Earlier this month, two of my WiscoGolfAddict.com Contributing Writers and friends, Brian Murphy and Troy Giljohann, and I journeyed with our buddy Sam down to one of the country’s original golf destinations: Pinehurst, North Carolina.
Anybody who knows anything about golf knows Pinehurst… Even my parents – although, to be fair, my dad knew about it from watching episodes of Aerial America on the Smithsonian Channel.
Anticipation loomed large for months as we crafted an itinerary for all of our first ever visit to the Sandhills of North Carolina. Similar to Wisconsin, Scottsdale or the Sand Hills of Nebraska, it’s an area chocked full of world-class golf including six Golf Digest top 100 public courses (Golf Digest, Sept. 2021) and ten total in the top 200 overall rankings of 2021-2022 (Golf Digest, 2021-2022).
While we took great advantage of our time in the area by playing six fantastic golf courses, we left a ton still on the table to return for. Pinehurst/Southern Pines/Aberdeen is a destination so saturated with unbelievably good golf that you could come back year and year, and with 37 courses within a 20-mile radius only leave feeling you played enough if you literally spent weeks burning the candle on both ends.
I’m not Patrick Koenig, though, and it’s been a long off-season, so four days and three nights left me playing awful golf by the end yet still loving the courses and overall destination experience. Even on our 126th overall hole (including Thistle Dhu and The Cradle), I gawked at the beauty of the 18th hole tee shot, the incredible backdrop of the Mid Pines clubhouse on the approach and then the wonderful Donald Ross green we’d putt out on.
Finishing our trip with Mid Pines left me pining to return for Pine Needles and Southern Pines. Playing the No. 4 course at Pinehurst has me really curious about Courses 2 and 8 (and their 10th course, currently being designed by Tom Doak), and having finally played Tobacco Road I now want to play everything designed by Mike Strantz (including Tot Hill Farm less than an hour away in Asheboro).
Knowing there are “hidden gems” out there like Mid South and Talamore that don’t get near the credit they deserve makes me wonder what the rest of the area’s tracks are like, too… I had a feeling very much like I did driving around the Sand Hills of Nebraska: A great golf hole could be put almost anywhere in this region.
And there’s one thing the Pinehurst area has over Sand Hills, Nebraska: Incredible history with some of the game’s top classic architects from the Golden Age of golf taking center stage.
Certainly, Donald Ross has had the biggest influence over this area, having designed 47 total courses in North Carolina and seven in the Pinehurst/Southern Pines/Aberdeen region, including:
- Pinehurst No. 1
- Pinehurst No. 2
- Pinehurst No. 3
- Pinehurst No. 4
- Mid Pines Golf Club
- Southern Pines Golf Club
- Pine Needles Golf Club
Ross’s home (Dornoch Cottage) was just steps from the 3rd green of the fabled Pinehurst No. 2. A USGA anchor site, Pinehurst has hosted too many USGA tournaments to list here (link to full list on their website) and is penciled in as the future site of the 2029 US Women’s Open, this year’s US Adaptive Open in July and five US Opens between 2024 and 2047.
The USGA, World Golf Hall of Fame and World Golf Foundation will also be opening their new home base in Pinehurst next year. Currently headquartered in St. Augustine, Florida, the World Golf Hall of Fame will relocate to the new Golf House Pinehurst (on the Pinehurst property) in time to host 2024’s hall of fame induction ceremonies to coincide with the 124th US Open on Pinehurst No. 2.
Donald Ross, Ellis Maples, Coore/Crenshaw, Mike Strantz, Gil Hanse, Kyle Franz, Tom Doak, Gene Hamm, Arnold Palmer, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus have all put their best foot forward in this region, and there wasn’t an inch of golf course property we stepped foot on that didn’t make me sense that rich heritage.
We tracked the weather for weeks leading up to March 3 and lucked out big-time. With ten days to go it looked like our time spent in North Carolina would be dominated by rain and temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s, but when we got there it was 60’s and 70’s with mild winds and nothing but sunshine. Entirely ideal.
The area averages highs in the mid-60’s during March and low 70’s during April, making the climate perfectly comfortable for a mid-to-late Spring getaway from the chilly Midwest. It heats up during the summer, then, with highs consistently in the 80’s from May to September.
There are no direct flights from Milwaukee to Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU), so we had to connect through Atlanta. RDU could not have been more efficient, though, both on the way there and back with short lines and waits. Being a smaller airport, everything’s nearby and convenient including car rental.
