I finally found the ultimate golf vacation destination in the United States bar none. It’s located in the Sandhills of North Carolina’s heartland at the world-renowned Pinehurst Resort.

This 2,000-acre historic property is where it all happens and has hosted more single golf championships than any other site in America. It will make history again in 2014 as the only site to host both the U.S Open and the U.S. Women’s Open championships in the same year in consecutive weeks. Pinehurst is now the only site to host all five of the USGA’S major championship

Pinehurst has eight golf courses, but it’s the famous No. 2 course that pays the rent and where the U.S. Open will be played. The staging of these championships represents a significant statement for the sport. And it will give you ample time and a wonderful opportunity to see why this cradle of golf should be on the top of your list for a visit in the future for having so much to offer.

You could start by staying at one of their its newly renovated guest rooms at the historic Carolina Hotel with its white trademark rocking chairs that opened in 1901 and was dubbed the “White House of Golf.” There is also the 88-guest-room Holly that opened in 1895 and completed a $31 million renovation in 1999, and the 44-guest-room 1923 vintage Manor. And what’s nice about these accommodations is that five of their golf courses are only a drive and a 5 iron from everything including the quaint Frederick Law Olmsted’s New England-designed Village of Pinehurst. Olmsted also did New York City’s Central Park.

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This outstanding resort also enjoys the best in Southern cuisine. Its premier Carolina Dining Room is an elegantly appointed room that features steaks and chops as well as entrees with a touch of native North Carolina seafood, poultry, produce and favorites like potato crusted sea bass and fresh mountain trout. And just a short walk from the hotel is Holly’s 1895 AAA Four-Diamond-rated Grille that also specializes in fresh seafood inspired dishes. Adjacent to the Grille’s restaurant is The Tavern — an authentic recreation of a 19th century Scottish pub, complete with a magnificent antique bar. It was hand carved in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1880 with original stained glass and beveled mirror inlays.

The Grand Beginnings of Pinehurst took place in 1895 when James Tuft purchased the property for $1 per acre as a health center and winter resort because of its warming micro-climate. It was followed in 1900 with the arrival of Scottish-born Donald Ross, who was hired as its golf professional with the main purpose of designing golf courses for Tufts. He started with four courses Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4. But it was the famed No. 2 course that received all of the attention, especially for being the proud home of the North and South Amateur Championship since 1903. Donald Ross believed No. 2 was the fairest test of championship golf he ever designed, with a variety of problems to test every shot along with precise handling of the short game and greens that went from sand to bent in 1936.

And if golf isn’t your cup of tea there are “oodles” of other family activities to keep you occupied during your stay. It includes Lake Pinehurst with 200 acres of freshwater well stocked with fish. Canoeing and kayaking are also offered. There are professional croquet and lawn bowling facilities, tennis courts, walking tours and two outdoor pools. You name it, it’s there.

But of course golf is still Pinehurst’s dominant theater of activity everyday of the year and what a beautiful part of North Carolina it is to bring your golf clubs and enjoy golf at its best. And there are always the ever-present loblolly pines and dogwoods that waft through the soft carpet and sweet bouquet of pine needles. It was in 1983 when I first visited Pinehurst and it was easy to see where you were going. But today with home development along hidden curving streets and the ever-enveloping growth of trees and shrubbery, you can get easily lost if you miss a street sign.

So it was time to get my golf clubs out of my trunk and amble over to Pinehurst’s golfing village where I decided to tackle the very best and famous Pinehurst No. 2. It was there that I found out that the design team of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore were recently hired to restore the courses natural aesthetic characteristics and bring back the strategic design originally crafted by Ross. The changes include returning sandy waste areas, native wiregrass and natural bunker edges; widening the fairways to play as they did in the era from 1935 to 1960 and reducing the amount of manicured rough.

