Nine Courses and a Putting Course, what’s not to like?
When it comes to one-stop destination golf shopping, especially in the eastern half of the United States, Pinehurst Resort simply has no equal.
That’s no secret, or at least it shouldn’t be, given the resort’s long history and the inventory of golf courses its ownership has assembled. It starts with the iconic Pinehurst No. 2 course, site of Payne Stewart’s dramatic U.S. Open victory in 1999, and continues with other masterpieces such as No. 3 and No. 4.
Besides those three, there are six other courses, all within shouting distance of one another, that were designed by some of the game’s greatest architects. There’s also The Cradle short course and Thistle Dhu, an immense 18-hole putting course to provide another aspect to “fun” golf.
From the time you check into the resort’s grand Carolina Hotel or the quaint Holly Inn, guests are in for a treat and an experience of a lifetime that should be on every golfer’s bucket list.
Although No. 2 is the centerpiece of Pinehurst Resort and the main attraction for golfers, Nos. 3 and 4 should not be overlooked.
Here’s a quick look at a few of the other courses that make Pinehurst Resort a special destination.
Pinehurst No. 3
This quaint Donald Ross design has been called a mini-No. 2. At 5,155 yards and playing to par 68, don’t let it fool you into thinking shooting a good score will be as relaxing as a stroll through the downtown of the Village of Pinehurst.
One of the starters relayed this story about an unsuspecting player who drove the green on the 287-yard par 4.
“He walked off with a five,” the starter said.
It’s not hard to see why. The Ross genius in the green complexes is both frustrating and befuddling. Approach shots must be precise – anything less will result in shots running off into the surrounds, leaving plenty of short-game options with virtually no chance of getting up and down.
No. 3’s back-nine plays to a traditional par 36 with two tough par 3s, including a 196-yard uphill behemoth. The closing hole is a 386-yard uphill par 4 that plays quite a bit longer than its scorecard length and is sure to leave a lasting impression.
In short, No. 3 is a thinking player’s course, where brawn doesn’t matter nearly as much as brains, imagination and touch. Nerves and a high tolerance for frustration are musts as Ross’s greens repel shot after shot.
Pinehurst No. 4
No. 2 gets most of the acclaim when talk turns to the collection of courses at the Pinehurst Resort, as well it should. It has so much U.S. Open history, it’s hard not to place it in the pantheon of great U.S. golf courses. But No. 4 is right there with No. 2. In fact, there are some people who say it’s even better. There’s no question that Gil Hanse did a masterful job when it came to his 2018 redesign.
No. 4 offers up a great variety of hole shapes and shots. There are six holes that dogleg right and six that dogleg to the left, turning No. 4 into a second-shot course. Its fairways are wide, but visually deceptive in places. The real fun is on and around the greens where short game options abound and breaks range from subtle to dramatic.
Pinehurst No. 8
Inspired by Donald Ross but designed with his own flair, Tom Fazio created an excellent complement to the other Pinehurst Resort courses with this 1996 offering. Fazio’s greens are larger than those on No. 2 but equally severe, with false fronts and severe slopes around the edges. Fazio used the rolling terrain to his advantage and carved No. 8 through natural wetlands.
A word of caution – playing the correct set of tees in relation to your skill level and club length is crucial. The listed distance from the white tees on No. 8 is 6,311 yards but it plays longer than that. The fourth hole measures 408 yards. with a tee shot that needs to crest a hill to get any sort of length. The course closes with a man-sized 417-yard par 4. Two of the par 5s stretch past the 550-yard mark.
Pinehurst No. 9
What would Pinehurst be without a Jack Nicklaus signature course? Probably not quite as good. No. 9 opened in 1989 and features Nicklaus’ traditional shot shape – left to right – on many of the holes. No. 9 has more hills that its counterparts, so it also plays longer than its scorecard yardage (6,115 from the white markers).
Like many other Nicklaus designs, No. 9 has a tremendous set of par 3s. The bentgrass greens are large and tough, and feature many slopes and undulations.
Play is conducted amidst the sandhills’ signature pines and there are no parallel holes, which makes it seem as if you are the only person on the course.
Opened in 2017, The Cradle is somewhat of an homage to the pitch-and-putt par 3 courses of yesteryear, except on a grander scale. Designed by Gil Hanse, there’s not a hole on the nine-hole track that measures more than the 127-yard first hole.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Although the course record is 19, the Bermuda grass greens are big and feature massive undulations. They also are visually deceptive. Good shots can spin away from hole locations or roll over into collection areas.
The best thing about The Cradle is the fun factor. Wanna play barefoot? Bring it on. Wanna dance? Music blares from speakers strategically placed among waste bunkers with wisps of native grasses sprinkled about.
If you’re lucky, Ed Ormsby will be in the starter’s shack and regale you with stories, including one about the time Jim Nantz of CBS wandered up and played eight holes. Or, he’ll tell you about former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s hole in one. Maybe, you’ll give him a story to tell too.
Any way you slice it, The Cradle is a must-play when visiting Pinehurst.
Walk out in back of the main clubhouse and the first thing a person will notice is the mammoth practice green named Thistle Dhu. It’s an homage of sorts to acclaimed St. Andrews’ Himalayas Course. It features an 18-hole putting challenge that definitely will test your nerves and greens-reading ability. It also serves as a prelude to what’s to come on the resort’s nine courses. You’ll rejoice over a one-putt and walk away laughing and baffled after a four- or five-putt hole.
The Pinehurst Experience
One way to enhance the golf experience at Pinehurst Resort is by taking a caddie. From getting the exact yardage to a perfect read on the greens, using one of the club’s caddies will ensure that your round is not a good walk spoiled, even if you don’t play your best.
From the time you check in at the historic Holly Inn or Carolina hotel until the Village of Pinehurst is in your rearview mirror, Pinehurst Resort does everything right. There are numerous dining options that include the resort’s own Pinehurst Brewing Company (pro tip – try the ribs on Mondays and Tuesdays). Shuttles are available to take guests just about anywhere, so once you’ve parked you never have to crank your vehicle until checkout. And the customer service is second to none.
Stay and play packages are available. For more information about the resort, go to www.pinehurst.com.
Gregg Dewalt is the editor of Alabama Golf News
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Featured image: A view of No. 14 green and No. 15 tee on Pinehurst No. 4 (Photo: Pinehurst Resort)