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Community Profile

Pars & Paychecks

Moore County, home of 
dozens of great golf courses, 
now intends to attract 
thousands of new factory jobs

By Neil Caldwell

Learn more:
Why the USGA keeps coming to Moore County... There's more to Moore than golf... Tiny Robbins hits the big time

For nearly 100 years, visitors from around the nation and the world have been coming to Moore County to play golf, and, having experienced the pleasant climate, quite a few stayed to retire here. Last year more than a million visitors came here and most enjoyed a round at one or more of the 43 outstanding courses clustered around the Pinehurst-Southern Pines-Aberdeen area. Millions more have enjoyed Moore County vicariously by watching championship golf tournaments on TV.

The miles of manicured fairways surrounding imposing clubhouses, set amid forests of stately pine trees, create an aura of genteel warmth and restful solitude. It’s this beautiful backdrop that accounts for the smiles on most visitors’ faces, plus the fact that Moore County’s central location — it’s about equidistant from North Carolina’s three metro areas — make it easily accessible.

But there’s more to Moore than golf and tourism, which tends to be clustered in the southern part of the county. It’s the middle and northern parts of the county that are attracting the attention of economic developers these days, the more rural areas dotted with historic small towns like Robbins, Cameron, West End and the county seat of Carthage.

Many of the textile and furniture plants that those towns depended on have closed ­— just as they have in other parts of the state and nation — and officials are devising new strategies for replacing those lost jobs. Moore County’s jobless rate bounced between 5.8 and 5.9 percent during the latter part of  2003, about the same as the statewide level. That’s considerably better than during the first half of the year, when Moore’s unemployment rate hovered at or above 7 percent, according to Employment Security Commission data.

“Our economy is at a standstill,” says longtime Moore County business leader Felton Capel, CEO of Pinebluff-based Century Associates. “Unemployment is at its highest level I’ve seen it in many years. But positive steps are being taken. The spirit here is such that it will get done. We’re pulling together, and the feeling is that if we can keep the family together, everyone will make out OK.”

Keeping the family together means county leaders will continue to promote golf and tourism in the southern part of the county while also pursuing new and expanded industry for the north. Everyone seems confident that this two-pronged strategy will succeed, because Moore County has such an impressive track record in economic development. The county’s population climbed by more than 25 percent in the 1990s, to nearly 75,000 residents in the 2000 census. That growth boosted the tax base and made the county more attractive for business and industry looking to expand or relocate.

“Growth in the ’90s was huge,” says Ray Ogden, executive director of the county’s Economic Development Department, an offshoot of Moore County Partners in Progress, an 18-month-old organization. “As the population grows, it puts pressure on trying to develop more jobs, because people need to have good jobs. How you manage growth is important. We’re having to make sure we don’t destroy the things that make this place great.”

Caleb Miles, president and CEO of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, agrees. “We have to make sure that future development is done in a sustainable fashion that’s in the best interest of the area,” he says. “That’s very, very important.”

Left: The Moore County Airport

Timber Stands Tall

Contrary to what some believe, Moore County existed long before its emergence as a national golf destination. The county’s earliest history is notably diverse, spurred by the collection of immigrants from various nationalities who settled there. The Scots, for whom the area best became known, chose the Sandhills despite the fact that land here is less fertile than surrounding areas. The sandy soil was good for growing towering pine trees and not much else, so settlers made do with what they had and eventually developed successful timber, tar and turpentine industries.

If you look closely, you can still see some examples of early Scottish settlement along Bethesda Road in Aberdeen, at Bethesda Church (built in 1790) and the Malcolm Blue Farm (1825).

In the northern part of what is now Moore County — in the Deep River Basin — the land was much more accommodating to farmers. Development was helped along by the building of the Plank Road, which linked Fayetteville to Salem, between 1849 and 1854. Carthage became known as the home of one of the nation’s top carriage manufacturers, Tyson & Kelly, which later became Tyson & Jones.

The Civil War ended Moore County’s growth and prosperity, and it was not until the railroad arrived in the late 1870s that economic growth resumed. Frances Allison “Frank” Page, newly arrived from Cary to oversee his growing business interests, built a short rail line to haul timber from Aberdeen to Southern Pines. By the turn of the century, Moore County had more miles of railroad track than any county in the state.

