By Dave Droschak
seems like such a long time ago when Payne Stewart won the 1999 U.S. Open at
Pinehurst, then died in a tragic airplane crash. It’s been a long time to
wait for another Championship in our backyard to replace those bittersweet
memories. Actually a six-year return engagement of the Open in the Sandhills
this June 16-19 marks the quickest turnaround for American golf in 60 years.
It’s a sure sign that the No. 2 course is the equal of such storied USGA
sites as Baltusrol, Oakmont, Pebble Beach and Winged Foot. “There was
something that just seemed to fit with Pinehurst in ’99,’’ says USGA
Commissioner David Fay. “Now that we’ve identified it I can comfortably say
it’s firmly entrenched into that official rotation of U.S. Open courses.”
be amazing if the 2005 tournament tops the excitement and drama of the ’99
Open. Payne Stewart sunk a long putt on the 18th green to hold off Phil
Mickelson, then hugged Lefty and congratulated him on becoming a father.
Weeks later, Stewart died.
expectations are high for another thriller in the Sandhills. The Village of
Pinehurst, which some said was too small and too remote as the venue for
such a spectacle, proved a capable host last time and can rely on that
experience to make this year’s tournament even better. Just how well the
tournament comes off is important to everyone in North Carolina, especially
its lucrative golf industry. Tourists and tournament officials are expected
to drop $150 million during championship week.
Pinehurst’s Special Place
Right: Bunkers guard the left side of the undulating green at the 6th hole.
the reasons the USGA is back in Pinehurst so soon was the overwhelming
support from the golfers, even though Stewart’s 1-under winning score made
him the only player to beat par. “I hung around the press tent in’99 and
guys like Tom Watson and Hale Irwin would come off the course after shooting
a 75 or a 76 and say,‘I should have shot better, it wasn’t the course’s
fault,’” Don Padgett says. “I’ve never heard those types of comments come
out of their mouths. It’s usually the golf course, or the weather, or
something else. It was never that they should have done better.
Open, that’s extraordinary because you’re walking a fine line of trying to
define the best players in the world and sometimes you can go beyond that
with the course set-up. I didn’t hear one comment from anybody other than
the golf course was a fair test of talent for the best players in the world.
It’s got to be in the water.”
No. 2’s reputation is the respect the players have for the old course and
what it stands for. “It’s the closest thing the United States has to St.
Andrews,” Fay says. “It’s a place where people eat and breathe the game of
golf. And I think the quaintness of the Village of Pinehurst just adds to
Padgett: “There is not one golfer who is good enough to qualify for the U.S.
Open who doesn’t have a sense of history, a sense of place– and you want to
be a part of that. It’s a little more special because it’s at Pinehurst. You
can’t reproduce history, you can’t buy history and you can’t build history.
The sense of place for the players is very great here.”
player is University of North Carolina golf coach John Inman, a former PGA
Tour player and a course rater on this magazine’s golf panel. Inman will try
to qualify for the Open this year despite not playing competitive golf in
pretty simple for Inman — it’s too hard to pass up a chance to play at No.
2. “It has that place in everybody’s psyche,” he says.“ It oozes golf. It has
that little extra place in our heart.”
Ready for Nonstop TV
of June, the quaint village, its comfortable old hotels and sprawling golf
courses will transform into a global media village. There will be
wall-to-wall TV coverage and tens of thousands of cars snaking down US 1
from Raleigh and RDU, the main destination airport. Hardly any tickets
remain; most were sold in a matter of days when they went on sale last
pro-am and early tournament rounds, you likely will hear players remark on
TV that No. 2 is playing harder than in 1999. It’s longer at 7,215 yards
this year and par will again be 70 by converting one par 5 to a “super” par
4. Several new tees have been constructed — at holes two, four, seven, 11,
12 and 14.
Pinehurst — where only the winner broke par last time — been tricked up to
maintain its reputation? In fact, some winced when it was announced that
architect Rees Jones, nicknamed the Open Doctor, was adding length to a few
holes on No. 2.
with some Open par 4 holes now approaching and exceeding 500 yards, USGA and
Pinehurst officials believed the layout needed a bit of tinkering for the
modern-day power boomers like Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh.
worry. The changes will hardly be noticed. “They don’t look like a tee has
just been stuck back into the woods to add 15 yards to a hole,” says Paul
Jett, the course’s superintendent. “I don’t know that we’ve done anything
more than compensate for what the ball was doing in 1999 compared to what
it’s doing in 2005.”
One of the
major changes is the fourth hole, where the tee box was moved back so that
most drives will now hit on the upslope on the par 5, or as Donald Ross
intended when he built the course in 1907.
hole, normally a par 5 for the resort’s everyday players, will also have
added length and be turned into a super-long par 4. “On a par 4 you’re
looking for a hole which requires a player to use a long iron or an
occasional fairway wood, such as No. 16,” Fay notes.
