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Hallowed Ground: Pinehurst No. 2

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At St. Andrews, you suspect that the entire burgh has turned out to watch your initial tee ball. It’s not the case, as the shopkeepers have wares to sell and the even the starter has other interests. In complete contrast are the headwaters of Pinehurst No. 2, Donald J. Ross’s paragon of the Carolina sandhills. With the strains of the village carillon serving as the piper who brings you aboard, the northwesterly walk from Maniac Hill (the fabled driving range) brings you past the final green, along the clubhouse veranda, to the starter’s shed. And in this gentle way does a round over the terrain of Pinehurst No. 2 commence.

If you dig deeply enough, you’ll learn that the golf course had sand greens in its aboriginal state. You’ll read that ownership began with James Walker Tufts of Boston before the turn of the 19th century, yet has enjoyed a robust transfer legacy since then. You’ll uncover the amount of effort and energy that Donald Ross, born along the coast of northern Scotland, put into creating his inland opus. If it’s history you seek, you’ll find an unending amount in Pinehurst.

For me, a recent trip around the 18 singular holes of Pinehurst No. 2 represented the closing of a circle whose trace initiated in 1982. As a 16-year old golfer with but a smattering of the lore of Pinehurst, I was fortunate to play the course and be exposed to the work of the master. Truth be told, the early 1980s did not represent the luminescent hours of the resort. Golf had not returned to the popularity it holds today and the resort was traversing an uncertain arc, finding an identity. Despite this bit of murk, the features of the course took hold of me, ensuring that I would be forever smitten with the game and its architecture. I would kid my father the tennis player that he played the same rectangle, over and over. In contrast, my game took me from mountains to seaside links, from the desert to the jungle, never to the same geometry.

There is a trap that awaits a golfer who anticipates a maiden voyage around a fabled course. The pitfalls are many: expect too much of the course; expect too much of yourself and your game; expect too much of your caddy; expect that others will share your enthusiasm, and so forth. As I stepped onto that first tee deck of the No. 2 course, I cautioned myself to be satisfied with two achievements: take divots and play to the safe side of the target.

first_green_against_surrounds

Pinehurst No. 2, in anticipation of an unrivaled accomplishment, undertook a complete restoration of its spaces between. Gone now is the wall-to-wall emerald grass that made missed fairways a nightmare. Recovery shots from the thick rough were dubious at best, often a wedge to safety and rarely a run at the green. Under the watchful care of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw (and their team of builders and shapers), Ross’s pride was returned to the rugged, less-shorn test that the course creator had envisioned. Sandy wastes line the fairway edges. Bunkers that once described a recognizable curve now appear tangled, shaggy and jagged; in another word, beautiful.

It is a subtle touch that the first hole demands not a great drive, but a thoughtful approach shot to the green, and that the second hole reverses the requirements, accepting only the most stalwart of drives. Lest you think it gets easier from that point on, the third hole enjoins both. It is at the fourth hole that the golf course allows you to swing freely and crack a beauty down the majestic slope of your first look at a par-5 hole.

5th_green_from_behind

After the trundle down the fourth and the ascent back up the parallel fifth, the course for the most part gives off a flattish hue. Holes move this way and that, across boscages and along the odd chaparral. There is vertical movement, but none so dynamic that its presence distracts the golfer from the majesty of the course routing. Donald Ross maneuvered fairway after fairway in distinct directions and at contrary angles. He placed greens against gentle slopes, beyond rumpled hillocks and atop subtle yet potent eskers.

The end result is more golf course than the typical touring golfer can manage. Not in a horrifying, threatening way, but in a subtle one. This is championship golf and it demands championship thinking, planning and execution, again and again. Each golf hole remains etched in my memory for its apparent simplicity and its identifiable complexity. Greens with false fronts and bogus backs seduce golf balls off the putting surface, into grassy hollows.

