BY RON GREEN JR.
Golf in and around Pinehurst, North Carolina, is more than a game.
It’s a feeling and it’s a way of life.
Here is how legendary golf writer Charles Price once described the area he called home for a time:
“The village doesn’t just fabricate the game with ridiculous courses that look like moonscapes, with hot shot amateurs and hot-dog pros dressed in polyester knickers and Corfam shoes, with cutesy-cutesy street names like Niblick Road or Mashie Lane. To get to a point you only have to make to people who have never been here, Pinehurst is golf. The game’s not just an amenity.”
To be in the Pinehurst area is to be part of the game, even for those who don’t play. It’s that much a part of the place, whether it’s golf-themed décor in a fast-food restaurant or catching glimpses of courses while driving past on one of the loblolly-lined streets that weave through this celebrated corner of the North Carolina sandhills.
In that spirit comes this exercise conducted by the Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen Area CVB: selecting the 18 best golf holes in this golf-rich region.
Trying to determine the 18 best holes in the Pinehurst area is like picking from an enormous golf buffet. Like choosing All-American teams, it might be easier to pick a best, second-best and third-best 18 holes in the area.
With so much golf in the Pinehurst area – there are nearly 40 courses within a 15-mile radius – it’s inevitable that discussions ensue about which is the best course, which is the best group of courses and, naturally, which are the best holes.
In that sense, golf is no different than comparing favorite restaurants. Some prefer a steakhouse. Others lean toward Italian. Still others like sushi.
Within each of those groups, there are favorite dishes just as there are favorite holes at favorite golf courses.
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that Pinehurst No. 2, created by Donald Ross and recently refreshed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, exists in a class unto itself but it is not alone in its charm and challenge. With multiple works by Ross and others by some of the game’s great designers – Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, Gil Hanse, Rees Jones among them – the Pinehurst area is blessed by grand designs.
The task of choosing 18 holes fell to a group of 10 voters with extensive backgrounds in the game and familiarity with the region. The goal was to create a traditional par-72 course – four par-3s, four par-5s and 10 par-4s – chosen from courses both public and private in the area.
Like golf, it is an imperfect process but one built on a foundation of finding holes that challenge and inspire while exemplifying the Pinehurst experience.
For those who know the area, the list likely will have them shaking their heads in approval about many of the holes while raising their eyebrows at some others. For prospective visitors to the area, it’s a bucket list of sorts.
It’s no surprise that Pinehurst No. 2 has three holes on the list – the par-5 fifth (for decades it was considered one of the great par-4 holes in the world), the par-3 ninth and the par-4 18th where Payne Stewart struck one of the most memorable shots and poses in history 21 years ago at the U.S. Open.
Mid Pines, another Ross design recently updated by Kyle Franz, also has three holes on the list, its par-4 fourth and 12th holes along with the par-5 15th.
Tobacco Road, one of the most inventive designs by the late Mike Strantz, is represented by its par-5 first hole and its demanding par-3 14th.
The Country Club of North Carolina has one hole from both its Dogwood and Cardinal courses, while Pinehurst No. 4, Pinehurst No. 8, Pine Needles, Dormie Club, Legacy Golf Links, Forest Creek North, Mid South Club and Talamore each have one hole among the 18.
A strong hole that plays uphill from tee to green. It’s where Payne Stewart made history and golfers strike their own pose for photographs. Making par on this hole makes the post-round beverage taste even better.
The essence of Donald Ross’ genius with brilliant bunkering around a two-tiered green that demands precision. Beautifully restored by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.
This is a testament to simple but outstanding design. After a tee shot to the crest of a hill, the approach is often played from a downhill lie to a green that runs away.
This is a classic risk-reward par-5 that gets increasingly more challenging as players approach the green. Bunkers right, water left and a two-tiered green make accuracy critical.
The challenge starts at the tee where players must determine how much of the marsh to challenge on this Tom Fazio design. The more aggressive the tee shot, the easier the approach shot.
Long considered one of the great par-4s in the world (only 29 percent of the field hit the green in the 1999 U.S. Open), it has been converted to a par-5 while still featuring one of the most dangerous crowned green complexes anywhere.
Another example of Ross’ design ingenuity, this par-5 offers multiple challenges. A good tee shot that avoids fairway bunkers allows longer hitters to reach the green in two.
Designer Mike Strantz was also an artist and he created a beauty with this short hole that incorporates water, sand and wispy grasses. No wonder players snap photographs of this hole.