“Certainly, the power gap between the very best players and us common folk
has widened,” he adds. “The better you are the more you’ll be able to take
advantage of the improvements to the course, but when it comes to Pinehurst
No. 2 the last line of defense remains the putting surfaces and the green’s
agrees 100 percent. “Pinehurst No. 2 is all from 150 yards in,” he says,“so
whatever length we added will be insignificant for most because of the
length the players are hitting it. It will hardly be noticed.”
some added length, Fay said the course’s setup will be close to ’99 and not
like most Opens that feature high fairway rough, and sometimes even higher
grass around the greens.“We would be out of our minds to do anything to try
to fight the design of this golf course,” Fay says.
an easy thing to set up a golf course,” Jones adds.“In’99 the USGA did it
very well, but this golf course lends itself to it. There is so much
imagination around the greens and the players want to be challenged. They
don’t want to just hack it out of the rough.” Still, Jett notes that 400
irrigation heads have been added to the rough on No. 2 since ’99 to use if
the Bermuda rough was actually cut back to less than 3 inches before the
start of play in’99. “June 13 is still pretty early in the Bermuda growing
season,” he says.“With the new heads we’ll be able to get the two to three
inches of rough we’ve been asked to provide by the USGA.”
is a chance for North Carolina’s business community to bask in the sun.
Eighty-five companies will occupy the tent village, a record for corporate
support for any Open tournament. Pinehurst got appreciative nods in ’99 with
50 major hosts this year. Much of the tent village will stretch across the
existing driving range, commonly referred to as Maniac Hill. The players
will use a new driving range nearby.
Everything’s sold out, except perhaps a few tables in the Trophy Club.
$40,000, you get the use of a single table with eight chairs inside a huge
tent with a restaurant, bars and giant TVs. The Trophy Club serves
breakfast, a buffet luncheon and afternoon hors d’oeuvres each day. The bars
are always open. Sponsors get a total of 12 tickets and four VIP parking
shakes his head in amazement. “Selling hospitality in the late’90s was a
fairly easy job,” Padgett notes. “But just think of when we started selling
for the 2005 Open. There was 9/11. There were a lot of question marks. My
hat’s off to Pinehurst Championship Management to be bigger than we were
Championship Management released the list on this page of the 38 largest
corporate sponsors — those with the biggest tents.
Triangle-area company that passed on the’99 Open was software giant SAS.
That won’t be the case this time, says sports marketing director Russ Mas-
sengill, who notes that while SAS entertains clients every year at Pebble
Beach and a few other PGA Tour stops, it has never set up shop at a major
“This is a
huge, huge step for us and we couldn’t be more excited,” Massengill says.
“This gives us a great venue to show off the SAS product to the rest of the
Kocher, chair of the’05 Open executive committee, says Pinehurst offered
three different size corporate tents this time instead of just the one size
offered six years ago.“We just felt after 9/11 some corporations did their
business a little differently,” she says. “This way allows smaller
businesses a smaller venue. It has worked very well and we’re still going to
exceed’99 in total dollars.
It, Then Play It
some opportunities to play No. 2 yourself before the course closes May 28 to
get ready for the Open two weeks later. Some don’t know that No. 2
technically is a public course generally open for play year round. Resort
residents and guests will resume playing the course on June 23.
only practical way to play No. 2, however, is as a guest at the resort. One
popular package offers a night in the Carolina Inn, dinner and a round of
golf for $678.
large companies are going all out to wine and dine clients and prospects,
having the Open in North Carolina also gives the Sandhills a major PR boost
with tens of millions of TV viewers. “It’s a worldwide blast you can’t put a
dollar value to,” says Caleb Miles executive director of the Pinehurst,
Southern Pines and Aberdeen Area CVB. “It’s on international television and
in every publication in every corner of the world. You can’t beat that.”
can’t beat the opportunities the Sandhills gives golfers — in the morning
you can walk the No. 2 fairways and watch the world’s greatest players, then
tee it up that afternoon at 50 great courses in Moore County alone.
the time people can’t play golf where the Open is being held,” Miles says.
“It’s in the summer, it’s in a big city and the courses are pretty much
packed. We can give them a new experience of watching golf and then going to
play golf in just a matter of minutes.
we’re trying to showcase is the area and its golf, and if you haven’t been
here before it’s really a pilgrimage of golf. It really gets people fired
how quaint Pinehurst appears, realities of post 9/11 still exist. That means
Kocher and others have been working around the clock to avoid any security
glitches. “It’s amazing the amount of security that’s involved,” she says.
“We definitely have an emphasis on security. There are a lot of things in
place that the public won’t see, feel or touch, but gives us a sense of
said bar coding will be used on tickets to help identify spectators if
needed, while see-through bags will be used at the gift shops. “I like the
idea of securing Pinehurst rather than a place like Chicago,” he says.
should also be emotional for golfers, USGA officials and organizers who saw
Stewart triumph with a clutch putt on the 18th green, only to die tragically
a few months later in a plane crash.
statue of Stewart has been placed near that green and is the most
photographed place in Pinehurst. The USGA says it will honor Stewart before
the tournament, but is keeping details of the ceremony secret for now. “We
want to acknowledge a special champion and a special championship,” Fay
says. “Golf is one sport that prides itself on a strong sense of history.
We’ll try to strike a balance between this event and the special week that
happened six years ago.”
understands Stewart and Pinehurst will forever be linked to one of the
greatest moments in golf, and gets emotional when talking about The Putt. He
compares Stewart’s drama on that foggy and damp day to Watson’s chip-in at
Pebble Beach, Hogan’s one-iron at Merion or Nicklaus’ putt on the 17th at
talk about ‘One Moment in Time’ people in the golfing world know exactly
what you’re talking about,” Padgett says. “That is only going to grow. It’s
one of those special segments that happen in golf that are almost hard to
imagine, all that drama that had to come together to make that happen.”
like the golf gods were watching over us in’99, between the church bells
ringing and the mist,” adds Kocher.“We had everything you could possibly
want in an Open. Maybe the golf gods do smile on Pinehurst.”
