Golf is in the DNA of the Sandhills of North Carolina
There are plenty of great options for golf in Pinehurst outside the area's iconic resort
By Steve Habel
PINEHURST, North Carolina - It doesn't take long on the drive into the Sandhills of North Carolina to get the feeling that golf - like the scent of pines - is in the air.
The region was once ancient beach dunes when the ocean was higher or the land was lower, and those conditions, along with the forests of trees that have grown over the centuries, make it ideal as a palate for great courses and good times on the links.
If you need any reminder that the Pinehurst/Southern Pines/Aberdeen area is focused on golf, those cues are readily available - signals of the game's importance here are everywhere. The region is home to more than 40 golf courses, with 90 percent of the play coming from outside Moore County, helping to make the region truly the "Home of Golf."
Visitors from around the globe will flock to the area to watch the greatest golfers in the world play one of the world's iconic courses, and many will be looking for ways to satisfy the urge to play some themselves while in such a golf-centric, historic and bucolic atmosphere.
The famed Pinehurst Resort, which hosted host both the men's and women's U.S. Opens in 2014 on its renovated No. 2 course, is the home to nine great courses and is undoubtedly the hub of golf in the region, with tracks designed by the likes of Donald Ross, Ellis Maples, George Fazio, Rees Jones, Tom Fazio and Jack Nicklaus.
As great as it is, the resort is not the only option here for golf, with many of the courses offering challenges, beauty and playability for all levels of players.
There's a private club with two courses designed by the younger Fazio just a few miles down the road - Forest Creek Golf Club - that might offer the best golf experience in the region if a golfer is lucky enough to be wrangle an invitation to play.
Forest Creek GC's two Tom Fazio-designed golf layouts have earned universal acclaim from professional course raters and golf enthusiasts alike. It's the only golf community in the country with two courses ranked in the Top 100 of Golfweek's Best Modern Courses and in its 'Best 100 Residential Courses' survey.
Pinehurst Magazine named the South Course, the older of the club's two tracks, as the second best golf experience in the Pinehurst area, trailing only Pinehurst No. 2 based on the votes of area head golf professionals.
Fazio was given carte blanche as to where he wanted to locate the golf courses on the property's 1,265 acres because there was no pre-determined idea as to where real estate was going to be built. And it show, as the best ground here is reserved for the golf.
"At Forest Creek, the underlying ground formations - the sand, soil structure, and the pine trees - allowed us to create a distinctive style and two courses that have separate personalities," Fazio said. "The elevations are about the same and the vegetation's the same and the soil is the same, but that doesn't mean you can't do something different."
The two courses look like they came from two different states and play differently as well. The South Course is more of a parkland layout, with the North Course incorporating more of a Pine Valley-style look.
The South Course, opened in 1996, has big bowls and grassy runoff areas around the putting surfaces that give it special character. The North Course, which debuted nine years later, features sprawling sandy waste areas filled with native sand along with deeper and more penal bunkering. The South Course's greens are also a little gentler than the North's, though neither would rate as extreme or unfair.
The South's championship tees (called "The Cones" because of their pinecone tee markers) allow the course to be played at 7,095 yards and to rating of 73.7 and slope of 139 but it will tend to play somewhat shorter because of its wide driving corridors and a handful of elevated tee shots.
The North Course, which plays at 7,209 from the back set of five tees, also differs from the South in that water plays a more prominent role on the younger layout - especially on holes 15-17, which wind around a large lake.
The experience at Forest Creek GC is simply world-class. From the time one drives through the gates, to the warm-up on a practice range stocked with Titleist Pro V1s embossed with the club logo, to the courses themselves, to an after-round shower or change of shoes in the stable-themed locker room and to the last toast at the facility's understated but primo clubhouse, there is nothing better anywhere.
That, and the Pinehurst feel, is what makes Forest Creek GC a premier club and a facility that must be added to any discerning golfer's bucket list. If you can forge an invite to play here (and your club pro may be able to arrange a round), consider it akin to winning the lottery and drop everything to make the trip.