Another newcomer was about to make an even greater impact. James W. Tufts, a Bostonian who had made his fortune by inventing the soda fountain, came to the area in 1885 and envisioned a health resort where well-to-do New Englanders would spend their winters. He bought 6,000 acres of pine trees and scrub oaks from the Page family for $1 an acre. Tufts then hired landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmstead, designer of Central Park in New York City, to lay out the village of Pinehurst around a hotel, the Holly Inn. By 1898, golf was the hot new pastime for the wealthy, so Tufts laid out a nine-hole course based on the famous course at St. Andrews. He then hired a little-known Scotsman, Donald Ross, to oversee the golf operations at Pinehurst. The greens and tee boxes were sand and sheep kept the fairways tidy, but soon there was a second nine holes. The rest is history.

Ross would spend nearly 50 years in Pinehurst and designed the resort’s first four courses, some of the more than 600 he created around the nation. He believed Pinehurst’s No. 2 course — construction began in 1903 and was completed in 1907 — to be his best work, and it remains today as one of the top golf courses in the world.

The Tufts Archive in the Pinehurst Library contains an interesting collection of photos and memorabilia, including one of Tufts’ soda fountains. The halls of the main Pinehurst Country Club also serve as a museum of golf, with glass display cases full of photos and trophies.

Left: Quaint shops line the historic streets of Pinehurst

Steady Rise in Retail

The leaders of Moore County want to be realistic in their assessment of its economic outlook. It’s not a “glass is half-empty” attitude; rather, it’s a “let’s meet this head on” outlook. Thankfully, the impact over the loss of manufacturing jobs has been softened somewhat by continued steady retail sales.

Moore is a regional shopping center, and accounted for about $973 million in retail sales in fiscal 2002-03, generating $26.4 million in sales and use taxes. That placed Moore in the top third of all counties in the state in retail sales, a level surprising in light of its relatively small population. Retail sales have grown more than $100 million in Moore County over the past five years.

Moore would be in much better shape if tourism, the county’s largest employer which in the past has offset downturns in other sectors of the local economy, had not been so severely impacted by the soft national economy and the lingering effects of 9/11.

“Our business has suffered a bit in the past year, mainly due to the weather, but we’re very confident about this spring,” says Janeen Driscoll, communications director at the Pinehurst Resort, which includes eight championship golf courses, several hotels and other recreation facilities.

“We face challenges,” admits Miles. “There’s been a downturn in corporate travel, as companies are not spending as much money as they did in the past. Fewer people are flying. Our economy has been pretty flat in the last two and a half years.”

George Little, president of George W. Little and Associates in Southern Pines and a Republican candidate for governor, agrees. “Our overall economy is not very good, and there’s not a very bright outlook for the immediate future,” he says. “I’m not trying to be a pessimist, but a realist. Retail sales remain good, as we remain a regional shopping area. But since 9/11 the tourism industry has been way off. We’ve lost our manufacturing base and thousands of jobs and that’s had a severe impact. I know the economic development people are working very hard, but Moore County has its work cut out for it.”

“The county is going through a transition,” says new Chamber of Commerce President Elyse Cochrane. “What was predicted 15 or 20 years ago — that jobs would be going overseas — is happening. We’ve lost a high volume of textile and furniture jobs and we’re looking for replacements. But we need to find jobs that will be the best fit for this community. Those are probably going to be white collar or entrepreneurial-type joys. So we’re having to redefine our strategy for attracting jobs.”

One way is to target the company presidents who come to the area to play golf. “This resort golf community attracts a lot of CEOs and decision-makers,” Cochrane says. “The question is, how do we capture that audience? We need to market ourselves as a place to locate a business because of the great quality of life here.”

Cochrane began her job at the chamber on Sept. 1, while Ogden started Nov. 1. Miles, conversely has been around for more than 15 years. Naturally, each brings a different perspective.

Cochrane worked for chambers for 18 years in Georgia but decided to make a move when her children left for college. She was attracted to North Carolina and heard about the job through a friend. After a nationwide search with more than 90 applicants being considered, Cochrane was hired. “This just seemed like the right place for me,” she says.

Ogden has been in the area since 1989 and has a background in manufacturing, providing him with additional insight as to the challenges ahead. “We’ve lost more than 50 percent of our manufacturing jobs in the past five years,” he says. “These are traditional jobs that are not coming back. So our focus is on rebuilding that segment of our economy and developing jobs for the future.”

