Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 11, 2017
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Championship greens

How North Carolina's turn-of-the-century Pinehurst Village stays ahead of the golf curve

Nothing much changes in Pinehurst, North Carolina, and that’s the way visitors and residents like it. Matrons from the village still pour tea and serve cookies in the Carolina lobby every afternoon. Sippin’ mint juleps from a rockin’ chair on the verandah is another tradition.

Traipsing down the hallowed halls of the main pro shop is like walking through a living museum. The walls are hung with Kodak moments in golf — Payne Stewart proudly hoisting his US Open trophy, sepia prints of old-time swingers wearing ties and plus-fours.

With its neat picket fences, pristine white frame and red brick buildings, the New England-style Pinehurst Village is straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting — a reminder of gentler bygone times. You’ll not find a McDonald’s or a Wendy’s here, but you can hire a horse-drawn carriage through town and see where Annie Oakley ran her shooting club.

But hang onto your bonnet because there’s big news. Pinehurst Number Two re-opened in April 2011 after an extensive restoration by the acclaimed golf architect design team of Coore & Crenshaw.

No other course in America (or the world, with the exception of St. Andrews in Scotland) has such a fabled past. Number Two, the centrepiece of Pinehurst Resort (tel: 800-487-4653; pinehurst.com), has served as the site of more single golf championships than any course in America. In 2014, Number Two will take centre stage again, becoming the first to serve as host to the US Open and US Women’s Open Championships in consecutive weeks (US Open June 12 to 15; the US Women's Open June 19 to 22).

Opened in 1907, Number Two was designed by Donald Ross, who called it “the fairest test of championship golf I have ever designed.” His fairest test is best known for its crowned, undulating greens, which are some of the most complex and widely hailed (and cursed) in the world.

Now a bit about Pinehurst and why it’s dubbed the home of American golf. In 1895, James Tufts, a rich Yankee, who made his fortune in soda fountains, goes to Southern Pines, North Carolina, to open a health resort. Next thing he knows the neighbouring dairy farmer is complaining that a number of the guests are whacking balls with sticks into his pasture and upsetting the cows. Tufts, an entrepreneurial visionary, senses that this golf fad might have potential so he builds a primitive nine-hole course.

In 1900, Scots-born golf pro Donald Ross comes to town. He redesigns the Pinehurst Number One course, stays for 48 years. The rest, as they say, is history. Ross, who designed five of the Pinehurst courses, went on to put his stamp on over 400 more throughout North America and become the acknowledged patriarch and patron saint of American course architects. Pinehurst Resort now boasts eight courses, three hotels (the Carolina, Holly Inn and The Manor) and a spa.

The Pinehurst mystique

Walk the fabled fairways on Number Two and you’ll be following in the footsteps of such legends as Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen and Arnold Palmer. Donald Ross’s design philosophy is fully apparent. No tricks, no surprises, minimal water, generous fairways and bunkering that shows you the route. You don’t need to be a long driver but you better be able to pitch, chip and putt. Speaking of which…you won’t likely forget Ross’s signature crown greens, sculpted like inverted saucers so that a less than perfect hit will roll off the edges into all sorts of dips and swales. You might fantasize about putting Velcro on your Titleists.

Golf journalist Lee Pace, who wrote a coffee table tome, The Spirit of Pinehurst, described Number Two as “one of the finest collections of grass, trees, slopes, angles, mystery, history and sass this side of the Firth of Forth.”

But, over the years Number Two had lost some of its sass and frankly had become a bit blah. So, in a bold move in February 2010, the Pinehurst management contracted the design firm of Coore & Crenshaw to restore the natural and strategic characteristics that were the gist of Ross’s original design. The project, completed in March 2011, included the removal of about 35 acres of turf and the reintroduction of hardpan, natural bunker edges and native wiregrasses.

Fairways have been widened and roll firmer. All rough has been eliminated so now there are two lengths of turf—greens and everything else. Several bunkers have been restored, eliminated or reshaped based on aerial images of the course from the 1940s from Pinehurst’s extensive Tufts Archives.

Today, thanks to those archival drawings and photos and the impressive restoration work of two-time Masters champion, Ben Crenshaw and his partner, Bill Coore, Pinehurst Number Two once again resembles the rough, rustic gem that has been luring tourists to the Sandhills for more than a century.

“This course was always here, it was just in a different form,’’ Crenshaw said. “We tried our best to uncover it.’’

A daunting mission. Tampering with Ross’s masterpieces has been likened to messing with the Mona Lisa.

Number Two is tops

The result? The new Number Two looks more like the 1936 version as per Ross’s original vision. The biggest “change” is the widespread installation of waste areas bordering fairways, a return to the nature of the Sandhills region. Native wiregrass has also been re-introduced in place of what was once plush rough. Now instead of just letting your tee shot rip way out there on the fairway, there are clear target lines.

Beyond the third green you can catch a glimpse of Ross’s house, named Dornoch Cottage in memory of his hometown in the Scottish Highlands. I can just imagine the maestro sitting on his verandah, single malt in hand, chuckling at the antics required to sink a putt on his mischievous greens and toasting the brilliant work of Coore and Crenshaw.

While they were in the neighbourhood, the Crenshaw & Coore team designed the Dormie Club (tel: 910-947-3240; dormieclub.com; fall greens fees US$150 plus), the first new track in the Pinehurst area to open since 1996. Located just 4.5 miles north of Pinehurst Village, Dormie Club is a classic, rugged course designed for walking over its 300 rolling acres of land with 100-foot elevation changes, two natural lakes, and hardwood and pine forests. And here’s a breath of fresh air—there are no real estate developments in the plans. Originally it was to be a private club, but due to the weak US economy, it’s currently open to the public.

The term “dormie” is a golf expression that means a player has reached an insurmountable match-play lead such that he or she cannot lose. Yet, dormie was a popular word in the Scottish language before golf was ever invented. Back then, Scots used it when they neared the end of their lives. They would say: “I'm dormie,” meaning they had reached a point in their lives when everything had become calm and tranquil, and they were content to live out their days in peace and comfort.

Whether you’re playing the traditional Ross links, or the newer designs of Tom Fazio (No. 6 and No. 8, the Centennial Course), Ellis Maples (No. 5) or Rees Jones (No. 7), each of Pinehurst’s courses is unique. But there’s no need for gimmicks. Golf here is pure and unadulterated. If there were a Hall of Fame for golf resorts, Pinehurst would be one of the original inductees. I think Tom Watson captured the spirit of the place when he remarked, “Pinehurst reminds me of a quote I read not long ago. ‘Golf is not a matter of life and death to these people. It’s more important than that.”

And true to the tradition and spirit of Pinehurst, the new Number Two is really a reincarnation of the good, old original. I think Donald Ross would approve.

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