By Shane Sharp
Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina’s famed Sandhills has undergone nothing short of a renaissance over the past decade. From the restoration of No. 2, the opening of The Cradle, the reimagination of No. 4 and the USGA’s Golf House Pinehurst, the past decade has been a whirlwind of activity that has set the golf world ablaze.
That stated, we’re not here to reinvent the sand wedge with a blow-by-blow review of all the resort’s amazing changes. Instead, based on numerous multi-day, 36-hole-a-day trips over the past five years, we offer our carefully curated Insider’s Guide to Pinehurst Resort.
Planning a golf buddy or family trip to the Cradle of American Golf is an exhilarating experience. With nine courses, three hotels and a fistful of outstanding eateries, it can also be a bit daunting. The resort has an outstanding trip planning service to walk you through the nitty gritty.
But we’re here well in advance with a host of insider tips to help you pull-off the golf bucket list trip of a lifetime with flying colors.
Best Arrival Day Golf Course: You can make a case for No. 5, an underrated Ellis Maples design that gently pitches and rolls through a residential area across Beulah Hill Rd. from the main golf campus. But the logical point to begin the epic journey that is Pinehurst Resort is the No. 1 Course, completed by Donald Ross in 1901.
The expansive fairway of the par-4 opening hole is an arms-wide-open welcome to the Cradle of American Golf. The dead-straight, par-4 second follows suit, and every hole between it and the par-5 18th hole encourages golfers to play their absolute best. As an added bonus, the 18th tee box with the clubhouse in the background is the perfect buddies trip or family photo opp.
Best Championship Course that Isn’t No. 2 or No. 4: No shocker, here, as No. 8 is situated third among the resort’s courses in the national and in-state rankings. But put Tom Fazio’s Centennial in just about any other state and it’s the best track around. The golf cognoscenti tend to forget just how pure this layout is, and the green complexes, green speed and pin positions rival any tournament-caliber venue.
No. 8 isn’t cut from the same Sandhills aesthetic cloth as No. 2 and No. 4. Rather, Fazio was handed 420 acres of rolling hills and wetlands that required a skillful routing. There are several forced-carry tee shots and aerial approaches into greens, but its brilliance manifests in No. 8’s differentiation from its siblings. An early morning or late afternoon round, here, is a transcendental experience, as each hole corridor is isolated from the next.
Best Course to Revisit if You Haven’t Played it in Years: The obvious answer is No. 4. In the 70s it was a Robert Trent Jones Sr. course, in the 80s a Rees Jones course and from 1999 to 2017, No. 4 was a highly-ranked Fazio design. The golf course architecture musical chairs ended in 2018 when Gil Hanse completely reimagined and redesigned No. 4 as a “companion” course to No. 2. Hanse’s craftsmanship is so on-point that 19th hole debates rage as to whether it or No. 2 is the superior circuit.
The not so obvious answer, on the other hand? No. 7. Original designer Rees Jones restyled this off campus course into a Herculean test of golf in 2002. No. 7 is 7,216-yards of pure muscle fiber routed through 25 acres of wetland, three acres of waste bunkers and 75 bunkers. Its 520-yard par-5 opening hole, with a double-bending fairway, sets the stage immediately for “hard par, easy bogey” – a timeless hallmark of Jones family design. Tee shots are generally downhill, approach shots are usually uphill, and Jones’ routing takes on a steady rhythm that makes No. 7 a joy to play.
Best Golf Bonding Experience: If golf was a religion (and for many it comes close), then The Cradle would be its church. On any given day, and especially in the mid to late afternoon, Hanse’s 10-acre short course is humming with golf groups from all over the U.S. and around the world with their shoes off and transfusions in hand.
Music from hidden speakers fills the air, as do tee shots from both grass and mat tees. The experience is collective and redemptive, and by the time golfers walk off the ninth green, they’ve made at least 100 new friends. And when church lets out, the people can simply adjourn to the 75,000-square-foot playground that is the Thistle Dhu putting course.
Best Non-Golf Bonding Experience: The Drum & Quill in the Village of Pinehurst is the type of joint where if the shades were pulled down tight, you’d lose all sense of space and time. The iconic pub and eatery owned by former golf marketer and writer Kevin Drum is as busting and boisterous at lunch as it is come nightfall. Well, maybe not quite. Pull up a barstool, order fish and chips, have the bar keep pull your favorite pint, and forget about what ails you. You won’t regret it.
Meanwhile, back at Pinehurst, the Deuce serves this role, and serves it well. Situated on the far side of the main clubhouse, this authentic tavern is located just behind the 18th green on No. 2. Outdoor seating allows guests to grab a beer and a bite and watch all the action coming in. An ample selection of craft brews are on tap, and everything on the gastropub-focused menu is perfectly executed.
Best Restaurant for Buddies and Family Trips: When the Pinehurst Brewing Company opened in the old Village steam plant in 2018, the vision called for a neighborhood gathering place that was equal parts golf buddy hang and family dining destination. Mission accomplished on that front and throw in a nice mix of local patrons and out-of-town visitors to top it all off.
The “PBC’s” BBQ is front and center, highlighted by smoked baby back ribs, pork shoulder, brisket and homemade sausages. But hand-tossed, wood-fired pizzas are a sneaky second favorite, and pair just as well with the brewery’s selection of handcrafted ales and lagers. The Pivot IPA has become the stuff of legend, and as soon as it hits the taps and coolers (in cans), the supply can be wiped out in a matter of days.
Best Lodging for an Extended Stay: For those who want to play as many Pinehurst Resort courses as possible, i.e. all of them, even a 36-hole-a-day pace yields a five-day, five-night vacation that ventures into “extended stay” territory. The Carolina Villas rise to the occasion to fill this niche perfectly. Located adjacent to the Carolina Hotel, they feature four privately keyed guest rooms with their own bathrooms.
Better yet, the four bedrooms spill out into a spacious living room with a wet bar, dining area, and either a balcony or patio for chilling outdoors. The bed configuration is two queens, with each unit easily accommodating eight golfers or two families. All the modern accoutrements are included, such as Wi-Fi, flat screen TVs and Keurig coffee makers.
For more information on Pinehurst Resort’s nine, 18-hole courses, The Cradle, accommodations, dining and other amenities and activities, visit www.pinehurst.com.