Wandergolf: Spring at Pinehurst
The clicketty-clack of rubber tires hitting highway cement separations is the only thing that I was really thinking about when, after hurtling through a couple of still- confusing, identical looking roadway roundabouts, the charming and mystical town of Pinehurst, North Carolina, appeared from the clouds out of nowhere. “Field of Dreams,” “Bagger Vance,” and the two golfers (I mean hunters) that found Brigadoon came to mind. Far away-sounding French horns tapered off as we drove into the charming golf village that is busy readying itself for back-to-back men and women U.S. Opens in 2014. Non-chain bookshops, clothing boutiques and eateries line the streets of the small village business district, surrounded by stunning Carolina homes that busy local realtors rent for as much as $75,000 a week during the Open. On our visit, the Holly was our resort home away from home. Christened in 1895, with dark oak passages and suck-you-in cute creaky hallways that cause women to grab you by the arm, the Holly was consummate in its décor down to its two restaurants that offer collar-only steak at night and mouth-melting banana strawberry smoothies in early a.m. pre-golf or spa attire.
Boasting nine golf courses, the Donald Ross designed Pinehurst #2 is, by far, the most infamous and will host the Open in 2014. Teeing off at 8:40a.m. in 39-degree rain weather may make it hard for me to recognize the audience-flocked fairways come Open time, but I will know that’s where they are by watching the momentarily grief-stricken amazed looks on the faces of pro-golfers as they watch their balls roll off perfectly groomed, innocent-looking, turtle-backed greens. Showering after my humbling round, the thought occurred to me that I had more of a chance of standing at the back of the tub and successfully tossing a wet bar of soap onto the elevated bathtub corner than I did of hitting any kind of iron shot that the #2 greens would hold. Fortunate to play my round with a member of the 106-year-old, Pinehurst-based golfing fraternity, the Tin Whistles (think well-dressed, philanthropic Hell’s Angels of golf), I was treated to warm and funny stories in the history-laden clubhouse, complete with walls sporting action pictures of every who’s-who and who has been in the game of golf.
Creamy crab and sweet corn bisque with lightly toasted fritters floating in it, and the cheerful one-liner-offering staff at the resort’s anchor facility, Carolina Dining Room, helped me feel better about the damage #2 did to my permanent record and my golf-battered ego. Bellboys, shuttle drivers, caddies and other good time co- conspirators can play Pinehurst courses at their leisure with few restrictions, which says a lot to me about a golf resort. It serves as a reminder to me that whatever multi-starred and architecturally crisp resort you may wander into, it will be the people that dictate carefree afternoon naps or the cause of unsettling heartburn.
Encouraged by the staff at the clubhouse the next morning and heartily welcomed by the threesome and caddie I was paired with, my wife rode with us as we teed off at 8:27 a.m. on Pinehurst #4. The threesome we were golfing with was at Pinehurst celebrating one brother’s victorious bout with leukemia from the other brother’s marrow donation, and the son’s recovery from a double hip operation. This inspirational dynamic, our scratch-shooting caddie Bradley’s witty repartee, my wife’s presence and the sunny day all made up for the amount of time I spent in the course’s legendary Fazio-created 180 sand traps. This winter was a long one in Pinehurst, and I just missed seeing the blooming azaleas and dogwoods that #4 usually boasts at this time of year. Nevertheless, the appealing monochromatic-magic created by pine needle boughs every- where satiated my aesthetic appetite and made it easier to find wayward tee shots.
Manufacturing empathy and sensitivity for the non- golfer are wasted efforts at Pinehurst because of the number of other activities avail- able to engage in as well as the interesting historical nature of the resort. My wife is still showing off a pedicure she received from a choice of more than 50 treatments at the spa, and there are sinful amounts of money-spending opportunities that include clothes, tennis, food, real estate, antiques, alcohol, pottery and any item you ever thought of with the putter boy logo spawned the weekend long laughable request for “more putter butter, please.” Just the fact that you find yourself requesting extra butter is relaxation recognition. The front porch of the Carolina in the early evening is a loafer wearing, cigar-smoking, pre-dinner drink eruption of laughter experience dotted with expert bag pipe tunes, proffered by kilt-wearing musicians. In the early 1900s, Annie Oakley lived at Pinehurst for almost 10 years, gave shooting exhibitions at the Carolina and taught shooting to more than 125,000 persons. The Town of Southern Pines is five miles away, has a railroad track right through the middle of it, quaint cafes, antiques stores, many latte places, and little benches in the middle of town with non-stressed-looking people sitting at them and smiling at each other’s stories.
Pinehurst #8 is a full seven minutes away from the main clubhouse by pleasant shuttle and lays out where the Pinehurst Gun Club once did. Even in all its regalia and splendor, with en- trance roads to Pinehurst nearby and abundant housing, the proximity of courses 1 through 5 can be overwhelming. Views of the adjacent fairways from the clubhouse showcase meticulously groomed areas of green expanse dot- ted with golfers swinging their clubs like bees beating their wings, expeditiously being herded toward green pollination by white-uniformed “bee-keeping” caddies. I had the first tee time of the day at #8 on Sunday, and I enjoyed all 420 acres of it. Paired up with the resort requisite cigar smoking, beer drinking, long-ball hitting, loud Texan and his equally enjoyable Coloradan brother-in-law, we made shots that would have made Annie Oakley proud. The Natural wet- lands combined with rolling hills through expansive pines and positively alone feel to this tract made it the favorite for me of the three courses I played in my weekend at Pinehurst.
Thanks to a certain colonel and his wife hailing from Pinehurst #7, we had a genuine Carolina barbecue open house to stop by after showering and checking out of the Holly. What a pleasurable way to end a great trip. I overheard the host say to my wife “Look at Wally, he is perfectly happy and doesn’t want to leave,” and at that moment he was right. I was truly lost in too much of a good thing.
*For more information, visit Pinehurst.com. Pinehurst Resort, 80 Carolina Vista Drive, Pinehurst, N.C. 28374 -- (855)-235-8507
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