Pine Needles undergoes its first major renovation
in 75 years, but only after persuading golf legend Peggy Kirk Bell to go
By Kevin Brafford
It’s been several years now since Kelly Miller and Pat McGowan took John
Fought out for a leisurely round of golf at Pine Needles.
visiting the Sandhills to get away from the mid-summer heat in Scottsdale,
Ariz. The chance to play one of his favorite courses with two longtime
friends was too good to pass up.
was far from all play and no work. Fought is a golf course designer, Miller
the president of Pine Needles and McGowan the resort’s director of
instruction. All are accomplished golfers, yet on this day no one was
Needles was nearly 75 years old, clearly showing its age, and after several
— no, make that many — months of discussion, it had been determined that a
restoration of the acclaimed Donald Ross design was in order.
“It was a
working round of golf,” says Fought, “in the truest sense of the word.
Kelly, Pat and I went out there and hit balls from many of the places that
we felt golfers in the 1930s and 1940s were forced to hit shots from. We
talked about what Ross intended for certain holes in certain places. It was
amazing what we learned.”
restoration officially began last May when the course was shut down for six
months. Cool weather delayed the official re-opening for a month, but when
the new-look Pine Needles debuted on Nov. 17, it played to rave reviews.
“It’s the best restoration of a course that I’ve ever seen,” says Joan
Ruvane of Chapel Hill, a member of the North Carolina Magazine Golf Panel.
“It’s just fabulous.”
many contended that Pine Needles already was fabulous, which is why it took
Peggy Kirk Bell, the club’s legendary matriarch, some convincing before she
gave her blessing to the project. “The first question I asked was, ‘Did we
really need to do anything to Pine Needles?’ ” she says. “We had hosted two
U.S. Women’s Opens (in 1996 and 2001) and had been chosen to host a third
feelings had merit. When Annika Sorenstam won the Open in 1996, only she
(272) and runner-up Kris Tschetter (278) managed to break par of 280 for
four rounds. Five years later, only the champion, Karrie Webb, broke par
in the long term, not only as a championship tournament venue but for the
thousands of annual visitors who pay top dollar for a memorable golf
experience, upgrades were necessary. “They convinced me,” Bell says.
the extended family that oversees Pine Needles — Miller and his wife Peggy
Ann Bell Miller, director of the resort’s youth camps; McGowan and his wife
Bonnie Bell McGowan, also a golf instructor; and son Kirk Bell and his wife
Holly, director of marketing at Pine Needles and its across-the-street
sister property, Mid Pines.
was a tough sell because of the cost,” says Kelly Miller, who isn’t inclined
to discuss such numbers, except to admit that it was in the millions of
dollars. “But she came around.”
president of John Fought Design, was a natural partner. He’d known McGowan,
Miller and the Bell family for decades, dating to his days as an outstanding
amateur. Fought, in fact, won the 1977 U.S. Amateur at Aronimink Golf Club
outside Philadelphia — on a Ross-designed course, no less.
it’s Donald Ross and then say I’ve got John Fought helping” redesign the
course,” Miller says. “What we did with John’s help is restore what Ross
designed and built 75 years ago.”
didn’t mind playing, in a sense, second fiddle. “The more I get to see the
great courses here and worldwide, the more impressed I’ve become with Ross’s
vision and skills. He truly was a master.”
reason, this very much was a restoration and not a renovation. “It’s harder
to pull off, that’s for sure,” says Fought of a restoration. “If you’re just
renovating, you sometimes go in there with big equipment and start moving
dirt without worrying too much about the existing design. For Pine Needles,
our concern was the details, the subtleties of what Ross had designed
Eyeballing Old Photos
came from an unlikely source — the Moore County Soil and Water Conservation
office in nearby Carthage. Aerial photography taken in 1939 to assist
farmers in determining property lines proved invaluable.
aerial photos, you could make out all of the original outlines and the
contours of the tees, greens and bunkers,” he says. “The photos were
tremendously helpful. They provided further evidence of something I already
knew — that Ross was brilliant at subtle details.”
restored Pine Needles plays to 7,015 yards from its championship tees and,
as before, to a par of 71 (for the Open, it has played to a par 70). That’s
an increase of nearly 300 yards, but it wasn’t just to add length for the
sake of adding length, Miller notes.
to return the shot values that Donald Ross intended. Ross thought the most
dramatic shot was the well-played long iron into a challenging par 4. But
with players hitting the ball farther today, what was once a long-iron
second shot has turned into a short-iron shot.”
only a small part of the restoration. Less visible changes included
reshaping bunkers, enlarging greens, removing trees that crowded tees and
greens, restoring fairway contours and re-establishing natural areas that
weave throughout the design. Each of the changes, Fought stresses, were done
in accordance with Ross’s design philosophy and based on the aerial photos.
the more notable changes were made on the sixth and seventh holes, and in a
six-hole stretch beginning with the 10th,
a par 5.
biggest change probably was moving the 10th green
back 60 yards or so,” says Fought. “We just knew that we didn’t want to have
a 460-yard par 5, and we didn’t want to alter the angle. There was a perfect
spot for a green back there — they did a great job with it and it looks like
the green has always been back there.”
following hole, two bunkers that had been added by the Bell family — one
fairway and one greenside — were removed. “Golfers won’t have that bunker
for depth perception now,” says Miller. “It’s an interesting, sneaky hole,
and the only one on the course without a bunker.”
been reversed on the 14th and
15th holes, again in
accordance with Ross’s original design. The 14th is
now a par 4 “that off the tee you play to the end of the dogleg,” Fought
says. Added length on the 15th has
returned it to a par 5; also on that hole, several lost bunkers have been
restored in the landing areas of a golfer’s first and second shots.
longtime visitors to Pine Needles no doubt will notice changes to the home
hole, a downhill, slight dogleg left par 4. “There just wasn’t much room to
make the 18th play any
longer,” Fought says. “The big challenge on that hole has always been the
green, so that’s where we concentrated our efforts. We removed the two right
greenside bunkers and rebuilt the old right fore-bunker just the way Ross
“It was a
great hole before and now it’s even better,” he adds. “The beauty of a Ross
design is that he gives the player the option to either chip or putt.