Ogden says that his office is running a small ad campaign in golf magazines that seek to convince golfers that the Sandhills is also a good a place to locate a business. “The heart of our marketing plan is that this is one of the best places to live in the country,” he notes. “The lifestyle here is second to none. That’s our biggest selling point.”

Ogden says one of his goals is to make sure economic efforts are not just for the southern end of the county. “The southern part and the northern part are so different,” Ogden said. “I’ve been spending a lot of time working in the Robbins area, which lost a Perdue poultry plant on top of textile plants which had closed.”

As mentioned, most of the tourism assets are located in the southern end of the county, “including almost all of the 2,500 commercial hotel units,” says Miles. “But we have some initiatives in place to improve on that.” Those include working with the potters in the northwestern part of the county, promotion of historic sites like the House in the Horseshoe, and developing agri-tourism — like the corn maze on the Pressley Farm in Cameron, which attracts dozens of visitors a week.

The chamber, the CVB and the economic development department share an office building on Highway 15-501, and Cochrane says they also share the same goals. “While we have three very distinct missions, there are areas of overlap and we want to address issues for Moore County in a united way,” she says. “This is a great opportunity to improve relationships between these three agencies and get on the same page.”

To that end, the CVB has an attractive new media kit it is distributing, and has a new web site, The chamber, meanwhile, is setting up a military affairs council as a way to build a better relationship with Fort Bragg, the sprawling Army reservation that abuts Moore’e eastern edge. Thousands of people — both civilian and military — work at Fort Bragg and the nearby Pope Air Force Base complex yet live in Moore County.

“We’re trying to improve our lines of communication and to extend our resources to families of military personnel at Fort Bragg,” Cochrane says. “But we’re also trying to educate our membership on possible business opportunities there, and teach people how to do business with the government. That’s one of our big focuses this year.”

Cochrane touts a new initiative that’s been launched to keep chamber members aware of legislation in Raleigh that might affect their business. She adds that the chamber also is considering changing its name from Sandhills Area Chamber of Commerce to the Moore County Chamber to reflect its service to the entire county. “We’re reaching out to everyone,” she says. “That’s what we’re all about.”

Left: The 18th fairway offers an 
impressive view of the clubhouse at Mid Pines

Building on Golf

Through it all, tourism — and specifically golf — remains the single biggest player in the local economy. Moore County ranks ninth statewide in tourism revenue, having garnered nearly $280 million in 2002, the last year for which complete statistics are available. That was up 84 percent from the $152 million the county gained from tourism a decade earlier.

More than 5,440 jobs were directly attributable to tourism in 2002, generating a payroll worth more than $80 million. State and local taxes from tourism  amounted to nearly $25 million, representing a tax savings of $316 for each resident of the county.

Next year the U.S. Open men’s championship will again focus the golf world’s attention on Pinehurst — just as it did in 1999 — and will attract hundreds of thousands of fans to the Sandhills.

“It will be an economic boost for the whole region and the state of North Carolina,” Cochrane says. “Our local businesses are prepared to make a lasting impression on the people who visit here and show them real Southern hospitality.”

“There’s a growing energy that continues to evolve as we face the 2005 U.S. Open,” says Pinehurst’s Driscoll of the tournament scheduled for June 13-19. “It’s going to produce a great experience for everyone. But even while we say that, we like to add that there’s always something good going on at Pinehurst.”

“The Open drives a lot of the favorable media coverage we receive and it creates a world of opportunities,” adds Miles. “Raleigh and Fayetteville will benefit as well. In 1999, we saw $100 million injected into the North Carolina economy, and we expect to see a similar figure in 2005.”

Still, other economic drivers are desired. “It’s important for the county to continue to put resources out there to support our resort industry,” says Cochrane. “But we can’t put all our eggs in one basket. We have to focus on diversity, and not stop at the fact that we’re a resort community.”

Adds Miles: “Our brand identity is tied pretty closely to golf, and that’s where we spend most of our advertising dollars. We offer other amenities — shopping, restaurants, antiques, pottery. Our surveys show that a lot of people simply enjoy the setting, which is very relaxing. You can’t play golf 24/7, though some people try.

“Health and tourism are the staples now,” he continues. “We’re looking for a diversity for our economy, with manufacturing added back and the development of the retirement industry.”