Pinehurst No. 2 will host the Women’s and Men’s United States Open Championships in successive weeks in 2014. I suspect the mystic, beguiling experience will transcend the tournaments themselves.

Check out the gallery below to see more of Ron’s photos.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Ronald Montesano

    Nov 1, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    Nate and Matt and Chris…I don’t know what it is, but Pinehurst doesn’t feel like pulling into a Pine Valley or an Augusta National must feel like. It doesn’t feel secluded to me. It reminds me of St. Andrews and being a part of the town and being a part of the fabric of the lives of the people. It’s higher end than St. Andrews, being a resort unto itself, but it doesn’t intimidate me or make me cower. I love it for that.

  2. Bill

    Mar 18, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    Good read, Ron. Brings back a lot of pleasant memories. We had a condo on course #5 back in the 70’s and many of your early recollections parallel mine. The ownership wasn’t as solid back then but the town and golf experience were remarkable. The smells of pine, charming restaurants in the town (long since departed) and the ambience of The Carolina Hotel were borderline magical to a early teens kid.
    I honeymooned there in the mid 80’s and again had a great time (although my new bride flipped me off on the first hole of #2 after chunking her first two shots (we still laugh about that).
    The course is so subtle in it’s ability to abuse. I can only imagine how many putts I suffered through.

  3. Ronald Montesano

    Mar 3, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    Thank you, Nate. I don’t know if it’s possible to replicate the town-owned feel of St. Andrews in the USA. Bandon, Bethpage, Koehler are golf courses set apart from their towns. Pinehurst, as you know, is set directly in the town, a town that breathes golf deeply. These days, it costs a lot to play The Old Course in St. Andrews, but not as much to play its companion layouts. That’s a sign of the economic times, I guess.

  4. Ronald Montesano

    Mar 1, 2013 at 6:12 am

    Thank you, Matt and Chris. I heard an unconfirmed rumor that Pinehurst allows folks to inquire at the shop about simply walking the course. Don’t know if it’s true, but it is worth investigating.

    Number Two, for students of golf course design and architecture, must be seen. It is quite different from most of Ross’ other work and raises questions on why he did this here and why he didn’t do this there.

    I appreciate the kind words.

  5. Nate

    Feb 28, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    Good read Ron, thanks. I’ve played Pinehurst #4 before but never 2. I still remember the feeling of pulling into the driveway of Pinehurst. From the moment you pull in the driveway, step out of the car, Pinehurst oozes ‘golf’. Golf in it’s purest form. The terraced lawn bowling greens, the back patio overlooking the putting greens. I was there prior to the US Open. They had the leader board up already. It was a pretty cool experience. Thanks for bringing the memory back.

  6. Matt Newby, PGA

    Feb 28, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Great article Ron. I used to work at Pinehurst a few years back, I can’t tell you how much I miss playing there 7 days a week. Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to get back since.

  7. Chris

    Feb 27, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Nice piece; incredible golf course. Got to see Payne Stewart play and win there in 1999 but never had an opportunity to play the course until 3 weeks ago. I was impressed and enthralled with all of the natural beauty – kudos to Ross, Crenshaw and Coore. Simply awesome.

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Courses

Kingston Heath: The Hype is Real

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We touched ground late in the afternoon at Melbourne Airport and checked in very, very late at hotel Grand Hyatt. Don’t ask about our driving and navigating skills. It shouldn’t have taken us as long as we did. Even with GPS we failed miserably, but our dear friend had been so kind to arrange a room with a magnificent view on the 32nd floor for us.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The skyline in Melbourne was amazing, and what a vibrant, multicultural city Melbourne turned out to be when we later visited the streets to catch a late dinner. The next morning, we headed out to one of the finest golf courses that you can find Down Under: Kingston Heath. We had heard so many great things about this course, and to be honest we were a bit worried it almost was too hyped up. Luckily, there were no disappointments.

Early morning at Kingston Heath C) Jacob Sjöman.