Executing that type of shot is much more difficult than a sand shot.”
restoration includes two new turf grasses developed by Penn State University
for northern regions of the Southeastern United States: TifSport Bermuda in
the fairways and A1 bentgrass on the greens.
have to make any of these changes,” says Miller, noting that the USGA
already had decided to bring the Open back to Pine Needles in 2007 before
the restoration decision was made. “But we needed to do it to help the
course fit today’s contemporary game and to keep Pine Needles one of the top
courses in the country.”
line, similar work is likely to take place across the street at Mid Pines,
another Ross classic showing signs of wear and tear. But it would be after
the 2007 Open at the earliest, the Bell family says. For now, the shine
clearly belongs to Pine Needles.
Who is the
biggest fan of the new Pine Needles? That would be Peggy Kirk Bell, who
purchased Pine Needles with her husband, the late Warren “Bullet” Bell, in
1953. “Everyone just marvels at how beautiful it is,” she says. “I think the
pros are going to love it, and I think the average golfer is going to have a
lot of fun playing it, too.”
Longview, the Golden Bear befriends bogey golfers with a great course they
By Craig Distl
When Jack Nicklaus hangs his design shingle on a golf course you can bank on
two things. One, the course will be very good. Two, the course will be very
scenario that’s been played out more than 200 times across the world,
including five times in North Carolina. Jack’s newest addition in North
Carolina, the Club at Longview southeast of Charlotte, remains true to form
— it’s well-designed and plenty tough.
there’s a feeling among architectural aficionados that Longview is more new
school Nicklaus than old school. Now that the 65-year-old is no longer the
imposing Golden Bear on the links, he appears committed to design courses
that can be played by mere mortals.
is the lone course to debut in the state within the past year. And there’s a
strong sense among members of the North Carolina Magazine Golf Panel that it
would have won Best New Course honors had any challengers materialized.
“It’s a fantastic design that was in immaculate condition from the day it
opened,” says panelist Kevin Brafford. “It’s arguably the best new course to
open in North Carolina in many years.”
golf publicist Bill Hensley, chair of the Golf Panel, agrees. “It’s been
well-received,” he says. “It’s one of the best Nicklaus courses ever from a
member’s standpoint. In the past, the rap was Nicklaus designed them for
himself and they were too hard. Now, he’s starting to keep members in mind
and give them a very, very playable course that’s got everything a good golf
course should have.”
immaculate condition of Longview earned it another honor, as best
conditioned course in the Piedmont. See that story, page 42.
debuts at No. 24 in the panel’s ranking of North Carolina’s Top 100 courses,
public or private, a ranking that likely will rise as more panelists have
the opportunity to rate it (panelists can only vote for courses that they’ve
played). That ranking places it solidly in the middle of Nicklaus’ other
in-state works. It sits behind the duo of Elk River in Banner Elk (No. 7)
and National Golf Club in Pinehurst (No. 14), but ahead of Governors Club in
Chapel Hill (No. 35) and the Country Club at Landfall’s Nicklaus course in
Wilmington (No. 64).
took advantage of ranging expanses and rolling terrain at Longview, about 25
miles south of Charlotte in Union County. The site was an old dairy farm
owned by Melvin Graham, brother of evangelist Billy Graham. Melvin’s son,
Mel, is Longview’s owner and was intently involved in the design process.
testament to Mel Graham’s involvement comes on the second hole. It’s a
mostly straightaway par 4 that incorporates a grain silo as a design element
on the left side, about 60 yards short of the green. “I had a lot to do with
that silo. I wanted to keep the old farm-type feel,” says Graham. “Jack
wanted to knock it down and get it out of the way. After a little
persuasion, he said, ‘You know, that might work,’ so he moved the green to
the right a little bit and now the silo is your target from the tee.”
striking aspect of Longview is the amount of space Nicklaus incorporated,
along with the subtleness of the greens. The course ambles gracefully with
open fairways and large swales surrounding greens. A case in point is the
par-4 finishing hole. The green is framed by a massive bowl carved from a
bank behind it. The 28,000-square-foot stone clubhouse rests above, but
there’s nearly 100 yards between the clubhouse porch and the back of the
“That is a
super bailout area for a 460-yard par-4,” says director of golf Graham
Biggs. “It’s a perfect amphitheater as you’re finishing tournaments.”
general, Longview’s G-2 bent grass greens are neither as undulating nor as
segmented as some Nicklaus designs. The lone exception — a bowl fronting the
par-5 sixth — came by happenstance. It was originally slated as a pot
bunker, but Nicklaus couldn’t get it to look the way he wanted, so he added
it to the putting surface.
really attracted me to the course is how well Nicklaus designed it to flow
around existing topography,” adds Biggs. “You can see the hole in front of
you fit that land. Sometimes designers have to create something, but out
there, there’s not a hole that was just stuck in.”
its forgivingness, the par-72 Longview can bare its teeth. It measures 7,065
yards from the back tees, with a stout rating of 74.5 and a slope of 140,
ranking right up there with other Jack Nicklaus signature courses in the
state (see chart).
first course in North Carolina remains the most popular. The Elk River Club,
situated along its namesake river in the mountains, has become entrenched in
the state’s top 10. Those fortunate enough to play this private club find
two distinct nines based on elevation. The front nine rests in the flatlands
of the river valley, while the back meanders into the hills.
talk to our members they never get tired of playing it, and that’s the mark
of a good design,” says head professional Billy Cleveland. “Of course,
precision is very much desired here. You have to hit it straight. There’s
not much room for error. Our superintendents keep the roughs up high and if
you hit into the non-playable area, you don’t find it.”
