As a golfer who travels, you can expect a few commonalities among the world's top golf resorts. Elite service comes to mind, superior conditioning, a championship history, five-star accommodations and almost always a bit of hyperbole about how each facility offers an experience like no other. But Pinehurst Resort, the famed central North Carolina golf haven, bills itself as "The Home of American Golf." Grandiose at best, bordering on audacious? I had to find out first hand. I booked a tee time at the famed Pinehurst No. 2 and did my best to get my ridiculously atrophied golf game in shape. Within a couple of weeks, I was as ready as I was going to be.
Driving to Pinehurst from Raleigh-Durham Airport (the closest major airport) is an easy drive, but one filled with anticipation. I've had a chance to play many of the best in the world, and as any golfer set to embark on a new adventure, I wanted this one to be tremendous. Would the course live up to my expectations? Could I manage my way around the famous crowned greens at No. 2? Would the ghosts of great golfers from the past help, hinder or just laugh at my game? It's only an hour or so from the airport to the resort, but you have a century of golf tales to consider on that drive.
Arriving at Pinehurst is somewhat like arriving in Chicago. You get there way before you actually get there. You start to see golf courses, lots of them, long before you pull up to the famed resort. However, when you actually arrive, when you step out of your car, there certainly is a special feeling that golfers recognize, a thrill that says you're somewhere that you're going to cherish for a long time.
I did have a concern, a significant one, as I dropped my bag off at the bag drop and parked my car. I saw large green surfaces filled with holes, topped with sand and layers of plugs scattered about. Did they just aerate the greens and not tell me? Honestly, that would have been a bit disappointing. I even walked over to take a closer look. I knelt down to feel the grass, the sand, even to see how bumpy the surface was puttable. Sure didn't seem so. I trudged up towards the clubhouse wondering if this was already a wasted trip.
The attendant at the bag drop must have watched my walk up with bemusement.
"It's the croquet area," he said with a laugh. "The putting green is over there," he pointed.
With a great relief, I smiled. "Was a little worried there," I answered. "thought it was something important."
The attendant answered back quickly, "a lot of folks here think it's more important."
Pinehurst Resorts, home of golf in the U.S. and home to most avid croquet group in the country as well.
I found my way to the golf shop and checked in, I was a little early for my tee time and they graciously encouraged me to look around the vast facility. I wandered over to the putting green, there were several golfers concentrating on getting their speed just right (and the greens were in excellent shape by the way) but still smiling and chatting as they anticipated their rounds. The driving range was packed with more anxious golfers, many of whom were readying for their third, fourth or fifth round of the week. And on the other side of the range, the Pinehurst Golf Academy was hosting a clinic that was obviously a popular feature for many guests of the resort. Excuse my made-up language, but thus far, everything sure felt "golf-y."
I retrieved my clubs about forty-five minutes prior to my tee time to hit a few shots on the range, take some putts and try to get a feel for what a competent golf swing might be. One of the ways I know if I'm at a great golf venue is by how anxious/nervous I am on the range. The feeling in my gut overrides any cerebral rationale as to how important or special a round is and my gut said was now buzzing. I was about to play the famed Pinehurst No. 2.
I made my way back down to the starter's area where I would meet my playing partners on the day. I'm sure that every group that tees it up at Pinehurst is a group full of fun, excited and talented golfers -- but I was extremely lucky to have been paired with three of the most enjoyable partners on this day; all of which were better golfers than me, but full of insights, jokes and great golf stories.
The course was exactly like I had heard and read it would be -- generous off the tee, devious near the greens and extremely versatile in how to play each hole. If you are a golfer who enjoys thinking your way around a course, there is certainly no better one in the nation. Of course, the layout is considered by many who know golf way better than I, to be one of the absolute best in the world. And I would definitely concur. But you already knew that. My mission was verify or debunk the claim that Pinehurst was the home of golf in the U.S. The actual round of golf was almost secondary for this assignment.
I should offer a quick caveat. Pinehurst does not offer the majestic views of Pebble Beach, the dramatic cliffs of Torrey Pines or Scottish flair of Whistling Straits. The towering pines offer plenty of beauty, but it's not the same aesthetic as you might see at some of the other renowned venues in the world. What it does offer is an aura, a spirit that you can't really quite describe but you can most definitely feel. I recall looking at the first tee as we walked towards it and thinking, "That's it?" And then feeling the rush of adrenaline as I put my peg in the ground. It hits you before you ever take the club back and it stays with you until you putt out on the famous 18th green.
However, the moment of clarity came for me during a brief rain delay we had during our round (we actually never got rained on, we were warned ahead of time to come in which we did, had a good 45 minute shower pass by, and we went back out to the once-again perfect conditions.) Within the massive clubhouse at Pinehurst is a long hallway that is decorated with some of the most impressive trophy cases, golf memorabilia and displays from golf legends you could find anywhere. From a quote from Bobby Jones about the sanctity of Pinehurst to a special commemoration of Payne Stewart's iconic win at the 1999 U.S. Open, the history of golf in this country could be boiled down to the events at one location, and it was obvious that museum was right here. But nothing on these walls were as impressive to me as what I saw from the golfers crowded in the hallway peering at each memento. As every golfer on the course was finding shelter somewhere in the building, dozens were cramped together in this hallway to help pass the time. And every single one of them, as they queued up and shuffled along behind one another, had taken off their hat in a sign of respect for the hallowed ground on which they walked. Every one of them.
Two of my partners that day were a father-son duo who make annual pilgrimages to different golf destinations around the world. I asked the father, who had a world of experience at the best golf venues, what he thought of his time here at Pinehurst once our round was complete.
"That's my son, my youngest," he beamed at the now budding lawyer from South Florida, "and this is how we now spend time together. We're at Pinehurst No. 2. Does it get much better than this?"
If home is where the heart is, and this resort has this type of effect on so many hearts, then yes, without question, Pinehurst is the home to American golf. Case closed.