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.
Kingston Heath: The Hype is Real
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Barnbougle Lost Farm: 20 Holes of Pure Joy
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.
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.
Barnbougle Dunes: World Class Golf
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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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