Unfortunately, the whole course is non-playable right now because of
hurricane-induced floods last fall. The rains closed the course and the
decision was made to push forward with a complete renovation project
originally slated for 2006.
River re-opens in September, it will unveil resurfaced greens, renovated
bunkers and a new irrigation system, plus new fairways and bridges replacing
those lost in the flood. With Nicklaus staffers overseeing the work, the
greens have been contoured exactly as before, but with an improved strand of
grass — a blend of A-1 and A-4 bent.
“Personally, with the age of our greens I think it’s really going to be a
favorable renovation,” Cleveland says. “We were built in 1984 and after 20
years we needed to upgrade.”
draws raves for its blend of scenic beauty and Nicklaus brawn, not to
mention bent grass fairways that can’t be sustained in most parts of the
absolutely one of my favorites,” says Biggs of Elk River. “It’s not gimmicky
in any way. It’s just a good, challenging golf course.”
the opening of Elk River in 1984 and National Golf Club in 1988, Nicklaus
added to his major championships with a Masters victory in 1986. Jack was
indeed back, and maybe regaining that old swagger played a hand in his
design philosophy at the time.
the case, Nicklaus’ contribution to the Pinehurst area opened in late 1988
as a strong test of golf. He took a picturesque piece of land, highlighted
by a lake, ponds and some elevation swings, and built Pinehurst National
Golf Club, which later became simply National Golf Club.
is open and forgiving off the tees without many forced carries. But what it
lacks in bite early, it makes up on the greens. The putting surfaces have
been described as “devilish” for their segmentation and copious undulation.
Golfers must approach greens in terms of where the flags are placed that
day, and make sure they place shots in the correct quadrants.
1980s he was still a very good player, so I think he looked at it from the
strategic aspect of how he played,” says Tom Parsons, National’s director of
golf. “I think his shot values here are as good as any Jack Nicklaus golf
course. This course is forgiving off the tee, but the shot values from
fairway to green don’t get any better.”
Nicklaus courses built in the 1980s have made significant changes to lessen
their degree of difficulty, National mostly resists the temptation. Although
perimeter areas have been cleared and a tree management project has opened
the course and provided firmer, faster fairways, National likes its
reputation as a tough test. “I don’t mind that label at all. As I see this
community grow, people are building homes here and becoming members here
because of the course,” Parsons explains. “They love it, they love the
conditions and its reputation. I really see no reason to change it.”
also likes the versatility of hosting top-notch events such as PGA Tour
Q-School and U.S. Open qualifying, while still providing a venue appreciated
by the average player. “Aesthetically with the pine trees and water and the
way the course flows, I don’t think there is a prettier course in the area,”
farther east in North Carolina, on a surprisingly hilly tract in Chapel
Hill, the state’s fourth Nicklaus signature layout came to life in 1990. The
Governors Club opened with 18 holes, while a “mountain” nine debuted in
Governors Club is similar to National in its routing. It works up and down
the existing topography, surrounded mostly by pines. The fairways are a bit
tighter than its counterpart in Pinehurst, but the greens have less slope
greens are much more subtle and I would say the course plays naturally over
the land very well,” says Greensboro golf course architect Kris Spence, who
was Nicklaus’ on-site project manager during construction. “It’s a good
routing that takes advantage of the elevations and plays from ridge line to
ridge line. It does require a very strong aerial game, typical of a Nicklaus
forced carries mark several holes, including two par 3s on the front side
over ponds to greens fronted by stone walls. The approach shot on the par-5
13th is another forced
carry, over a creek-bed ravine that includes a bunker — in essence, a hazard
in a hazard.
of golf Tim Eckstein acknowledges the challenges, but notes that membership
and home sales are strong. “I would say it’s challenging, but a fair test of
golf,” Eckstein says. “I’ve shot 69 a couple of times. It can be done, but
you can shoot 80 out here, too. I am interested to see what scores will be
shot when we host U.S. Open qualifying in 2006.”
ever played a Nicklaus signature design and wondered how much the Golden
Bear had his hands on the project, Governors Club is an example of his
commitment. As project manager, Spence remembers standing in the eighth
fairway with Nicklaus after it had been shaped and was ready for grassing.
Jack, who’s not as tall as Spence, couldn’t see the front of the green from
where they stood. So he ordered the fairway ridge torn up and lowered 12
attention to detail and his observation level is unsurpassed,” Spence says.
“He was building golf courses all over the world at that time, but I could
call Jack and discuss a portion of a certain green and he knew exactly what
I was talking about, all the way down to the percentages of the slopes.”