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The signature greens of No. 2 were not be touched, and it would have been be sacrilegious to even think about doing it. That’s because these indecipherable inverted-saucer greens putting surfaces that fall off along the edges were designed to emulate the natural indentations of the golf turf in Ross’s native Scotland. They average 6,000 square feet with not too many safe places to stop the ball with its swales, dips and hollows that make it easy to escape the putting surface and fall away a few feet down from the elevated surfaces.

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The No. 1 green at Pinehurst No. 2 (photo by Ron Montesano).

You must also know that Pinehurst is not a “wow” golf course with lots of water and tricky situations. What makes it one of the best ever designed is that its routing is outstanding. The strategic nuances are endless, and understanding which hole locations are accessible and which are not will give you trouble. So I headed to the 405-yard par 4 first hole with a wide fairway started my No. 2 adventure.

The approach shot is easier if played from the right side and the green is angled and appears to be a generous target. But misjudge your approach by a hair and your ball will find on the perimeter of the green and leak into a bunker on the front left of the green or the chipping area to the right.

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No. 5 green, from behind the putting surface (photo by Ron Montesano).

After warming up on the opening holes, I approached the brutal par four 476-yard No. 5, where only 27 percent of all second shots in the 1999 U.S. Open landed on the putting surface. This top-rated dogleg left hole is the longest par four on the course, as the fairway slopes from right to left making for a testy sidehill lie on the approach. The green is elevated, severely crowned and guarded on its front left by a yawning bunker. Anything on the that side of the green is jail, while missing right is relatively benign. It’s followed by a strong par 3, No. 6, which measures 224 yards. That makes holes Nos. 5 and 6 the strongest back-to-back holes on the course. The tee shot has to be drilled through a chute of pine trees toward a well-guarded green with a swale in front of it. Golfers erring to either side with their tee shots will find plenty of sand with a bunker on the left being particularly penal.

No. 10, a par-5 that measures 611 yards, wins the prize for the longest on the course. The right side of the fairway offers the best angle for the second shot, but there’s plenty of movement in the fairway from 100 yards out, adding a twist to a short approach if a golfer chooses to lay up. The 451-yard par-4 No. 12 fairway resembles No. 10 with numerous undulations. It also has a trough running across from 125 yards away from the green that has plenty of movement. The approaching area will deflect many shots landing into a chipping area to the left of the putting surface.

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Pinehurst No. 2’s 16th green (photo by Ron Montesano).

Plenty of length and a narrow green makes No. 14 one of the most difficult par 4s on the course. The hole that was once a par five contains fairway right and left of the bunkers to collect errant tee shots. And over the green is one place you don’t want to be, as the sloping is severe in the rear where the ball can take off and run 40 yards. The easier recovery shot is to the left of the green, as anything right will put your fate into a series of deep hollows and a penal bunker.

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The view from the 18th tee at Pinehurst No. 2 (Photo by Ron Montesano).

No. 18, a 445-yard par 4, is one of the finest and most difficult finishing holes in golf. It’s the only hole that plays uphill from tee to landing area and then to the green. The fairway looks plenty wide, but it is much smaller in reality. To get to the green, you have to challenge a long, deep bunker that runs along the fairway. The left side is safer, but it presents a harder shot because you have to play from a slightly sidehill lie across one bunker to a contoured green angled against you.

It’s interesting to note that Pinehurst has had so many famous visitors that it reads a veritable who’s who of almost every celebrity in every field of prominence. One that heads the list is Annie Oakley, who gave shooting exhibitions and lessons when she arrived in 1916. Amelia Earhart landed her plane at the Pinehurst airstrip in 1921. The usual Rockefellers, DuPonts and Morgan clan did their number here. Five presidents kept the Secret Service busy and almost every famous professional golfer enjoyed the golf facilities. That with a number of famous movie stars that have kept the guests in awe.

It all adds up to the collective Spirit of Pinehurst and everyone who has had the opportunity of visiting this palace of pleasure now and in the future.

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  2. Having played #2 numerous times and always found it enjoyable, I find Pine Needles more fun to play, especially since the renovation of PN… I agree PH is a wonderful resort, with probably the best buffets one can imagine. I am looking forward to the back to back opens next year.

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