Here’s the thing about Kingston Heath. You’re driving in the middle of a suburb in Melbourne and then suddenly you see the sign, “Kingston Heath.” Very shortly after the turn, you’re at the club. This is very different than the other golf courses we’ve visited on this trip Down Under, where we’ve had to drive for several miles to get from the front gates to the club house.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Nevertheless, this course and its wonderful turf danced in front of us from the very first minute of our arrival. With a perfect sunrise and a very picture friendly magic morning mist, we walked out on the course and captured a few photos. Well, hundreds to be honest. The shapes and details are so pure and well defined.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Kingston Heath was designed by Dan Soutar back in 1925 with help and guidance from the legendary golf architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who added to its excellent bunkering system. Dr. MacKenzie’s only design suggestion was to change Soutar’s 15th hole from a 222-yard par-4 (with a blind tee shot) to a par-3. Today, this hole is considered to be one the best par-3 holes Down Under, and I can understand why.

I am normally not a big fan of flat courses, but I will make a rare exception for Kingston Heath. It’s a course that’s both fun and puts your strategic skills to a serious test. Our experience is that you need to plan your shots carefully, and never forget to stay out of its deep bunkers. They’re not easy.

The bunker shapes are brilliant. (C) Jacob Sjöman.

Kingston Heath is not super long in distance, but it will still give you a tough test. You definitely need to be straight to earn a good score. If you are in Melbourne, this is the golf course I would recommend above all others.

Next up: Metropolitan. Stay tuned!

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Courses

Barnbougle Lost Farm: 20 Holes of Pure Joy

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Another early day in Tasmania, and we were exploring the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw-design, Barnbougle Lost Farm. The course was completed in 2010, four years after the neighbor Barnbougle Dunes, resulting in much excitement in the world of golf upon opening.

Johan and I teed off at 10 a.m. to enjoy the course at our own pace in its full glory under clear blue skies. Barnbougle Lost Farm starts out quite easy, but it quickly turns into a true test of links golf. You will certainly need to bring some tactical and smart planning in order to get close to many of the pin positions.

The third hole is a prime example. With its sloping two-tiered green, it provides a fun challenge and makes you earn birdie — even if your tee and approach shots put you in a good position. This is one of the things I love about this course; it adds a welcome dimension to the game and something you probably don’t experience on most golf courses.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The 4th is an iconic signature hole called “Sals Point,” named after course owner Richard Sattler’s wife (she was hoping to build a summer home on the property before it was turned into a golf course). A strikingly beautiful par-3, this hole is short in distance but guarded with luring bunkers. When the prevailing northwesterly wind comes howling in from the ocean, the hole will leave you exposed and pulling out one of your long irons for the tee shot. We left No. 4 with two bogeys with a strong desire for revenge.

Later in the round, we notice our scorecard had a hole numbered “13A” just after the 13th. We then noticed there was also an “18A.” That’s because Barnbougle Lost Farm offers golfers 20 holes. The designers believed that 13A was “too good to leave out” of the main routing, and 18A acts as a final betting hole to help decide a winner if you’re left all square. And yes, we played both 13A and 18A.

I need to say I liked Lost Farm for many reasons; it feels fresh and has some quirky holes including the 5th and the breathtaking 4th. The fact that it balks tradition with 20 holes is something I love. It also feels like an (almost) flawless course, and you will find new things to enjoy every time you play it.

The big question after trying both courses at Barnbougle is which course I liked best. I would go for Barnbougle Dunes in front of Barnbougle Lost Farm, mostly because I felt it was more fun and offered a bigger variation on how to play the holes. Both courses are great, however, offering really fun golf. And as I wrote in the first part of this Barnbougle-story, this is a top destination to visit and something you definitely need to experience with your golf friends if you can. It’s a golfing heaven.

Next course up: Kingston Heath in Melbourne.