Nicklaus showed deference to the challenging nature of Governors Club was
building six sets of tees, and placing the forward tees strategically so
they allowed the higher handicapper to hit into the proper places with an
mountain nine at Governors Club is a hidden treat. People tell Eckstein
there are no mountains in Chapel Hill, and he can’t convince them otherwise
until taking them to the top of Edwards Mountain, where the 27th tee
box is located. The mountain, one of the easternmost remnants of the
Uwharrie range, provides dramatic views of the state’s eastern coastal
1990, the Nicklaus course at the Country Club at Landfall in Wilming- ton
opened. Far from his other North Carolina designs, Landfall meanders through
wetlands and marshes along the Intracoastal Waterway. It was difficult
devising a routing that would fit the land, especially after Pete Dye had
already constructed one 18-hole course on the property.
a piece of land with a lot of wetlands. Pete said, ‘I tell you, I don’t
think you can get 18 holes on that piece,’” says golf pro Drew Pierson, who
worked for several years at Landfall and was general manager and director of
golf in 1992. “The site was pretty well determined where the fairways would
go and where the wetlands were. It really turned out well.”
members found the course too difficult. However, improvements over the years
increased landing areas and reduced hazards, while hurricanes removed
troublesome trees. In 2000, when Nicklaus built an additional nine, the
original greens were toned down with a renovation that expanded and
flattened the putting surfaces. “It’s a good, solid design. I think Nicklaus
did a good job,” says Pierson. “One of the knocks on Nicklaus is that he
designs every hole to be played with a high fade, but he’s got about the
same number of holes going one way as the other.”
opened Landfall in late 1990, the day after shooting 69 to open the
Governors Club. He posted a 72 at Landfall, though it wasn’t easy. “His back
was not good. He hit a couple of balls right off the tee, but his short game
was excellent,” Pierson recalls.
those five courses are the only Nicklaus signature layouts in the state.
However, a sixth course, The Cliffs at Walnut Cove in Asheville, is
scheduled to open this spring.
It will be
interesting to see if the course is more new school Nicklaus, built with a
bit of forgiveness, or whether it will harken back to his earlier design
way, one thing’s for sure. It will be another treasure in this golfing-rich
state. “Jack’s work brings instant prestige,” says Parsons. “His courses are
immediately held in high regard.”
is called a Jack Nicklaus signature course if Nicklaus himself was the chief
architect. It is customary for him to play the course during its grand
opening, and the course may use his signature in marketing and promotional
Nicklaus name can also be attached to a course if it was built by Jack’s
company, Nicklaus Design, which employs his sons — Jack II, Steve, Gary and
Michael, as architects — as well as his son-in-law, Bill O’Leary. Nicklaus
Design courses in North Carolina are: Legacy Golf Links in Aberdeen, Salem
Glen Country Club in Clemmons and the newly-opened Palisades Country Club in
Short par 4s, which give bogey golfers a chance at a birdie, are richly
appreciated but hard to find. Here are the best.
God must have loved par 4s because he made so many of them, particularly the
shorter ones that offer most golfers a real shot at a birdie.
usually see 12 par 4 holes on a golf course and they tend to blend together
after awhile. Not like those eye-popping par 3s over the water, or the snaky
par 5s around the hill. Back in the clubhouse, you talk about those holes.
But that par 4 where you sliced into the dogleg, was that the fifth or
seventh hole? Or was it on the back nine?
So it must
be special when a short par 4 comes along that players find memorable. We
weren’t sure the course raters on the Golf Panel would or could recommend
many, and we were pleasantly surprised they did — with some unexpected
agreement on the very best few. As Carolina Women’s Golf Coach Sally Austin
said, “These are deceptively tough holes. They’re more than fair, and they
require you to think your way through them.”
run-away winner is the third hole at Pinehurst No. 2. “The third hole at
Pinehurst No. 2 could be Donald Ross’s best short par 4 ever. It is a
perfect example of not needing length or hazards to design a great hole,”
says panelist Joey Hines of Wilmington.
Ross lived on this hole,’ says panelist Lenox Rawlings of Greensboro. “Could
the green be more diabolical? Could the distance matter less?”
results of the balloting:
have any holes make the top 5, but it had six of its holes receive votes.
“Great thought went in determining the tee boxes at Elk River, leaving it
with the finest collection of short par 4s in the state. They invite you to
challenge the hole, but if you do, a five, six or worse could be your
“The 18th at
River Landing can be a birdie hole with an accurate tee shot. If the
tee shot goes too far, it will be wet; if too short, it will find a
sidehill or downhill lie, creating a difficult approach over water.” —
Kim Clarke, Newton
“The 1st hole
at Charlotte Country Club is the best opening hole on any golf course
that I’ve ever played.” — Scott Martin, Charlotte
“The 14th at
Old Town was a good hole in 1961 and an even better hole in 2004.” —
Drew Pierson of Wilmington, a longtime pro and notable teacher
eighth at Grandfather has to be one of the most distracting tee shots
in golf. You have the Swinging Bridge on the mountain, the stream on the
left, the Rhododendrom on the right – it’s no wonder most shots don’t find
the fairway.” — Jay Allred, Winston-Salem
No. 2’s 13th hole
is simple looking at just 365 yards from my tee, but approach shots must be
accurate as the green is well-bunkered and elevated enough to cause stray
shots to feed off in all directions.” — Glenn Miller, New London
These Cleats are Made for Walking
Escape the cart path at these walker friendly courses.
We’ve never agreed with Mark Twain on golf. He called the game a good
walk wasted. But more golfers are finding it’s a good walk, period, and are
getting out of their carts to better enjoy a day outdoors.
