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Annual Golf Directory

Pinehurst proved in 1999 that it's a true home to major championships, so expectations are high this year's tournament will be an even bigger success. How will No. 2, and all of North Carolina, look to the world?

The Carolina Hotel is the center of Pinehurst
By Dave Droschak

t 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.”

It would 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.

But 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.

One of 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.

“For an 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.”

Really, 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 it.”

Adds 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.”

One such 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 five years.

Why? It’s 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.”

Get Ready for Nonstop TV

For most 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 summer.

In the 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.

Has 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.

However, 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.

Not to 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.

The 16th 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 surroundings.”

Padgett 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.”

Other than 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.

“It’s not 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 necessary.

Jett says 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.”

Record Corporate Support

The Open 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.

For $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 passes.

Padgett 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 in’99.”

Pinehurst Championship Management released the list on this page of the 38 largest corporate sponsors — those with the biggest tents.

One 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 championship.

“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 world.”

Beth 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.

Watch It, Then Play It

There are 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.

About the 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.

While many 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.”

You also 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.

“Most of 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.

“What 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 up.”

Remembering Payne

No matter 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 security.”

Padgett 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.

This June 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.

A bronze 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.”

Padgett 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 The Masters.

“When you 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.”

“It was 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.”

Ross Reborn

Pine Needles undergoes its first major renovation in 75 years, but only after persuading golf legend Peggy Kirk Bell to go along.

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.

Fought was 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.

But this 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 keeping score.

Pine 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.”

The 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.”

Peggy Was Nervous

Of course, 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 (2007).”

Bell’s 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 (273).

However, 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.

“They” is 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.

“Mrs. Bell 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.”

Fought, 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.

“I’d say 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.”

Fought 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.”

For that 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 originally.”

Eyeballing Old Photos

Guidance 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.

“In those 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.”

The 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.

“We wanted 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.”

Length is 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.

Some of 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.

“The 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.”

On the 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.”

Par has 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.

Lastly, 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 had it.

“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.”

New Turf Grasses

The 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.

“We didn’t 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.”

Down the 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.”

Gentle Jack

At Longview, the Golden Bear befriends bogey golfers with a great course they can play

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 challenging.

It’s a 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.

But 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.

Longview 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.”

Charlotte 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.”

The immaculate condition of Longview earned it another honor, as best conditioned course in the Piedmont. See that story, page 42.

Longview 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).

Nicklaus 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.

A 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.”

The 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 green.

“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.”

In 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.

“What’s 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.”

Despite 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).

Jack’s 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.

“If you 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.

When Elk 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.”

Elk River 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 state.

“It’s 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.”

Between 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.

Whatever 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.

The course 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.

“In the 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.”

While some 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.”

Parsons 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,” he says.

A little 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 1994.

The 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 and contour.

“The 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 course.”

Indeed, 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.

Director 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.”

If you’ve 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 inches.

“Jack’s 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.”

One way 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 accurate shot.

The 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 plain.

Later in 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.

“Jack had 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.”

Some 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.”

Nicklaus 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.

Currently, 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 days.

Either 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.”

A course 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 materials.

The 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 Charlotte.

Duffer's Delight

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.

You 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.”

The 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.

“Donald Ross lived on this hole,’ says panelist Lenox Rawlings of Greensboro. “Could the green be more diabolical? Could the distance matter less?”

Other results of the balloting:

Elk River didn’t 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 reward.”

Steve Johnson, Winston-Salem

“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

 “The 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

Pinehurst 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.

Donald 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 out.

Walking, 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?

Stephanie 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!”

Some 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 accepted viewpoints.

Under “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.

“Donald 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.”

Also not 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 Burlington.

Other comments from panelists:

Wilmington 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

“With the 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

“Pinehurst 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

Gorgeous' 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 simply stunning.

Some 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.

“If heaven isn’t as manicured as Biltmore Forest and Grove Park, I don’t want to go,” says panelist Craig Distl of Charlotte.

You would 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.

But newer 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.”

Other comments:

 “(Longview) 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

Longview 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

Grandover 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.

Biltmore 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 Amateur.

It’s not 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.

The Club 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.

Other notable swings in the Top 100:

The 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.

Sea Trail improved notably. The Jones course moved from 62nd to 47th; the Maples course, unranked in 2004, is 72nd.

Grove Park sank millions into a major renovation of the old Ross course, and rises from 69th to 32nd.

Eagle Point in Wilmington moves from 51st to 20th.

The Champions course at Bryan Park advances from 70th to 50th.

Rock Barn, Jones Course, which hosts a Champions Tour event, climbs from 27th to 19th.

Old Town moves up from 29th to 21st.

Panelists 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

Biltmore Forest: “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 Club: “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 of Linville.

Longview: “I 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.

Whether or 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 Hunt Club.

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.

The 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.

The first 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.

The 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.

Ross 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.

There was 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.

The 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.

In 1913, 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.

As the 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:

u 1921 — Mid Pines

u 1922 — Benevenue, Blowing Rock, Ryder at Fort Bragg

u 1923 — Southern Pines, High Hampton

u 1924 — Biltmore Forest, Linville (redesign), Waynesville, Wilmington Municipal, Grove Park Inn

u 1925 — Charlotte (redesign)

u 1926 — Richmond Pines, Roaring Gap, Sedgefield, Hope Valley

u 1927 — Pine Needles, Asheville Municipal, Salisbury, Hendersonville, Monroe

u 1928 — Pinehurst No. 5, Burlington, Carolina (Charlotte), Highlands, Lenoir, Mimosa Hills, Cape Fear (redesign)

u 1929 — Penrose

u 1930 — Myers Park

Bill Hensley



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Last Modified: March 23, 2005
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