The Cradle: Par Three Bliss at Pinehurst

Short courses have been exploding in popularity at America’s top golf destinations, but as recent as ten years ago the concept was still quite new. Bandon Dunes’ addition of The Preserve in 2012 raised quite a few eyebrows at the time. Why would anyone want to spend a precious couple hours on a bucket list trip to play a par-3 course when iconic full-length courses are on site?

Well, it turns out they were on to something, as other high-profile resorts have since added short courses, and their tee sheets are now just as packed as those of their regulation layouts.

At a “golf first” resort, a short course carries with it many advantages:

  • It’s a great option following a full-length round, a sound alternative to a traditional 36-hole day
  • It only takes one or two hours to play, adding a lot of flexibility to a day
  • It’s the perfect warmup round on arrival day or for concluding a trip on departure day
  • Short courses require less land, giving resorts more flexibility for expansion
  • Most importantly, it can be approached in a fun, relaxed mindset

Pinehurst joined the short course revolution in 2017, with the Gil Hanse-designed Cradle. This nine-hole layout occupies a tiny portion of property just south of the main clubhouse and adjacent to the Thistle Dhu putting course. With very little land to work with, Hanse routed some particularly short holes, ranging from 56 to 127 yards.

The Cradle (second green shown here) sits in the shadow of Pinehurst’s famous clubhouse

Broadly speaking, short courses at golf resorts fall into two categories – ones with full-length par threes and a greater focus on challenge and strategy, and ones with shorter holes and an overarching focus on enjoyment.

The Cradle falls into the latter category, and is built to maximize fun. Music continuously plays over loudspeakers, with an assortment of popular hits, genres and styles, creating a laid-back atmosphere. Additionally, a halfway house is located near the center of the property and drink holders are conveniently set up next to tee boxes, ensuring that the fun can keep rolling all the way through the round. The short yardages give all players chances at birdies, a great way to create long-lasting memories on a trip.

The halfway house at The Cradle (back center) is conveniently located next to the 3rd (left center) and 8th (far right) greens, allowing for multiple pit stops during a loop

While the objective at The Cradle isn’t to provide a stiff challenge, Hanse did create nine very interesting greens on the site with an array of slopes and sections that make for engaging short-game play. Even though they are only in play on a few holes, bunkers and waste areas visibly frame the playing surfaces, resembling the rugged sandhills look of its neighboring courses, Pinehurst No. 2 and No. 4.

The First loop

After an early-morning round at Pinehurst No. 4, lunch at Pinehurst’s fabled clubhouse and a tiebreaker for the ages at the Thistle Dhu putting course to settle our morning skins game, we embarked on a round at The Cradle on a beautiful, sunny afternoon. Playing a Modified Stableford format in the trip-long battle for the Red Jacket, we came out swinging aggressively and firing at pins. I made a couple early birdies on my way to an even par loop and made up some ground in the standings.

Check out our YouTube video for highlights from that first amazing round:

The Second Loop

The Cradle was so much fun the first time through, but the nine short holes went quickly and we were aching for a second play at its conclusion. Fortunately, the starter was able to slot us into the busy tee sheet for a another loop that evening.

With the sun descending below the tree line, the course lit up with beauty. Paired up with two easy-going, highly skilled golfers from Nashville as a fivesome, we continued our hunt for more birdies in gorgeous golden hour rays. I added two more birdies in the evening session and ended with a solid score of +1 for the loop, giving me a puncher’s chance for the Red Jacket heading into the final round of the trip at Mid Pines.

The evening sun made for some spectacular photography as we closed out a memorable day at Pinehurst. Here are some of the highlight shots from that loop:

Closing Thoughts

The Cradle was a wonderful addition to the Pinehurst resort, and is the perfect complement to its nine (and soon to be ten) full-length courses. Regulation golf in the Carolina Sandhills is tough, with penal architecture and sand everywhere. The Cradle offers a welcomed reprieve from this grind, with nine pitch-and-putt birdie opportunities in a magnificent setting.

At The Cradle, you won’t find a daunting challenge or have to use most of your irons like you would at some short courses, but one thing’s for sure – you will be able to relax and have a good time with your buddies at one of the nation’s premier golf destinations.

Pinehurst Website

For more on our Pinehurst trip, check out our destination overview:

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