Renting a car is highly recommended when visiting The Home of American Golf as it is about an hour drive from RDU to the Pinehurst/Southern Pines/Aberdeen area. Unless you’re staying and playing exclusively at Pinehurst Resort, chances are you’ll be doing a little driving.
Talamore, Mid South, Mid Pines, Pine Needles and Southern Pines are all within five- to ten-minute drives of one another, and Pinehurst is another five to ten. Tobacco Road, an absolute must-play if in the area, is about 30 minutes from Talamore and just off the highway when coming or going from the airport (pro tip: Tobacco Road can be a great first or last course to play when heading to/from the airport to maximize your vacation time).
The Race for the Red Jacket
Heading into any golf trip most people expect to play inspired mid-season golf and dominate their friends. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that’s rarely the case for me, but I’m always up for a little friendly competition!
Brian was in charge of putting together competitions to keep things fresh and interesting, and here’s what he came up with:
|2||3/4/23||Mid South||Vegas 6/6/6||1|
|3||3/5/23||Pinehurst No. 4||Skins||5|
|4||3/5/23||The Cradle||Modified Stableford||Birdie +5, Bogey+ -2|
|5||3/6/23||Mid Pines||Fourball 6/6/6||15/match|
We played off Troy’s 1-handicap (which he tried each round to finagle higher) with Brian as an 8 and Sam a 7.
I haven’t kept an official handicap since 2021 when I finished the season with a 7.3 index and so matched Brian’s 8. After getting trounced in this competition I have since renewed my WSGA membership and plan on entering rounds again in 2023 🙂
Along with bragging rights, we played for the WGA Red Jacket which will remain with our champion until the next WiscoGolfAddict.com sanctioned event or media trip. The stakes were high, as were all of our hopes heading into competition.
Day 1: Arrival and Talamore
It was a frenzied first day that for me began at 3 am, getting up and ready for Sam to pick me up at my house, then grab Troy (5 houses down the street) and head to General Mitchell International Airport for a 5:50 am flight to Atlanta.
After breakfast from Chick-Fil-A at Hartsfield-Jackson (a standard when traveling through ATL), we flew into Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) around 1 in the afternoon. Upon arrival, our bags were on the carousel quickly and it took almost no time for Troy to get our rental car and have the three of us en route to Pinehurst to embark on an epic golf vacation.
Talamore Golf Club was the perfect first course to play on our trip, with generous fairways to accommodate our offseason rust and really nice greens.
I should mention that golf turf in the Carolinas is extremely different from the grasses we’re used to up north, and it may take a full trip to get used to their Bermuda greens (if ever). Reading putts with an understanding of what the grain will do and clipping pitch shots cleanly to keep from shaving under them can be especially challenging.
Recent renovations at Talamore installed ten beautiful new stacked sod wall EcoBunkers. Gorgeous to look at but challenging to egress, I thought these were a wonderful touch at Talamore and fit perfectly with their overall course aesthetic.
Finishing rounds in the dark would become a norm on this trip, starting on day one at Talamore. The darkness started to encroach around the 13th for us during our opening round, and by the 16th we were basically guessing where to aim.
Race for the Red Jacket update:
Because Brian was still en route to North Carolina and Troy, Sam and I played as a threesome, we did not have a specific game for Talamore. This was a great warmup for what’s to come.
The Fairway Villas at Talamore
Following golf we finally made our way to the Fairway Villas at Talamore. Near enough to the clubhouse to walk, the Fairway Villas had everything we needed to spend our downtime (not that there was much of that!) relaxing: 4 comfortable beds, a full kitchen, 2 bathrooms, a living area with a big-screen tv to watch college and Bucks basketball – and maybe a half hour or so of “Bridesmaids” because we were all “too tired to get up and grab the remote” – and enough electrical outlets and counterspace to handle all of our equipment.
Each day of our trip was so filled with golf that we took almost no advantage of what Pinehurst’s nightlife has to offer, though we did have a nice sit-down meal at The Bell Tree Tavern in downtown Southern Pines the night we arrived. They had really good wings and craft cocktails specializing in bourbons, which is right up our group’s alley. Driving and walking around, we could tell the area has a cool vibe and were excited to experience it more – especially the Pinehurst Brewing Company.
We were up and on the course in the dark each morning, though, and finished our rounds in the dark each night. By the end of each day we were all so exhausted that heading out on the town was the last thing on anybody’s mind. I do regret not finding our way to Pinehurst Brewing Company and absolutely vow to get there next time I’m in town!