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Courses

Barnbougle Dunes: World Class Golf

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We arrived to Launceston Airport in Tasmania just before sunset. Located on the Northeast Coast of Australia’s island state, Tasmania, Barnbougle is almost as far from Sweden as it gets… yet it immediately felt like home when we arrived.

Launceston Airport, Tasmania. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The drive from the airport was just over an hour, taking us through deep forests and rolling hills before we arrived to Barnbougle Golf Resort, which consists of two courses — The Dunes and Lost Farm — a lodge, two restaurants, a sports bar and a spa. Unfortunately, it was pitch black outside and we couldn’t see much of the two courses on our arrival. I would like to add that both Johan and I were extremely excited about visiting this golf mecca. We later enjoyed a tasty dinner at the Barnbougle Lost Farm Restaurant before we called it a day.

The locals at Barnbougle Dunes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The next day, we woke up early and got out to The Dunes Course as very first guests out. Well, to be quite honest, we weren’t actually the first out. There were a few locals — Wallabies, lots of them — already out on the course. The natural landscape at Barnbougle is fantastic and my cameras almost overheated with the photo opportunities. After two intense hours of recording videos and producing photos both from ground, we headed back to Lost Farm for a wonderful breakfast (and view). After our breakfast, it was time to try our luck.

“Tom’s Little Devil.” Hole No.7 at Barnbougle Dunes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Before describing our experience playing the courses, I would like to mention about Richard Sattler, a potato farmer and owner of Barnbougle. In the early 2000’s, Richard was introduced to U.S. golfing visionary Mike Keiser, who had heard about his amazing stretch of farmland in Tasmania and came down to visit. Mike convinced Richard that Barnbougle (which at that stage was a potato farm and still grows potatoes and raises cattle today) might be perfect for creating a top quality golf course.

After an introduction to well renowned golf architect Tom Doak and the formation of a partnership with former Australian golf pro and golf architect Mike Clayton, the development of the Barnbougle Dunes Course commenced.

The walk between the 4th and 5th holes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Featuring large bunkers dotted between fun rolling fairways shaped from the coastal dunes, Barnbougle Dunes offers the golfer some tough challenges, in particular on the first nine. This is indeed a course that will entertain all kinds of golfers.

After our round, we looked back at some fantastic highlights such as playing the iconic 7th hole, a short par-3 called ”Tom’s Little Devil,” as well as the beautiful par-4 15th. We were just two big walking smiles sitting there in the restaurant to be honest. Lets also not forget one of the biggest (and deepest) bunkers I’ve seen at the 4th hole. The name of the bunker is “Jaws.” Good times!

As a small surprise for Johan, I had arranged a meeting after our round with Richard Sattler. Richard, ever the farmer, entered the car parking just in front of the clubhouse in a white pick-up van with a big smile un his face. We talked to Richard for almost 30 minutes. He is an extremely humble man and left such a warm impression on us. Richard explained the Barnbougle story: how it all began and the property today.

To me, this is a high-end golf destination offering something very unique with two world-class courses in Barnbougle Dunes and Barnbougle Lost Farm, both ranked in the top-100 greatest golf courses by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine (U.S.). With the courses located just next to each other, it’s probably one of the best golf resorts you can find down under and a golf resort that I would like bring my hardcore golfing friends to visit. Everything here is exceptional with the resort providing spacious rooms, comfy beds, good food and spectacular views.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Barnbougle Dunes is a real treat to play for any golfer and will leave you with a sweet golfing memory. Compared to the golf courses available on the more remote King Island, Barnbougle is accessible (given Tasmania is connected by better flight connections) and the hospitality and service at is much more refined.

The golf resort is one of the absolute best I’ve been to. I can also highly recommend playing Barnbougle Dunes; I had great fun and you can play it in many ways. Tomorrow, we will be playing and experiencing the other course at Barnbougle: Barnbougle Lost Farm, a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw course with 20 (!) holes.

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