This finishing hole is nicknamed “The Bear” and not just because Jack Nicklaus designed it with his son, Jack Jr. It’s a brute of a finishing hole that doesn’t surrender many birdies.
Gil Hanse has received enormous praise for his reworking of No. 4 and this hole is a standout. With trouble all around the crowned green, it asks a simple question: Are you good enough?
This is a beautiful example of Sandhills golf. It’s not overly long or threatening but it rewards good shots, penalizes misses and forces players to stay below the hole on the sloping green.
This hole makes a dramatic first impression, requiring a tee shot between two enormous dunes, offering a hint of Strantz’s gift for visuals. It only gets more fun from there.
Coore and Crenshaw created a classic short par-4 here while making it look like it has been there forever. Playing downhill then up to a knobby green, it’s a delight.
Another exceptional short par-4 that showcases Ross design features. It’s about position rather than power. Keeping the ball to the left off the tee and into the green becomes the challenge.
The culmination of a three-hole run around a lake in the Fazio-designed course. The tee shot must carry water and avoid a fairway bunker before dealing with a pot bunker in front of the green.
Ellis Maples designed many of the favorite courses throughout the Carolinas and CCNC represents his best work. When Kris Spence updated the Dogwood, he enhanced an already demanding hole.
The finishing hole on this Arnold Palmer design is a serious challenge. It is cut into a hillside, there is water down the right and a good tee shot still leaves a difficult approach before getting to the clubhouse.
This dogleg left has water and a row of bunkers that split the dual fairway. Players must decide how aggressive to be off the tee knowing a bailout leaves a more challenging shot into the green.
Greg Austin was born in Durham, North Carolina, but has been a Pinehurst resident since 1972. A Class A Life member of the PGA of America, he’s a member at The Country Club of North Carolina (CCNC), Pinehurst Resort & the Dormie Club/Network. He’s the owner/founder of Austin Millennium Enterprises, LLC.
Kevin Brafford is in his 20th year as executive director of the North Carolina Golf Panel, a statewide organization that ranks golf courses in what he believes is the best state for golf in the country. He lives in Greensboro with his wife, Kim, and two very spoiled dogs, Norm and Cali.
Jim Dodson is an American sports writer. He is currently a Writer-in-Residence for The Pilot (Moore County) newspaper, an editor of PineStraw magazine in Southern Pines, North Carolina, and an editor of the arts and culture magazine of the Carolina Sandhills. He also serves as Founding Editor of O.
Ron Green Jr.
Ron Green Jr. is a senior writer at Global Golf Post magazine after a long newspaper career that included covering golf for the Charlotte Observer. Green is the current president of the Golf Writers Association of America.
Golf writer Brad King promotes many prominent golf brands across the Carolinas. He helped produce award-winning editorial coverage of the 2005 U.S. Open and the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open for The Pilot and served as the editor of the special publication for the historic back-to-back U.S. Opens in 2014.
Resident of Pinehurst since 2008. Past member of Pinewild, current member of Pinehurst. I have been playing golf for 28 years. My current handicap is a miserable 22 but there was a time that I managed to play my way to a 10... or so long ago. Pre-covid, I could be found Sunday's in The Pilot, Southern Pines writing about golf near and far. Share a monthly column called Dueling Divots that runs in Triad Golf Today.
Founder & Publisher of Global Golf Post. He has worked in golf media for more than a quarter century, and he is a frequent guest on Golf Channel and numerous golf talk radio shows across the country. He covers the amateur game on a global basis. He resides in Glenview, Illinois.
Owns and operates Sandhills Golf packages and Clubhouse Properties in Pinehurst and St. Andrews. Has personally played more than 100 of the generally recognized best golf courses around the world.
In recent years, the North Carolina Golf Panel has afforded me the opportunity to play many of our state courses and I have so enjoyed the beauty and variations in challenges across North Carolina. Golfing in Pinehurst, in the Sandhills area, provides the history that has entertained the golf greats for many years. Walking where they walked, down Pinehurst #2 on a dewy morning, the clubs jingling, hearing the Village Chapel chimes, having your caddy at your side….. it simply does not get any better. This is home.
President & CEO, Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen Convention & Visitors Bureau whose primary responsibility is to attract as many annual visitors as possible to the Home of American Golf. An avid golfer and single digit handicap player and member of the N.C. Golf Panel. Once worked as a golf instructor in China at Mission Hills Golf Resort.