024. Tom Pashley, the resort’s president, contacted Doak in mid-2022, and if that Open were a year later Doak most likely would have passed.
“I’m signed up for several other projects [that] are getting pushed off, we’re not going to build this winter,” Doak told Golf Channel this past January, “and when he called, I said, ‘[If] you’re talking about ’24, that’s iffy, but if we can get it started in ’23 we can do it.’”
Doak has only once before created a course where the shaping began less than a year after he was first approached about it, and that was one where a different designer had created the initial plan and all of the permitting was already done. It’s unusual for that process to come together so fast, but as he notes, “It’s only happening because there are a lot of professionals around Pinehurst and they know who to talk to and they’ve gotten the pieces in place in a real hurry.”
The site in Aberdeen, about a mile and a half down Beulah Hill Road from Courses 1 through 5, used to be The Pit Golf Links, a course that closed in December 2010; the property was purchased by Pinehurst Resort two months later. With visitors flocking to golf destinations in the post-pandemic travel boom, and anticipating another surge in the wake of the upcoming U.S. Open and the USGA’s new Golf House Pinehurst, resort management decided to create another option for its guests and simultaneously ease congestion on the existing courses for its members. The land is of a somewhat different character than most of the resort’s layouts.
“There’s more elevation change than the other courses at the resort,” Doak told Golf Channel. “I think that’s going to make the golf course different visually. We start from a middle ground, and where you make the turn is as far away from the clubhouse and it’s almost 100 feet higher. When you’re up there, you’re going to have views back over the golf course and back towards the clubhouse that I think are going to be spectacular.”
The course begins in some of the gentler terrain, with three holes that loop back to the clubhouse; Doak notes that this section would make a great location for the extra holes in a tied match. The routing then works its way into more dramatic territory, he wrote in an email: “When you turn the corner for the approach on #6 [a long dogleg-right par 4] you realize it’s not going to be so simple, and then you go through the old pit works on #8, and it gets wild … and then you walk up out of that green and see #9 going up the hill, and #15 going to the right over the pond, and you realize it’s going to keep changing character as it goes. And even with all of that, 16 [par 4 along a ridge] and 17 [downhill par 3 across a pond] will be a surprise when you get to them.”
Doak’s lead design associate in Pinehurst is Angela Moser, taking on her first such assignment after working on many projects for Renaissance Golf Design; it’s a task that Doak says she’s been ready for “for four or five years now.” The German-born Moser grew up playing at Bernhard Langer’s home course in Germany, Golfclub Augsburg; traveling to amateur events, she was struck by the differences that certain architectural touches could bring to the strategy of the game.
“I remember [seeing] a par 3 that had a kicker slope. And I thought it was really cool that someone thought about this and actually built it for someone else to discover and use it to get to a really tough pin. I didn’t know that there was a whole industry about it, but I just thought it was so cool that there are so many talented people doing a really cool job and really thinking about how to make stuff work. How to test the golfer.” She studied landscape architecture, worked in course maintenance, worked in retail as a club fitter for a while, and then decided to take a risk and write an email to Doak.
“I reached out to Tom, not really knowing who he is, never having played a golf course [of his] before I met him,” she recalls. “I wrote to him saying, ‘I don’t think this is the right way to [learn about design]. I was in an office and it’s like, I don’t think this is the right way to do it, but I would love to build really good golf, and would you mind helping me getting there?’ And yeah, he helped me, and this is such an amazing journey that I’ve been on. I’m very, very grateful, and that he trusts me with the one and only Pinehurst project he’s gonna get, you know, that’s such an honor.”
She told Golf Channel in January, “Pinehurst makes it really so easy to be here and feel comfortable, everything falls into place and you have such a big support group around you – there are big muscles here to make this happen, a beautiful site, and a great team around you.”
The course has evolved through the accelerated schedule; Doak originally routed an opening loop of five holes, but then found additional holes he liked better out away from the clubhouse and reduced that first loop to three. The intended second hole was changed to avoid crossing a gas pipeline located on the property; the 14th was a par 4 in early iterations and is now a par 3, resulting in an overall par 70 for the course.
Moser notes, “One part I look at a lot of times is there should be a difference between your shot into the green from the left side of the fairway [versus] the right side – it looks different, plays different, so there’s definitely something more favorable about being on a particular side for the pin position. It mixes everything up, and there’s variety to it – and I think we can’t ever have enough of that.” Given the tight construction schedule, there’s been an all-hands-on-deck approach from the Renaissance team, with some of the senior associates helping out with the shaping of the greens during Doak’s visits to the site.
On a late-winter tour of the site with Moser and Bob Farren, Pinehurst’s Director of Golf Course Maintenance, it was evident that the resort is letting the design and construction team go about its work with minimal input from ownership. “We’re more encouragers than we are directors,” said Farren. Moser notes that there were discussions at the beginning so Doak could understand what they wanted, but otherwise they’ve been able to tackle the project as they see fit.
There will eventually be two courses on the overall site, as well as a par-three course and a plot of land just south of the tenth course that’s been set aside for a potential collaboration between the USGA’s Green Section and the resort. Sources on both sides of the discussion indicated that the 40 to 50 acres will be devoted to as-yet undefined research into all aspects of golf including agronomic, social, performance, equipment, irrigation, and other angles, all with an eye on ensuring the game’s ongoing viability amidst the environmental and economic challenges of the 21st century.
In the meantime, there’s Pinehurst X or No. 10 course or whatever it is eventually named taking shape with great rapidity just across the Aberdeen town line. There are still trees to be cleared, contouring to be shaped, the occasional old playing corridor from The Pit to be concealed (“Whenever there’s a very obvious cut through the landscape,” says Moser, “we’re trying to regrade it to [where] you don’t really notice that there’s an old hole or an old fairway so you don’t feel, Do I go this direction or that direction?”). There will be golf played on it in 2024, and if the resort’s other courses are any indication, perhaps in 2124 as well.
Jeff Neuman is a freelance writer and editor based in New York City and Islandmagee, Northern Ireland. He has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Links Magazine, GolfWorld, Private Clubs, and USGA.org, and edited The Met Golfer Magazine for nine years. He also edited a slew of books including Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book, Davis Love III’s Every Shot I Take, and Lorne Rubenstein’s A Season in Dornoch.
Images Courtesy of Matt Gibson