Enhancing Moore’s appeal to business and industry are first-rate healthcare facilities. FirstHealth of the Carolinas, a private, nonprofit healthcare network headquartered in Pinehurst that serves 15 counties in both Carolinas, is Moore’s largest employer (along with Pinehurst Resort). FirstHealth boasts three hospitals, a skilled nursing facility, an inpatient rehabilitation center, a hospice program, community outreach programs, centers for health and fitness, primary care practices, EMS transport services and a non-profit HMO.

Within the last three years, FirstHealth has completed a $58.7 million expansion at Moore Regional Hospital that included a new patient tower with all private rooms, the Comprehensive Community Hospital Cancer Center and an enlarged emergency department. In 2003, the Behavioral Services Unit was completely upgraded and renovated, a Chest Center was developed and a Sleep Disorders Center created.

Moore Regional is participating in a nationwide study to find ways of lowering the risk of ovarian cancer and improving the ability to detect the cancer early. And it is one of only three hospitals in the state participating in the “Get with the Guidelines” program through the American Heart Association, which ensures that heart attack victims get the educational assistance they need, while they are still in the hospital, to help prevent a second occurrence.

Solucient, a healthcare information provider, has ranked Moore Regional as one of the nation’s 100 top hospitals for orthopedics, heart disease and the treatment of strokes. The facility also has been consistently rated highly among North Carolina’s hospitals.

“The aging population, access to excellent physicians and demand for the latest technology have spurred the growth of health care in this region,” says Charles Frock, president and CEO of FirstHealth. “We will continue to respond to the needs of the community and our physicians. In response to the growing number of families and young people in the area, we are enhancing and renovating our Women and Children’s and Neonatal Intensive Care units. We have been awarded a certificate of need for four ambulatory surgical beds, which — pending final state approval — will be housed in a newly constructed outpatient surgery facility on the hospital campus. We also have preliminary plans to expand the hospital campus further by providing a hospice residence and a hospitality house, a facility for patients and families who are dealing with long illness and who need lodging close to the hospital.”

Frock says that while the Sandhills has traditionally been a retirement area, more young families are settling in the area. “Commuters from Raleigh, Fayetteville and Fort Bragg are choosing to live here,” he says. “We believe one of the main reasons why people of all ages choose to live here involves the access to excellent healthcare, an uncommon situation for a largely rural area.”

FirstHealth is working with local schools to train students interested in health-related careers. “A joint venture involving Sandhills Community College, Moore County Schools and FirstHealth has introduced a new health science program that began in the fall of 2002,” Frock notes. “Students can enroll in health science or related college-level courses and participate in mentorships with practicing healthcare professionals.

“While most areas have seen nursing shortages, we have not,” Frock adds. “We attribute that to our fine educational institutions, the training they provide to area residents and the excellent career opportunities that exist in healthcare in the region.”

Frock could be referencing St. Joseph of the Pines Health System, which has provided health and senior living services to North Carolinians for more than 50 years. It began in 1948 as a 75-bed acute care hospital and then evolved into an acute care and nursing care facility in 1970 managed by the Sisters of Providence.

Two years earlier, a 68-unit retirement center known as St. Joseph of the Pines Villas had evolved, and that was followed by the resort-style continuing care retirement community known as Belle Meade, which opened in 1999. Throughout these changes, the St. Joseph mission has been to “commit ourselves to promote emotional, physical and spiritual well-being to those in need of our care,” according to marketing director Peggy Floyd.

Belle Meade has the added benefit of life-care. Retirees can choose to live in homes, duplex cottages or apartments offered in many floor plans. Among the amenities are an indoor swimming pool and wellness center, plus the life-care benefit that offers healthcare if ever needed at a minimal increase to the monthly fee.

The Villas, according to Floyd, are a family-style retirement community offering three meals per day and access to the St. Joseph of the Pines Health Center, which offers a memory care unit, a rehabilitation unit, and long- and short-term skilled nursing care. The Coventry, Floyd says, offers assisted living services in a 40-private unit facility.

Sandhills Community College in Southern Pines is working closely with FirstHealth. The community college, which recently celebrated its 40th birthday, has two new major building projects under way — an education center and a student center — plus a new building on its satellite campus in Hoke County. Sandhills also has a satellite campus in the western part of Moore County near Robbins.