The perfect introduction to the best of golf in the Pinehurst area is at the Talamore Golf Resort, which features two splendid and challenging courses and fantastic accommodations.
Talamore GC, designed by Rees Jones, opened for play in 1991 with the gimmick of having llamas (yes, llamas) as caddies. In the two decades since, Jones' course - playing to a par of 71 and at 6,840 from its back set of four tees - has shown that it is able to stand on its own merits, though the llamas are still available for rent.
Jones fashioned a course that is visually striking and exceptionally enjoyable; it was ranked as one of the top five new courses in America by Golf Digest upon its opening. Talamore is a shotmaker's course, but doesn't take the drive out of the player's hand. Golfers need to manufacture shots, but the routing - sticking to what makes the area so ideal for golf - is not extreme.
Strategically placed sand traps, sculpted grass mounds, elevated tee shots and rolling fairways lined with thick pine forests help create the setting at Talamore. There is 180 feet of dramatic elevation change over the routing, and the holes conclude at interesting and sometimes tricky greens complexes. With a course rating of 73.2 and a slope of 140, the track is plenty challenging for even the best golfers.
Talamore has won numerous Top 20 state rankings over the years by regional and national publications and was named "North Carolina Golf Course of the Year" in both 2002 and 2003, and more recently in 2012. Golf Digest regularly hails Talamore with 4½ stars in its ratings.
Guests at the Talamore Golf Resort can also play the Mid South Club, a rollicking Arnold Palmer design routed through longleaf pines and over gently rolling hillsides as the centerpiece of a 545-acre private residential golf community.
Originally known as Pinehurst Plantation, the Mid South Club offers a visually beautiful, challenging, yet enjoyable championship layout on which to test the golfers' perspicacity. Mid South's elevation changes, native wetlands and numerous lakes are seamlessly weaved into a design that some consider one of the King's best layouts. The course has 11 acres of bunkers, so be prepared to play some shots out of the sand and is carded at a par of 72 and at 7,003 yards from the tips.
The Mid South Club has hosted a bevy of prestigious tournaments and qualifiers, including those for the U.S. and U.S. Senior opens and U.S. Amateur. Pinehurst Magazine has ranked Mid South as the No. 1 Private Course in the Pinehurst area and it's a blast to play.
Guests at the Talamore Golf Resort stay in their choice of the charming Villa at Talamore or the luxurious Lodges at Mid South. These two- and three-bedroom condominiums feature full kitchens, bathrooms for every bedroom, gracious living rooms, flat-screen televisions, complementary WIFI and maid service.
The Talamore Golf Resort and Forest Creek Golf Club are located up different roads from the charming Village of Pinehurst, which is one of only two towns in the nation to be designated a National Historic Landmark.
The Village of Pinehurst offers a quaint array of shops, boutiques, restaurants and art galleries and is a quiet and lovely place to spend the day.
Just east of the courses profiled here is the charming town of Southern Pines, which also boasts a substantial golf pedigree. Southern Pines is also well-known as a major equestrian community, hosting show jumping, carriage driving and numerous other such events.
The town's tree-lined main street is home to cafes, pubs and gourmet restaurants, as well as boutiques, a wine-tasting room, galleries and an old-time theater.
Revised: 02/01/2016 - Article Viewed 20,231 Times
About: Steve Habel
Steve Habel is a contributing editor for GolfTrips and its associated websites. A 26-year industry veteran, he regularly contributes to various regional, national and international golf publications and has played and written about more than 1,600 golf courses around the world.
Habel is also senior editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, as well the San Antonio Spurs beat writer for The Sports Xchange. He is a correspondent for the Austin American-Statesman and frequently files stories and features for The Associated Press and Preferred Lifestyle magazine.
Habel, who lives in the Austin, Texas area, has worked media coordinator for World Golf Hall of Fame player and golf architect Tom Kite as well as for renowned golf architects Roy Bechtol and Jeffrey D. Brauer.
He is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the Texas Golf Writers Association and the Football Writers Association of America.