Ross designed his courses for walkers. That’s why it’s often just a short
walk off one Ross green on to the next tee box. In contrast, most modern
courses reserve acres of room for carts and cart paths, which spreads things
though, is making a comeback, according to course pros and industry
executives, who say it’s getting a better reputation: as the best
cardio-burner around. Would you rather walk five miles on a treadmill at the
gym or down lush fairways with the sun on your face?
Neill Harner of Charlotte, a notable amateur and former Wake Forest
standout, would rather walk. “A great week in the North-South Amateur gives
you 10 rounds to walk at Pinehurst No. 2 in a week. It doesn’t get any
better than that!”
courses are almost impossible to walk because of extreme terrain or natural
topography such as environmenral zones. But others are made for walking, as
our Golf Panel members concluded. We asked the panelists to rate the best
courses for walking, and their answers both confirm and challenge many
“assumptions confirmed” is the fact that Ross courses dominated the field.
His designs occupy 12 of the top 20 spots: Biltmore Forest, Linville, Mimosa
Hills, Charlotte CC, Raleigh CC, Pinehurst No. 2, Pine Needles, CCNC
Dogwood, CCNC Cardinal, Mid Pines, Cape Fear and Wilmington Municipal.
Ross designs, in particular, are easy to walk because there is a natural
connection between holes that provides short transitions for golfers,” says
Dunlop White of Winston-Salem. Adds panelist Scott Martin of Charlotte: “At
these courses, you are not looked at like a vegetarian in a steakhouse if
you want to walk.”
surprising is that some Tom Fazio designs pop up in the charts. Finley, for example. Among designers Fazio is most respectful of the
Ross tradition. The father and son team of Ellis and Dan Maples have two in
the top 20 — Grandfather and Sea Trail. “Grandfather is definitely walkable
in that it lies in the valley between two mountain peaks. What a beautiful,
wonderful place to spend four to five hours,” says panelis Eddie Hughes of
comments from panelists:
Municipal Golf Course is the best design for walking that I’ve ever
seen. I’m 54 years old, and as long as I’m able, I’ll always walk and carry
my own bag when given the chance.” — Donnie Bowers, Wilmington
2005 U.S. Open fast approaching, how could anyone pass up a chance to walk
those hallowed fairways at No. 2 with a legendary Pinehurst caddie by
his side?” — Joan Ruvane, Chapel Hill
No. 2, Pine Needles and the two layouts at CCNC all provide the
walking golfer with superb views of wonderful courses filled with tall pines
and crystal-clear lakes. These are courses you’d want to walk for the rest
of your life.” — Jim Black, Charlotte
Playing in a Post Card
doesn't do justice to the views at courses evoking a big 'wow' factor.
Steak houses call it “selling the sizzle,” which means pleasing
customers with the sights and smells of a good meal as much as with how the
food actually tastes. There’s something similar in golf — the “wow” that
escapes your mouth standing on the first tee of a course whose appearance is
golfers wax poetic just remembering a dewy morning amid georgous
surroundings. “CCNC is the Sistine Chapel of North Carolina golf — it has
attention to detail and perfection from start to finish,” says panelist Tim
Kent of Greensboro.
isn’t as manicured as Biltmore Forest and Grove Park, I don’t want to go,”
says panelist Craig Distl of Charlotte.
expect older courses to be mentioned frequently when talking about the best
conditioned ones in North Carolina. The passing of decades slowly matures
the landscaping and allows time for attention to detail. They say good
course maintenance doesn’t show but bad maintenance does.
courses also can elicit those “wows,” particularly if owners make it a
priority to look beyond the fairway and greens to the surrounding terrain.
Panelist Harris Prevost has seen that attention to detail at a
three-year-old course, Eagle Point in Wilmington: “The course maintenance
staff at Eagle Point treats their course like it’s their baby. Perfect
conditions are their obsession. The results are full, beautiful fairways and
greens that are true and without blemish. The rough, creeks, ponds and other
visual amenities are well thought-out and just right.”
is the most highly maintained golf course I have ever played. Of course, I
haven’t played Augusta National.” — Floyd Gragg, Concord and the head
pro at Rocky River
was the best conditioned Nicklaus course I have ever played. You would have
thought the course had been there for 10 years — it was that mature.” —
Russell Eaves, Greenville
is beautifully maintained, especially considering much of its play is public
and thus from players who might generally be less inclined to take care of
it.” — Leo Derrick, Asheboro
Biltmore Forest Replaces
Linville in State's Top 10
One Donald Ross’s classic course drops out of the state’s Top 10 this year,
but that doesn’t mean the old Scotsman is losing a step on rival architects.
Yes, our raters demoted Linville from the Top 10 list this year, but just to
11th, and replaced it with but another Ross mountain gem, Biltmore Forest
outside Asheville. That leaves Ross where he was on the closely-watched
list, with six of the 10 spots.
Forest, the Asheville suburb where the country club of the same name is
located, is characterized by its rolling landscape and scenic views of the
mountains. Water comes into play on seven holes. In 1999, the course hosted
the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. It’s a difficult course for most
amateurs, but Natalie Gulbis shot a 66 there in the second round of the ’99
news but it bears repeating; Pinehurst No. 2 and Old North State Club
continue their grip on the top two spots. Grandfather Golf and Country Club
remains fourth, and Pine Needles fifth. Pine Needles was closed most of last
year for a major overhaul before it hosts its third U.S. Women’s Open.
at Longview, a Jack Nicklaus design that opened last year, vaults to No. 24.
