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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Branson, Missouri Continues to Evolve as a Golf Destination
If you think you know Branson, Mo., it’s time to think again. While the live music venues that put the bucolic Ozark Mountains town on the map continue to thrive, its reputation as a top notch golf destination has grown … and continues to evolve.
Heck, golfers who’ve visited just a few years ago will find the scene almost unrecognizable. Sure, the awe-inspiring Top of the Rock — designed by legendary Jack Nicklaus and holding the honor of being the first-ever par-3 course to be included in a professional PGA championship — is as striking as ever, but its sister course, Buffalo Ridge, has undergone a metamorphosis.
Designed by renowned architect Tom Fazio and originally opened in 1999, Buffalo Ridge has done the unthinkable – make its list of previous accolades pale in comparison to what now graces the land. In conjunction with owner and visionary conservationist Johnny Morris, Fazio has exposed massive limestone formations, enhanced approaches and added water features to make every hole more memorable than the last.
Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio masterpieces not enough? Gary Player has stamped his signature in the Ozarks with the recently opened Mountain Top Course. This 13-hole, walking-only short course is unlike anything you’ve ever played.
Strap your bag to a trolley and let your imagination dictate your round. There are stakes in the ground with yardage markers nearby, but they’re merely suggestions. Play it long or play it short. Play it from different angles. The only mandate is to enjoy the course, nature and camaraderie.
The Mountain Top greens are huge and as smooth as putting on a pool table. Nearly as quick, too. And the bunkers are as pristine as the white sands of an isolated Caribbean beach. Capping off your experience, the finishing hole plays back to the clubhouse and the green boasts multiple hole locations that enhance golfers’ chances at carding an ace. Hard to imagine a better way the end an already unforgettable round.
It shouldn’t take you much longer than two hours to get around Mountain Top Course. If it does, you were likely admiring the stunning panoramas. One notable addition to those views is Tiger Woods’ (TGR Design) first public access design — Payne’s Valley (named to honor Missouri golfing legend Payne Stewart) — which is full speed ahead on construction and scheduled to open in 2019. As a treat, the 19th hole was designed by Morris. Named “The Rock,” it’s a short par-3 that promises to be amazing.
Payne’s Valley will be both family-friendly and challenging. It has wide fairways and ample landing areas along with creative angles and approaches that shotmakers love and expect from a championship course.
If two years is too long to wait for new golf, then Morris and his Big Cedar Lodge have you covered with the yet-to-be-named ridge-top course by the industry’s hottest design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. With all the heavy lifting complete, the Ozarks is scheduled to be unveiled in 2018.
Once opened, this par-71 (36-35) track will play “firm and fast” and offer multiple avenues into each green. Both Coore and Crenshaw bristle at the notion that there’s only one way to approach the playing surface. Bring it in high or run it along the ground. Considering the exposed nature of the course and propensity for high winds, the latter may be your best option.
There’s more. Tiger won’t be finished with Branson when he wraps up Payne’s Valley. He’s also designing a family-friendly par-3 course on the grounds of Big Cedar Lodge. There isn’t a date attached to this project, so stay tuned.
These new tracks join the likes of Thousand Hills, Branson Hills and Pointe Royale Golf Village to make Branson a powerful player on the golf destination scene. Combine that with world-class fishing and camping, as well as countless museums, restaurants and points of interest and this bustling Ozarks town is a must-visit spot in Middle America.
Learn more or plan your trip at explorebranson.com.
Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club
Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own.
Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.
All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.
Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.
Trees, or no trees?
The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.
The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.
Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.
A good variety
Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16. What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14. These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set. The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.
The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s tempt the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.
Green complexes are…complex
Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world. They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.
The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a decent lie.
Ari’s last word
All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.
Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure
My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers too many… and that’s not all.
Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.
Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.
I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.
First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.
Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.
Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”
Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!
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