“We’re growing by leaps and bounds,” says Dr. John Dempsey, president of Sandhills Community College. “We continue to offer programs to serve our community’s needs, which primarily are healthcare, hospitality and golf. Our programs are very strong in those three areas.”

Dempsey, who serves on the county’s economic development board, stresses that the college is working to help businesses bolster the local economy. “This area has some advantages that other areas do not have,” he says. “We have a high quality of life, which translates into good restaurants and fun things to do — but without a lot of traffic. We have a lot of people who are well-to-do — who can serve as potential venture capitalists. They’re looking for ways to invest their money. And finally is our proximity to Fort Bragg. We have a labor force turning out by the hundreds every week who have the discipline, the training and the security clearance to be very effective employees.”

Good Highways

An improving transportation system bodes well in Moore County’s attempts to lure new business and industry. A planned visitors’ center on the future Interstate 73/74 route — currently U.S. 220 — will involve both Randolph and Moore counties and will be a benefit to both.

The state will soon expand U.S. 1 to four lanes around Vass, making that section of the county more accessible and attractive to industry, as well as making the Sandhills a quicker and less stressful drive from the Triangle and other parts north. West End, which was so severely crippled when the huge Stanley Furniture plant shut down in 2002, has attracted several new businesses and is trying to reinvent itself. The pottery industry around the Jugtown section near Robbins continues to prosper and attract visitors.

One of Moore’s greatest assets may lie in Whispering Pines, where the county’s attractive airport is expecting commercial air service to resume in the fall. “We lost our commercial air service when business got tough right after 9/11,” says Miles of the CVB. “We had a USAirways affiliate flying two to five flights to Charlotte a day. Now we’ve received a $1.2 million federal grant and identified Corporate Airlines, an affiliate of American Airlines, which will fly a route to Raleigh-Durham three or four times a day.”

While challenges continue to abound, the work ethic and drive displayed by Moore County’s talented leaders gives hope to their belief that good times are ahead. “I’m always bragging on this area,” says Felton Capel, “so I feel like it’s going to work out. The U.S. Open will be the catalyst to kick things off, and it will be a tremendous asset for the entire region.”

“Other places also have golf,” adds Ray Ogden of the Economic Development Department. “We offer an ‘uncongested’ kind of lifestyle, with reasonable housing prices. The hospital is a regional healthcare center that is highly rated in the state. Our education system, with both the community college and the public schools, is strong. We really have the whole package. Golf is the centerpiece but it’s really more than golf. It’s a good place to live and do business even if you don’t play golf.”

Why the USGA Keeps Coming to Moore County
The United States Golf Association is a difficult organization to impress. But because the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens have been such a success at Pinehurst No.2 and at nearby Pine Needles, these championships keep returning at a record pace.

It began with the 1996 women’s Open at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in Southern Pines. So delighted was the USGA with owner Peggy Kirk Bell’s course and staff that a return engagement was granted almost immediately for 2001. It, too, was a rousing success, enough so that the best female golfers in the world will return for a third time in 2007.

The men’s Open is an event of a larger scope and thus more of a logistical challenge. But when it came here in 1999, the famed Donald Ross course won the battle — only the late Payne Stewart remained under par by the time darkness fell on that third Sunday in June. So just like that, the USGA awarded a return date to No. 2 for 2005, the fastest the championship has returned to a venue since World War II.

So what did the residents of Moore County do right? For starters, just about everything. The events have been so well organized that each has gone off without a hitch, which included housing and transporting the hundreds of thousands of golf fans who descended on the Sandhills.

The USGA likes to call its men’s championship the “toughest test in golf,” and it gets few arguments. The sternest tests for golfers at Pinehurst are the Ross-designed greens, which are crowned and difficult for even the best golfers in the world to hold their shots. “I’ve been asked many times what’s the hardest golf course I ever played,” two-time Open winner Lee Janzen said following the ’99 championship. “Now I have the answer.”

One change with regard to the 2005 Open is in Pinehurst Resort’s leadership. Pat Corso, president and CEO of the Pinehurst Resort, resigned his post effective Feb. 6. Then Pinehurst’s Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President Ken Baer announced his resignation effective March 1.