Day 2: Tobacco Road and Mid South
Tobacco Road is one of the hottest golf courses in the world right now. An ingenious architect who was certainly underappreciated during his short time on Earth, Mike Strantz put all his creative mettle into the design of Tobacco Road and the result is a breathtakingly beautiful golf property that’s as fun to play as it is to look at.
With a 9:30 tee time, we had several hours to shoot TRG prior to playing and got some absolute stunners:
I was also excited we had the honor of being Tobacco Road’s 1,000th all-time Instagram post! This beautiful shot by Troy of the 17th as the sun rose has garnered over 3,200 likes:
There will be a ton more photos posted in my full course review, but here are a few to whet your appetite for now. There have been very few courses I’ve ever been on as photogenic as Tobacco Road.
Race for the Red Jacket update:
Sam played well at Tobacco Road, taking the most points during our game of Wolf. Troy and I were close behind with 18 as Brian shed his offseason rust and tallied just 12. There’d be plenty of time to make that up and a lot of points still up for grabs!
|1||3/4/23||Tobacco Road||Wolf (PV 3)||18||18||12||21|
Brand spotlight: Bald Head Blues
We all played in apparel from Bald Head Blues at Tobacco Road. If you haven’t been introduced to Bald Head Blues yet, they are one of my absolute favorite golf apparel brands – up there with Holderness & Bourne and Greyson, even.
Bald Head Blues is local to the North Carolina area, and hopefully it helped us look slightly less touristy!
While visiting Pinehurst, NC last month we did our absolute best to avoid looking overly touristy these great polos from Bald Head Blues just might have done the trick!
The Mid South Club
Mid South was probably the biggest surprise of our trip. While I’d spent a bit of time on their website, I didn’t know anywhere near as much about the property as the others on our itinerary. We all loved this golf course, though, and the overall vibe at Mid South.
Following Tobacco Road, this was our second round of the day and we were all in the mood for a cocktail or two. As a pro tip, a round of four [double] cocktails can quickly cost you $83.50 at Mid South, but six domestic beers will only set you back $17.50.
Brand spotlight: Proud 90
We rocked all Proud 90 gear at Mid South, by the way. If you’re not familiar with this awesome, up-and-coming brand, check out Brian’s article Proud 90: Comfort & Style in Pinehurst, linked below:
Race for the Red Jacket update:
Sam dominated at Mid South, totaling 80 points and grabbing a commanding early lead. I struggled hard, especially at the start of the round, and fell way behind – a trend that would unfortunately continue…
|2||3/4/23||Mid South||Vegas 6/6/6||24||47||59||80|
Day 3: Pinehurst No. 4, The Cradle, Thistle Dhu and the Talamore Top Tracer Range
Sunday at Pinehurst was a day to remember!
With a 7:30 tee time and sunrise at 6:31, we were in a mad dash to get to and out on the course as quickly as possible for morning photography prior to teeing off.
Getting to the clubhouse at Pinehurst can be a bit confusing, and following several wrong turns we arrived at the right parking lot a few precious moments later than we planned.
Troy and Brian grabbed one cart and drove out to the No. 4 course, and I grabbed another and ventured out on my own. While we did our absolute best with the 45 minutes of sunrise available to us, I wish we had an hour or two longer. It was especially heart-wrenching heading to the first tee while beautiful long shadows were encroaching across the tree lines. Knowing we had a world-class round of golf awaiting us did well to ease that pain.
Recently redesigned by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner, No. 4 was an absolute treat to play. The greens were some of the most tumultuous I’ve been on in recent years, and the property and layout were exemplary. This wonderful golf experience was only exacerbated by a great walk (the only course we did not take carts on while in NC) with our expert caddies, Tyler and Walter.
I love a great caddied experience, by the way, and Tyler did an awesome job keeping the round light and enjoyable while giving some phenomenal reads. Probably the best was a downhill 12-foot slider I buried on 17 to take a 5-hole carryover away from Troy and help keep everyone [else] in the hunt for the Red Jacket.
Race for the Red Jacket update:
Troy had a stellar back nine at Pinehurst No. 4, carding a 2-under 34 and winning a bunch of skins to commandeer the overall lead:
|3||3/5/23||Pinehurst No. 4||Skins||15||60||20||0|
The Pinehurst Resort
I’ve never been to a golf property as bustling as Pinehurst Resort was following our morning round on No. 4. The property was flooded with golfers, resort guests and collegiate players on-site for an ACC tournament hosted by Duke.
Thistle Dhu and The Cradle were packed, and everyone there was in a good mood, enjoying their time at this iconic property. This is one of the things I love most about trips like these: Being around swarms of golf enthusiasts whose passion for the game matches my own, and who are just happy to be there doing incredible golf things. It makes my heart happy.
