The Pinehurst region boasts a barrage of legendary, top-ranked courses on perfect inland golf topography. Starting with Donald Ross’ masterpiece, Pinehurst No. 2, the area has exploded into a top U.S. destination with a buffet of elite public-access courses: Pinehurst No. 4, Mid Pines, Pine Needles, Southern Pines and Tobacco Road to name a few.
What many don’t know, however, is that there are several other really good tracks in the area, ones that would garner more attention and accolade if they simply existed in other places.
I was fortunate to come across one of these venues during our recent WiscoGolfAddict Pinehurst trip, at the Mid South Club. Located just down the street from Mid Pines, Pine Needles and Talamore Resort in the town of Southern Pines, this mostly-private layout weaves through a wooded, upscale residential community.
It was here that Arnold Palmer made his architectural mark on the Pinehurst region, teaming up with Ed Seay to create what was initially dubbed “Pinehurst Plantation” on a rolling, wooded property. Soon after its opening in 1993, the course changed ownership and became an affiliated venue with Talamore Resort, and changed its name to Mid South.
I’ve seen plenty of Arnold Palmer property on my three recent winter excursions, starting with a late January round at SilverRock Resort followed by dinner at the iconic Arnold Palmer’s restaurant in La Quinta, CA. Then on a trip to Orlando I visited Magnolia, Disney’s flagship layout, one that Palmer did not originally design but has long been maintained by Arnold Palmer Golf Management.
After experiencing Mid South, I’ve seen some common themes emerge about Arnie’s design philosophies – his courses are playable, fun, dramatic and beautifully shaped with impressive attention to detail.
Following our round at Tobacco Road in the morning, we rushed back to Southern Pines for a post-3:00 tee time at Mid South, hoping to complete as many holes as possible while knowing we wouldn’t finish the round in daylight. After grabbing a round of *very expensive* cocktails, we embarked on our round in perfect, sunny weather. Given the very late tee time, we were also the only group in sight on the front nine, which promoted a relaxing experience to finish off a multi-round day.
Mid South may not have the most natural, rugged look to it like Pinehurst No. 2 or No. 4, but it features some gorgeous rock-lined water features that complete a landscape filled with impeccably maintained fairways, greens and sand traps. Tall pines lining the fairways do an excellent job of partially concealing sights of nearby homes.
The water and sand combine to form formidable obstacles and some seriously challenging, intimidating shots. Even so, I found the hole shapes and designs to be inviting and accommodating to my preferred shot shapes, and felt comfortable playing the course.
After getting hot with the putter on a stretch during the front nine, I put together my best golf of the trip here, firing a 39 on the front and having a chance to break 80 overall before darkness descended.
I chose a good spot to play well, too, since we played Vegas format in our trip-long battle for the Red Jacket. If you’re unfamiliar with Vegas, it’s a two-player team game where partners combine their low and high net scores to form a double-digit team score, which is then subtracted from the opponents’ score to determine the point value for a given hole.
Basically, if a team posts two bad scores on a hole, they’re pretty much out of luck, and it gives their opponents an opportunity to rack up a huge gain. On the second hole, for example, Paul and I suffered a Vegas score of 67 compared to Sam and Troy’s double par (44), netting them 23 points! Thankfully, I played well after that to recoup the losses and ultimately got into contention for the Red Jacket by the end of the day.
Mid South Club
Southern Pines, NC
Architects: Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay (1993)
Par 71; 7003/6577/6170/5655 Yards
Hole 1 – Par 4, 398/378/349/319/266 Yards
While the mid-length, uphill opening hole appears tame, this dogleg right should be approached strategically. The ideal route is to fly the fairway trap guarding the right corner to set up a better angle into a small green protected short and left by a giant bunker. For me, aiming left off the tee looked all too inviting, and even though I found the fairway I was left with a poor angle and sand to carry, a recipe for a routine bogey to start.
Hole 2 – Par 4, 401/357/330/315/239
This was the only spot at Mid South (or on the whole trip, for that matter) where I remarked “this is a lot like Florida golf.” Translation: step up and hit great shots or lose your ball to a watery fate. The drive must carry a pond about 200 yards off the tee to find a narrow sliver of fairway before the fairway sharply bends to the right for another forced carry over water to the green.
Another similarity to Florida golf was a line of condos sitting just to the right of the pond, definitely in play for a garden variety slice. In fact, Paul hit a screamer right at the condos and we all braced for the sound of a huge deflection or broken glass, but thankfully the homes were somehow spared from a violent collision.
To make matters worse, I was Paul’s Vegas partner here, and found the water off the tee, as well. With Sam and Troy sitting pretty in the middle of the fairway, we were doomed to a massive point loss.
Hole 3 – Par 3, 180/165/154/113/110 Yards
This mid-length par 3 plays slightly uphill to a very deep green fronted by a gaping bunker. The short-right pin position we encountered was especially intimidating, with runoff slopes on both sides near the pin in addition to the sand. I finally got a spark of momentum here after missing the green left, burying a 20-foot par putt to snag some Vegas points back from Troy and Sam.
Hole 5 – Par 4, 390/376/366/339/248 Yards
The fifth starts atop a hill with the entire hole visible below, playing through a chute of trees before opening up to a magnificent pond fronting the green. This is one of several “wow” moments at Mid South, with beautiful features accentuated further by a clear blue sky and sunshine.
With water short and right of the green, a left bunker discourages bailing out and will direct golfers towards an aggressive play at the pin. I pulled off a heroic recovery shot from pine straw in the right trees, plopping a five-iron onto the front of the green before lipping out the birdie putt.
Check out Paul’s flyover video on Instagram to see for yourself the sheer drama of the 5th:
Hole 6 – Par 3, 178/157/149/125/104 Yards
The sixth is a classic all-carry par 3 over water, an intimidating shot with no bailout area off the green. However, its gigantic putting surface provides plenty of room to hit extra club to ensure a dry tee shot. My slightly-offline drive still found the green, and I took advantage by rolling in a 50-foot birdie putt.
Hole 7 – Par 4, 416/386/352/342/282 Yards
The seventh features a narrow tee shot with water right, but the fairway opens up more than it appears past a chute of trees. Good drives are rewarded with an inviting approach shot to one of the largest greens I’ve seen in a long time. This monstrous surface is loaded with subtle slopes, rewarding aggressive lines for those playing from good position in the fairway.
Hole 8, Par 4 – 430/418/391/337/290 Yards
The eighth is a sweeping uphill dogleg left, curling around a long fairway trap on the left side. The bunker should be no problem to carry for most players, though, and the right side should be avoided as it could lead to an angle blocked by towering pines. A pot bunker also guards the front-right side, making the angle of approach from the right even more daunting.
Hole 9, Par 5 – 542/528/508/455/390 Yards
The ninth is home to the next “wow” moment at Mid South. This dogleg right tumbles down a hill to a green fronted by water and backed by the main clubhouse. Fairway traps bisect the layup zone, prompting two options for the layup while encouraging an aggressive second shot towards the green for those in position.
The Back Nine – Journey into the Darkness
What’s the darkest golf you’ve ever played?
For me, it was the back nine at Mid South. While I’d love to provide a detailed course description here, the goal on this side was simply to finish the round as fast as possible, so I didn’t come away with detailed memories of the holes themselves (nor could I even see some of them).
There were varying degrees of darkness that we encountered, which escalated as the nine progressed:
Holes 10-12: Light enough to play normally, but too many shadows for good photography.
Holes 13-15: Too dark to see the ball land, and probably won’t find errant shots. But as long as you hit it reasonably straight, you can complete the hole.
Holes 16-18: Can’t see anything, including the ball at address. Must rely on the sound of the ball landing and smartphone flashlights to find even perfect tee shots. If you’re not dead straight off the tee, don’t even bother looking.
Joining us on the last four holes was Aleem, a light-hearted fellow golf nut in town for the US Am Tour who taught us some important lessons on how to find a ball in the dark. By the time we reached the clubhouse, we had joined up with a couple other groups, as well, in a desperate bid to finish the round. This is one of the things I love about the game – joining forces with complete strangers who share a passion for golf, and coming away with long lasting memories of camaraderie.
Remarkably, once I could no longer see the ball in flight, I finally figured out how to hit it straight off the tee (is that bad?). In fact, I was the only one in our large group to find my tee shot on 18, sitting in the middle of the fairway.
Lesson learned – maybe I should just close my eyes when hitting off the tee.
After reflecting on a sublime late afternoon at Mid South, it occurred to me that of all the courses we played on this trip, this was the everyday venue of the bunch, one that I could play regularly for years and enjoy a rich golf life. Indeed, Mid South possesses the same traits that make my home venue, Nakoma, an ideal everyday course: A great routing and strong hole design, superb conditioning, and a laid-back vibe in a secluded setting.
As far as potential retirement locales go, with a strong layout on site and world-class courses just down the street, and year-round golf on top of all that, there aren’t many better options I can imagine than the Mid South community.
Mid South also proved to be the perfect late-day round after a mind-boggling morning adventure at Tobacco Road – it’s a straightforward, parkland-style layout with challenging and engaging shots to execute, but not so taxing that we were itching to get off the course as our bodies wore down. The experience would’ve been completely different if we had played the two courses in the reverse order.
The only drawback of our experience at Mid South was that we didn’t spend more time there, ultimately running out of daylight on the back nine. It exceeded my expectations, so much so that it’s debuting at #35 in my course rankings. I expected it to be a distant fourth on this trip, well behind Pinehurst No. 4, Mid Pines and Tobacco Road, but that certainly wasn’t the case. I will make it a point to return for a fuller experience the next time I travel to the region.
Mid South is only accessible to the public if you’re staying on site (or at Talamore Resort). With Pinehurst just 10 minutes away and other top-notch courses in the area, on a golf trip to the area I’d definitely recommend considering staying on the property to gain access to this fabulous venue.