It opened in the fall of 2003 and received enough votes last year to rank
95th. Quail Hollow in Charlotte, host of the Wachovia Championship, remains
in 10th place.
notable swings in the Top 100:
Country Club of Salisbury
had never gotten enough attention to crack the Top 100. It spruced up and
hosted a panel rating day. Impressed, raters moved it up to No. 53.
improved notably. The Jones course moved from 62nd to 47th; the Maples
course, unranked in 2004, is 72nd.
millions into a major renovation of the old Ross course, and rises from 69th
Wilmington moves from 51st to 20th.
Champions course at Bryan Park advances from 70th to 50th.
Barn, Jones Course,
which hosts a Champions Tour event, climbs from 27th to 19th.
Town moves up
from 29th to 21st.
are asked to fill out a ratings sheet after official rounds. Here are
comments from some filed last season:
Pinehurst No. 2:
“There is no better experience than walking Pinehurst No. 2 with a caddie,
on those same fairways where the greatest players in the history of golf
have walked. It’ll be golf’s center stage this year.” — Stephanie Neill
Harner of Charlotte
“Another tremendous Ross creation with unbelievable conditioning and
atmosphere. The designer made a great presentation in preserving its natural
setting and creating a course one could play every day without ever getting
bored.” — Robbie Wooten of High Point
“Old Town took a quantum leap up the rankings in my book. It took me playing
there two times to figure out why it was beating me like a drum. It is a
very strategic course — Ben Hogan would have loved it.” — Harris Prevost
found it to be one of the most delightful Jack Nicklaus courses I’ve played.
It’s challenging but not punitive. — Joan Ruvane of Chapel Hill
How We Got Golf
Legend has it that the first person to play “gawfe” in North Carolina
was a Scotsman named Alex McGrain, who was seen swinging a stick at a
feathery ball in a cow pasture near Fayetteville in 1872. From that modest
beginning have grown 565 golf courses across North Carolina today, including
384 that are open to the public. The state ranks 10th nationally,
according to the National Golf Foundation. Florida leads all states with
1,073 courses, followed by California, Texas and Michigan.
not the McGrain story is accurate is pure speculation, but one thing is for
sure: the would-be golfer wouldn’t have a course to play on for another 20
years or so. By all accounts, North Carolina’s first golf course was the
Linville Golf Club, which was built in the mountain village in 1895. The
following year, the seven-hole Cape Fear Country Club in Wilmington
appeared, along with a nine-hole layout in Asheville called the Swannanoa
One man —
Hugh MacRae of Wilmington — had a hand in founding both the Linville and
Cape Fear courses. His dream for a mountain resort materialized in 1892 when
he created the Eseeola Lodge. By 1894, several holes were under construction
along the river and play began the following year. In 1896, the Port City
native helped create the Cape Fear course for his hometown.
Swannanoa course later became the Country Club of Asheville and is now the
Grove Park Inn course. Ironically, Donald Ross redesigned the state’s first
three courses, coming up with new layouts for Linville and Grove Park in
1924 and Cape Fear in 1928.
18-hole course in the state was Pinehurst No. 1, which opened in 1898,
shortly after James W. Tufts created the resort on 5,500 acres in the
Sandhills. The first nine holes were designed by an amateur designer, Dr. D.
LeRoy Culver. The club’s professional, J.D. Tucker, added another nine and
made modifications to Culver’s creation, including numerous bunkers. After
Donald Ross arrived, he made numerous changes to the existing layout.
Pinehurst Resort staged the state’s first known tournament — the North and
South men’s amateur — in 1901, and the North and South Open a year later.
The amateur event is still being played; this year’s will be the 104th annual.
unveiled his No. 2 course in 1907. As he did on No. 1, he tinkered with the
design constantly throughout his 48-year stay at Pinehurst. The course is
regarded as his best and ranks with the top courses in the world.
very little course construction in the decade from 1900 to 1910. The records
show only a second nine at Cape Fear in ’03, the No. 2 course, and a second
nine at the Country Club of Asheville (now Grove Park Inn) in ’07 opened
during the decade.
Charlotte Country Club came on the scene in 1910 with nine holes, designed
by Fred Laxton. The same year, Ross created nine holes at Overhills on the
Fort Bragg military reservation, and the No. 3 course at Pinehurst. The
following year, Forsyth Country Club in Winston-Salem and Greensboro Country
Club made their debuts.
Ross redesigned the front nine at Charlotte and added an additional nine. A
year later he introduced No. 4 at Pinehurst. The Tryon Country Club appeared
in 1916 and a second nine was built at Overhills in 1918. This course was
owned by the Rockefeller family and has been abandoned.
game became more popular by the day, golf course construction took off in
the decade from 1920 to 1930, giving rise to many courses that still claim
lofty rankings and prestigious reputations. The list is indeed impressive:
1921 — Mid Pines
1922 — Benevenue, Blowing Rock, Ryder at Fort Bragg
1923 — Southern Pines, High Hampton
1924 — Biltmore Forest, Linville (redesign), Waynesville, Wilmington
Municipal, Grove Park Inn
1925 — Charlotte (redesign)
1926 — Richmond Pines, Roaring Gap, Sedgefield, Hope Valley
1927 — Pine Needles, Asheville Municipal, Salisbury, Hendersonville, Monroe
1928 — Pinehurst No. 5, Burlington, Carolina (Charlotte), Highlands, Lenoir,
Mimosa Hills, Cape Fear (redesign)
1929 — Penrose
1930 — Myers Park