We had lunch and cocktails at The Deuce (inside the clubhouse) between rounds, and of course had to get our obligatory photos taken with Payne Stewart:
The Cradle & Thistle Dhu
I love short courses, and the Gil Hanse-designed Cradle is extremely fun with some terrific green complexes on holes ranging from 56-127 yards.
We played our first nine there around 2:30 in the afternoon, and after finishing nine holes had to get our names back in the queue to replay. It would be a couple of hours until there was any availability, so we used the time for a putting championship on Thistle Dhu, the resort’s 18-hole putting course.
Similar to the 2-acre putting course at The Baths at Blackwolf Run, the Flatstick at The Club at Lac La Belle, The Punchbowl at Bandon Dunes or The Dance Floor at Geneva National, Thistle Dhu is all about allowing visitors to enjoy the game of golf in a leisurely setting with “hole layouts” that are both fun and challenging.
After taking our time at Thistle Dhu we were able to enjoy another nine on The Cradle at sunset.
It was the perfect end to a fantastic day of golf.
Race for the Red Jacket update:
Brian played strong on The Cradle, including two birdies and a +1 overall score that was two strokes better than Troy and Sam’s 30’s, and my 31. A 3-man race for the title was brewing…
|4||3/5/23||The Cradle||Modified Stableford||47||74||81||77|
The Top Tracer Range at Talamore
Even following two and a half days of non-stop golf, we couldn’t resist hitting up the Top Tracer range at Talamore on the way back to our fairway villa.
If you’re unfamiliar with Top Tracer, their system uses high-tech simulators to provide instant feedback and administer entertaining games that include long drive competitions, closest to the pin contests and more. Instant feedback is provided on big-screen tv’s around shot and swing performance including carry distance, ball speed, launch angles, shot height and dispersion and, of course, distance, and even allows users to play back their swings.
It’s incredible technology that only looks better when seen at night from the air:
Day 4: Mid Pines and the return home
Mid Pines may have been the brightest star in the show for me on this trip.
Everything about this property, from its old-school vibe and locker room that rivals Milwaukee Country Club’s in its historic, minimalistic charm, to the hall of golf history, incredibly friendly staff (and terrific food/drinks) and a perfect Donald Ross designed course with lush [and green!] conditions, imaginative green complexes and bunkering… It all spoke to me.
Walking out on the course before dawn, leering about for those first peeks across a legendary, 102-year-old top 100 track as the sun’s rays started to illuminate it through its tall, majestic pines, was cathartic.
I played terribly at Mid Pines. If we weren’t playing max doubles, I don’t think I’d have even broken 100. My arms and shoulders felt like lead weights and I was hitting everything fat off the fairways. I found almost all of Ross’s strategically placed greenside traps and took two to get out of a number of them. But, you know what? I didn’t care. Mid Pines is that great of a golf course.
Race for the Red Jacket final standings:
The final day at Mid Pines came down to Troy, Sam and Brian for the coveted Red Jacket, and with both Troy and Sam hitting good drives on 18 Troy pelted the flagstick from 125 yards out and got his approach to stop within a foot of the pin for a tap-in birdie and overall victory.
|5||3/6/23||Mid Pines||4-ball 6/6/6||5||30||30||40|
Overlooking the 18th green, the back patio at Mid Pines was the perfect spot to celebrate Troy’s win and the culmination of our golf trip over a fantastic (I’d call it country club quality, if that makes sense) lunch and refreshing handmade cocktails before embarking on our homeward adventures.
On site for four days/three nights, we were determined to spend every last minute doing great golf-related things, and I’d say we succeeded as we returned home late Monday night gassed. My hands were peeling and lips were chapped, my feet were throbbing and my back and shoulders ached something awful. I hadn’t slept past 4:15 am CST for four days and my body was breaking down, but man was this trip worth it!
The Pinehurst and Southern Pines area of North Carolina was everything and more that we hoped it would be, and that’s saying a lot considering all the anticipation leading up to our visit.
It’s not often a destination can carry as much cache as Pinehurst does for being “The place to go for golf” and live up to it, but it did and then some…
This is one of the very best golf destinations I’ve ever visited and I cannot wait to go back someday.
Start scheduling your legendary Pinehurst golf trip today
Looking to schedule your own trip to the Pinehurst/Southern Pines/Aberdeen area of North Carolina? Check back in the coming weeks for individual write-ups on each course we played and be sure to check out the area’s Convention & Visitors Bureau website for more on their incredible golf and everything else the region has to offer: