The final day of last month’s WiscoGolfAddict buddies trip to the Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen area of North Carolina started out early at what may have been my absolute favorite course we played: Mid Pines.
A classic Donald Ross design dating back to 1921, this is a club steeped in history, and every step on the property evokes feels of the legendary golf that’s been played there.
From our trek through the clubhouse, pro shop and locker room (which reminded me a bit of Milwaukee Country Club’s with its minimalistic, old-school charm), down its halls of golf lore that are covered from floor to ceiling with names like Ross, Julius Boros and so many others, to their beautifully restored golf course and its incredible views that one of the game’s all-time greatest architects built into the experience, golf at Mid Pines is soulful and cathartic.
You feel it.
My buddy Sam and I walked out onto the course just before the sun began to rise, and those first steps on its lush, green (the only course we played that overseeds) turf, with long, downhill views in all directions from one of the property’s high points, whispered of golf greatness.
As the sun rose, it was a Sunday morning in a stained glass cathedral-like experience – warm rays of light burned through the majestic Mid Pines and lit up its venerable layout between long shadows. It wasn’t just the low-30’s temps that had me shivering but that feeling you get when experiencing a location for the first time that you can tell immediately is truly special.
This refined experience does not happen by accident, and not without incredible care taken in recent years to update the course in a vein of restorative ministration. Particularly, work done in the early 2010’s by Kyle Franz to update the course at Mid Pines deserves spectacular acclaim.
Franz and his team restored many of Ross’s green complexes to add pinnable locations and interest; sand features were added, removed and updated to take on a more rugged, 3D aesthetic; new tee boxes were installed to address modern play and equipment, and plenty of trees were selectively removed to create a cleaner, friendlier look that still manages to provide all the challenge players can take on.
With a fairly run-of-the-mill slope/rating of 130/71.6, Mid Pines is a golf course that punches well above its weight class, and I personally thought it was the most challenging track we played in the North Carolina sandhills despite its slope/rating being lower than Pinehurst No. 4 (135/73.7 from the blue tees), Tobacco Road (144/71.7 from the Ripper tees – review in progress) or Mid South (134/71.9) from similar yardages.
Mid Pines’ fairways veer through well-manicured tree lines, down dramatic hillsides and across inland ponds, creating a cohesive, dramatic flow across the golf experience.
From the first to the eighteenth hole, there are no holes that feel out of place, and nothing that makes you think “This could have been done better.” Like Goldilocks’ third bowl of the bears’ porridge, it’s just right.
The golf course
This just-right course opens from atop one of the highest points on the property, playing downhill to a classic back-to-front Donald Ross green complex.
A lot of trees have been removed from the first hole over the last ten years, and the effect is an inviting opening tee shot that provides some room to miss but still punishes players who are out of position.
I was one of those players, pulling my tee shot into a sand trap on the next hole left where I faced about a 60-yard approach through trees. As you’d probably guess, I was not leading our game walking off the first green – a trend that would continue throughout our round.
I played terribly at Mid Pines, but it didn’t for one moment damper my appreciation for this golf course.
The first par three on the course, the second features a mid-length tee shot slightly uphill to a well-guarded putting surface.
The pond left is not in play but provides beautiful scenery, especially during our cold early morning as water vapor rose from the surface. The traps that guard the front-left and right sides of this green complex are deep and craggy, and trust me they’re not fun to get out of.
Buckle up, there’s a lot more of that to come throughout the property.
Ross didn’t give players much to work with off the tee on three, featuring probably the most intimidating shot on the entire course.
The tree line on the opposite side of the pond charges well right, but only a sliver of it is visible from the tees. If you can hit a high fade, try to do that here.
One of the craziest putting surfaces I’ve ever seen, the fourth is a short, almost drivable par four with all kinds of trouble near the green. The right side of the putting surface, especially, falls off tremendously and is mowed to first-cut length.
This is a fantastic risk/reward hole.
A beautiful par five, the fifth is short (484 yards) by today’s standards but certainly does not play it as the fairway falls off with several hundred yards in and requires a long, uphill carry from a likely downhill lie.
Franz’s team added a new fairway bunker on the right side of the driving area to make getting home in two even more challenging, and also added “sandy pits and knots” to force longer hitters to at least consider laying up. The green was expanded here, as well, and reshaped to allow for more hole locations.
The second of back-to-back par fives, the sixth was magical at sunrise.
With the hour we had to shoot the course before reporting for our 7:45 tee time, I may have spent a little more time here than I should have. That’s just one of those things you learn after years of doing this is that sometimes you find the ideal spot for photography, but you still need to keep moving. Chances are if you spend too much time at one place you’ll walk away with a bevy of incredible images that are almost indiscernible and so not all usable… Case in point (there are at least a dozen others that are equally as pretty and only slightly different):
The seventh is an interesting golf hole, straightaway but with the entire fairway tilted toward the right side.
Sand runs down the left and right perimeters but is much more likely to come into play on the right where most tee shots will run toward. The left side is preferred off the tee to open up a direct play in that doesn’t risk taking on the encroaching trees.
A mid-length par three, the eighth has a creative green complex where – alike a number of holes on the course – the trouble is situated at angles. It’s not a bunker left/bunker right kind of thing, but rather an almost cross-bunker on the front-right that runs toward the middle-right, and a pot intruding on the green’s middle-left edge.
To me, this creates a much more challenging affect as it’s no longer requiring a straight shot but rather a straight and right-distanced one. It puts a lot more thought into players’ minds.
Playing downhill, this par three may not look like a ton on the scorecard, but there’s plenty of difficulty inherently built in.
The 9th is one of the only holes on the course that favors a cut. In fact, if you can hit a high (and long) fade, you’ll be in great shape here. The smart play, of course, is with a long iron to the bend in the fairway.
The green surrounds on nine are some of the most intense on the course with traps flanking the majority of it and severe slopes dominating its putting surface.
Make sure to grab a snack and something to drink between the ninth green and tenth tee, then get ready for an exciting finish at Mid Pines.
The inward nine opens with a par five, straight out over a vast wasteland of sand and along the course’s northern border. While only 515 yards from the back tees, going for it in two is made more challenging by all the trouble fronting the green.
In classic Ross style, the lead-up to this green complex is shrouded from view by the cross-bunker that dominates the right side. It may look green-side from the fairway, but it’s a good 30 yards or more short and will leave a testy approach shot if hit or left short just beyond it – especially with this front pin!
The eleventh is a fun little pop-up par three that plays between 150 and 180 yards. The green complex here is an isthmus of sand, dropping off to each side with a slight uphill run-up.
This hole actually reminded me a lot of similar Coore/Crenshaw designs at Sand Valley and Streamsong Red. It’s classic in its simplicity and brilliantly executed – it may not look it from the tee, but there’s a lot of bite in this pretty little template.
Again favoring a draw, the twelfth is a mid-length par four that’s heavily wooded on both sides and with waste areas dominating its edges. The green is long from front to back, and flanked on either side by sand.
A long par three, the 13th was a beast during our round playing directly into the wind. Both Brian (my partner for our game of 6/6/6 4-ball at this stage of the round) and I both wound up well short and right off the tee with terrible lies in the waste areas.
This hole reminded me a bit of the third at Sand Valley’s original course (minus the right-side knob/kicker slope), and if it wasn’t for how poorly I played it I think I would have really enjoyed the layout!
The 14th to me is a stand-out hole on the Mid Pines course. Fairly pedestrian in length (340 from the first tees in), the fairway tilts left-to-right and leads to an incredibly challenging green complex that’s absolutely encapsulated by deep traps.
Four bunkers draw out the perimeter of this beautiful Ross green complex, making the uphill approach shot here one to hit with care.
A long par five from the tips (542) but significantly shorter from the first tees in (480), the fifteenth plays acutely downhill, widens in the landing zone and likely leaves a lot of downhill lies to deter players from going for the green in two.
While the left side of the green surrounds are mostly bunkerless, it is also heavily sloped toward the treeline and its pine needles on that side (this is a very elevated green complex).
The putting surface on fifteen slopes hard from back to front-left and, despite the par five’s “gettable” distance is a great candidate for laying up to a comfortable wedge.
A long par four, the sixteenth again plays downhill with a right-to-left swoop that favors a drawn shot shape. The entire left side is littered with waste areas, as is much of the right following its dogleg.
The seventeenth is another high-300’s par four, and plays softly left-to-right. Played through a narrow, tree-lined corridor, it’s hard to say if the left or right side should be favored. While the left side is slightly more open, it also requires all carry over the sand areas running up to the green. The right, on the other hand, has three bunkers that need to be carried off the tee but if executed well will allow for approach shots to be run on.
One of the most memorable finishing holes I’ve played in recent years, the 18th at Mid Pines heads out from elevated tees through a chute of trees toward the club’s palatial clubhouse. Around 400 yards in length, there’s a slight right-to-left bend but nothing significant.
The key here is on the uphill approach.
Troy and I were both about 125 yards out, in the middle-right portion of the fairway, following our tee shots. My approach was fine, but his hit the flagstick a foot or two off the ground and stopped to within 12″ for a tap-in birdie to secure the WiscoGolfAddict Red Jacket.
What a finish!
A sister course of Southern Pines GC and Pine Needles (which is across the street and most recently played host to the 2021 US Women’s Open), Mid Pines is a golf course that nobody should leave off any Pinehurst area golf trip itinerary.
You literally feel the history at this club. It’s first-rate in every sense and leaves you thinking “Why can’t every parkland course be like this?”
The answer: It’s not easy.
Much like the case of Donald Ross’s Kenosha Country Club back home in Wisconsin (a Ross gem that opened within a year of Mid Pines), it takes consistent updates and thoughtful care to maintain a property the way Mid Pines is, and it takes the tutelage of folks like Kyle Franz who understand the architecture, respect the heritage and attain absolute buy-in for a long-term plan that may take time to show dividends.
To me, Mid Pines is elite in every way, and was probably my favorite course we played in the sandhills of North Carolina. This is a top 100 golf course that takes your breath away with its beauty, presents all the challenge you can ask for yet would be one of the world’s greatest everyday golf courses: Nothing gimmicky, just an incredible layout that makes players think through the course, execute shots and putt well on its 18 wonderfully designed greens.
Have you played golf in Pinehurst / Southern Pines / Aberdeen? If so, what is your favorite course in the area? (this may take a little scrolling, and I am not including Pinehurst’s Tom Doak-designed tenth course yet as it’s still in the early stages of development)
For more on our recent WiscoGolfAddict buddies trip to the Pinehurst region of North Carolina, check out the destination overview, linked here:
Earlier this month, WiscoGolfAddict.com Contributing Writers Brian, Troy and I headed down to Pinehurst, North Carolina with our buddy Sam for what would be an epic buddies golf trip.