ClubCorp, the Dallas, Texas-based parent company of Pinehurst Resort, hopes to quickly make decisions on replacing Corso and Baer, according to Janeen Driscoll, communications manager at Pinehurst. Still in place is Reg Jones, director of Championship Management, the division responsible for planning and marketing the 2005 championship. “We’re moving full steam ahead,” says Driscoll. “Mr. Corso and Mr. Baer were integral to this operation and will be sorely missed, but we’re expecting a great spring with things that they put in place.”

“It’s good that we have one under our belts, because the U.S. Open is different from any other event,” says Beth Kocher, interim president of Pinehurst Resort. “We continue laying out the overall facility plan, and things are going great.”

There will be some changes at the golf course and at the hotel as Pinehurst seeks to “put our best foot forward for 2005,” Driscoll notes. The most obvious change will be the corporate hospitality tent village, which will be located on the current driving range beside the 18th green of course No. 2. In 1999 the village was located on the No. 4 course, which was closed for repairs at the time. A new driving range is being constructed on the first holes of the No. 3 and No. 5 courses.

At the storied Carolina Hotel, renovations include the main dining room and the Ryder Cup Lounge, adding a coffee shop and a resort services desk.

The transportation set-up, which worked so well in 1999, will be similarly organized. Patrons were directed to park at satellite lots some distance from the golf course, and then bussed into to a central entrance area. It’s a system that requires a lot of planning. “It’s a cooperative effort,” says Kocher, “working with the state DOT, the county and the village of Pinehurst.”

More than 5,500 volunteers are needed during the Open week, and there’s been such a response from the community again this time that they’ve had to cut off applications. “We filled our volunteer need plus filled the waiting list in less than two weeks,” says Kocher.

Officials at Pinehurst also hope to recreate the economic success of the 1999 tournament, which broke records for merchandise sales and corporate hospitality sales and pumped more than $100 million into the state’s economy.

Caleb Miles of the county’s Convention and Visitors Bureau says that the national media focus on Pinehurst will soon begin. “We want to be ready when basically we open our doors to the world,” he says. “There are goals being set in the entire community, and that develops a real esprit de corp.”

The same has held true twice previously at Pine Needles. “The fact that it was awarded to us basically while the (2001) tournament was still going on was a great thrill and a great honor,” says Pine Needles President Kelly Miller. “We wanted to have the tournament back, and be on a regular rotation for it. It’s great for our community and for our entire state to have the national focus on us. And we hope that it will again be a driver not only for awareness but for the area’s economic development.”

To ensure that Pine Needles stays in the regular Open rotation, the golf course will close May 1 for a six-month restoration. “We started with a plan to re-do the greens,” says Miller, “but one thing led to another and we decided to go ahead with a full restoration.”

It’s a process that has involved extensive research, including examination of old aerial photos, in an attempt to recapture Ross’s original concept for the course. “Our main idea is to restore the shot values that Ross had intended,” Miller says. “Ross wanted golf to be challenging for the good players and fun for the average player. By moving back the championship tees, we bring Ross’s original landing areas back into play.”  Neill Caldwell

There's More to Moore than Golf
Say the name “Pinehurst” or even “the Sandhills” and people are likely to think of golf. But there are a lot of other options for residents and visitors.

The original sports at Pinehurst were tennis, shooting (“Little Sure Shot” herself, the famed Annie Oakley, once ran the gun club), croquet and lawn bowling. Golf arrived by accident after a local dairy farmer complained that his cows were being disturbed by some of James W. Tufts’ hotel guests whacking tiny white balls around the pasture.

Southern Pines and Pinehurst have long been regarded as a major national equestrian center, which means you’re just as apt to see someone wearing riding boots as golf shoes. Moore County’s major newspaper, The Pilot, not only has a special section on golf in each issue but also a special section on the equestrian life called “Hoofbeats.”

“The equestrian industry is a tremendous boost for our area,” says Elyse Cochrane, director of the Sandhills Area Chamber of Commerce, “not only in terms of recognition it brings but also in terms of the dollars it generates.”

Horse owners have traditionally brought their animals south to train in the Sandhills in the winter, although many are now year-round residents. The harness track at Pinehurst has been in operation since 1915. In the past decade the Sandhills has become a training site for U.S. and Canadian Olympic equestrian teams, and several former Olympians now live here.

The pro steeplechase circuit returns to the Sandhills each April. For 49 years the Stoneybrook Steeplechase was a spring tradition at Mickey Walsh’s farm on Young’s Road in Southern Pines. The race was discontinued after Walsh’s death, but in recent years it has been revived at the Carolina Horse Park at Five Points off Highway 211 south of Aberdeen.

Polo in Pinehurst began in the early 1920s when Leonard Tufts — son of James, the founder of Pinehurst — formed the first polo club in the area. Polo is still played on Sundays from April to June and again in the fall at the Pinehurst Harness Track. The U.S. Polo Association-sanctioned Pinehurst Polo Team plays in the North Carolina Piedmont League.

“Riding to the hounds” also is still a local tradition. The hunt season traditionally starts at Thanksgiving and continues through March. Hunts and many other equestrian events are held at the Walthour-Moss Foundation’s 1,000-acre tract in Southern Pines.

There are a number of bridle trails in the area for the casual horse rider, but that’s not all. The horse industry extends into the rest of Moore County. The McClendon Hills Equestrian Center is located on Highway 211 in West End, and Holder Farms is located in Cameron.

Olympic-caliber cyclists also train in the Sandhills. In the spring the Tour de Moore, a 100-mile road race, draws top teams from around the country.

Tennis is another sport often associated with the area. The Pinehurst Resort has its own tennis center, the Lawn and Tennis Club of North Carolina is located between Pinehurst and Southern Pines, and there’s also a major tennis center at Seven Lakes.

Croquet and lawn bowling are popular events at Pinehurst, with major tournaments held in both sports in the shadow of the famous golf clubhouse. The U.S. Lawn Bowling Championships were held in Pinehurst last year.

Pinehurst also offers its own “beach club” and marina at 200-acre Lake Pinehurst, with boating, swimming and fishing. And nearby are a number of parks and lakes.

“We’re so well known for golf,” says Caleb Miles of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, “but our job is to make sure people know there are other options.”                     — Neill Caldwell

Tiny Robbins Hits the Big Time
The tiny hamlet of Robbins, tucked away in the northwestern corner of Moore County, has gotten more press in the past year than in the past six decades combined.

That’s thanks to a favorite son, U.S. Sen. John Edwards, the former Democratic presidential candidate who mentions the Moore County town of Robbins in his speeches more than budget deficits and tax cuts.

Edwards officially kicked off his run for the White House in front of the old mill where his parents used to work and mentioned the town repeatedly to emphasize his blue-collar roots. His Southern charm and connectivity with lower and middle class voters have translated into support all across America.

Edwards was born in Seneca, S.C., just outside Clemson, but his family moved to Robbins when he was 12 and it’s the place he references often as home. The senator’s parents, Wallace and Bobbie Edwards, today are among the town’s 1,000 residents. Both worked at the textile mill that dominated town life for so many years but now sits empty.

In most ways Edwards was a typical teenager. Although just 150 pounds, he played four sports at North Moore High School, among them football, where he played quarterback, halfback and flanker. He was the first person in his family to attend college, another fact that he mentions proudly in his speeches.

Despite having become a multi-millionaire and one of the top trial lawyers in the state even prior to his election to the Senate, Edwards has not lost touch with his roots. On the campaign trail he talked a lot about small-town values that were formed here; in his kick-off speech he described those ideas this way: “Work. Responsibility. A fair shake for all and a free ride for none.”

“I think his candidacy has had a profound effect on the community,” says the Rev. John Frye Jr., Edwards’ best friend while growing up, a former mayor and currently a Presbyterian pastor in Aiken, S.C.

“The public service of both the senator and astronaut Chuck Brady (another North Moore classmate) has been a source of particular pride for the community. During a time when it would be easy for folks there to assume the jobs exodus was somehow a community failure, two local boys have given them reason to feel good about the town. His candidacy has in many ways cut across party lines and has made the people of northern Moore feel that they have an advocate.”

His political future still bright, some see Robbins as somewhat like Plains, Ga., the tiny hamlet that became a tourist attraction when Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976.

“Carter put them on the map,” said the county’s executive director for economic development, Ray Ogden. “Edwards has had an impact on Robbins, making it known, and that could have an impact on tourism.”

“People passing through the area want to see what (Edwards’) hometown is like,” says Elyse Cochrane, director of the Sandhills Area Chamber of Commerce. “It’s good for our county, and helps us with name recognition.”  -- Neill Caldwell

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