Pinehurst 2004
Dave Tutelman -- February 23, 2004

The numbers:
Now for something a little more narrative...

Terry Easton picked me up at the Raleigh-Durham airport Thursday morning, with just a bit of missed communications: I was waiting for him at the baggage claim area, and he was waiting for me in the street outside baggage claim. Problem solved after a couple of minutes, when I called his cell phone. He had been chased by the traffic police, and was just coming around again outside the terminal. I picked up my suitcase and clubs, and staggered out the door to meet Cadillac Man. We drove down to Southern Pines and dropped my stuff at the hotel. (Terry had checked in the day before.)

Drove to Pinehurst from there. We were way early for our 1:30 tee time, so we stopped for lunch at Mac's in Southern Pines. (We had discovered it last year. We remembered it as being better than it actually was, but it was still the best bet in the area for breakfast.) At Mac's, Terry realized he didn't have his wallet. Frantic scurrying around to search all his pockets and every crevice of the car. Not finding it, we took stock of where he might have left it. After eliminating the hotel room, he was left with the airport -- where he had stepped out of the car to help me put my stuff in it. So he phoned the airport lost-and-found. The traffic cop that had been harrassing Terry found the wallet as soon as Terry left; the wallet was at the airport police station, and he could pick it up any time.

Then we went to Pine Needles lodge to cash in our rain checks. Well, they were really "snow checks". Last winter, Terry and I bought a three day "Golf Lovers Package" at Pine Needles, and all rounds got snowed out. The course never opened while we were there, and we got to know the Pinehurst library, shops, and restaurants all too well. This year, the weather was every bit as good as it had been bad last year.

The Pine Needles pro shop sent us out to the range and said they'd call us when the tee was ready. While we were hitting balls, our friend John Brewster walked up to say hello. I know John from Bell Labs and Monmouth Boat Club from maybe the 1970s. He retired a few years ago to a house off the Pinehurst #6 course, and we visited him and his wife Pat last year. I had email John that we would be in town, but didn't know whether he had seen the message. Anyway, he was our third for the round.

We had a wonderful time playing Pine Needles. As Brent has already said, it's a great course, one of Donald Ross' best designs. Tough, but very playable at any skill level. My skill level was very low for most of this vacation, but I was still losing fewer balls than I was finding, and only picked up once all weekend. More important, it was a fun experience, not a hang-on-for-dear life as I felt at Longaberger or Iron Valley.  At the other end of the skill scale, this course has seen two US Women's Opens in the past decade, and the feeling at both was that the course was a real challenge.

The opening hole is a par-5, and during the time we could be seen from the clubhouse we looked like pros. Our drives were all in the right side of the fairway on the rightward dogleg, just left of the sand trap. Our second shots were tightly grouped at the 100-yard marker -- perfect layups. After that, it started to fall apart; our long winter's lack of play (or even practice) tended to show. One sparkling exception was Terry's approach shots with his hickory-shafted high wedges. They are Callaways, a sand wedge and a lob wedge. From inside about 80 yards, Terry can throw the ball way up in the air, and have it land dead near the hole. It was absolutely amazing to watch him execute this shot the first three rounds. After that, he proved mortal and missed a few of them. And, except for Sunday, his putting was really good. When he stuck those wedge shots, he finished the up-and-down.

The last hole at Pine Needles is a beauty. It's a long, downhill par-4 that bends left the whole way. In the evening, it plays into the setting sun. Lots of mounding and bunkers around a deceptive green (hey, it is a Donald Ross course). What a way to finish a day of golf -- and we did twice, Thursday and Saturday.

After our round, we drove back to the airport to pick up the wallet. We had supper on the way back, at Gypsy's Shiny Diner in Cary. I guess this would be a good time to recount the food experiences:
But back to the golf! (After all, we wouldn't have traveled all those miles for restaurants.) Friday we had the first tee time at Mid-Pines. Good thing, too. The second group out -- in carts -- was a lot slower. No, carts do not speed up play, as some money-grubbing courses would have you believe. But Mid-Pines and Pine Needles is not among them. They charge a flat rate for the golf. You can ride, carry, or pull. They'll even supply a pull-cart for you. On Thursday, Pine Needles ran out of pull carts before they ran out of riding carts. They had to send across the road to Mid-Pines for one, and they delivered it to us on the second tee; a ranger drove out with it. Fabulous service!

But I digress! Terry and I finished in four hours flat, or maybe a bit less. I finally put together a few good shots in a row, especially on the short (450-yard) par-5 fifth hole. There is a lake starting 140 yards from the green and continuing to about 50 yards in front. My new driver (a Vector head and SK Fiber shaft) almost put the ball in the lake; I was hitting my second shot from 155, for a 295-yard drive. (Downhill helped; strong headwind hurt.) And the starter told us the course was soft and playing long. I put a 7-iron in the back bunker (that's driver/seven-iron on a par-5), and almost got the up-and-down; the birdie putt lipped out. That hole was definitely one of  the high points of the trip for me.

As we approached the 18th green, Brent Hutto walked out to the fairway to greet us. He had driven up from Columbia that morning, and would play with us for the rest of the weekend. We had a fun round in the afternoon, finishing in about four hours again.

Mid-Pines is a fairly compact course (certainly compared to the other two courses we played). There are lots of places where several holes come together, and plenty of parallel holes separated by a few pines. On the other courses (Pine Needles and Legacy), on most holes you think you're on the only hole in the world.  Other differences from Pine Needles is the length of various types of holes. At Mid-Pines, the par-fives are all pretty short, but the par-fours and many par-threes make up for it. Of course, the common denominator is the touch of Donald Ross around the greens. A couple of reminiscences about that:
For Saturday, we had scheduled two rounds at Pine Needles. We were paired with a fourth, a guy from Indiana named Joe. Good golfer, and he fit right in with our mood and tempo. Also, unlike almost everybody else out there Saturday, Joe was walking. We didn't feel like it was slow, but it took us a little over four and a half hours. We weren't pushing anybody, but nobody was pushing us either. There was a group of cart-golfers right behind us on the first hole, and we left them a couple of holes behind over the course of the round.

One of the high points of the round was Brent's drive on #18. Terry, Joe, and I all hit pretty good drives in the fairway. But Brent's was dead center of the fairway, and 20-30 yards past us.

Looking at our time for the morning round, we didn't expect to finish 18 in the afternoon. But we did, and with about 20-30 minutes to spare before it got really dark. We bounced through that round in under four hours, as almost the only people on the course. Joe didn't wait for us to get organized; he just took off as a single after the first round, so he was out there, finishing maybe four holes ahead of us. I know there was a group of cart-golfers about three holes behind us, but they gave up long before we finished. So we pretty much had the whole course to ourselves.

We played a skins game. Terry said, "Let's make it interesting; how about ten thousand a skin?" No takers, so he added, "Argentinian pesos, of course." Maybe Terry knew that was still astronomical, but we proceeded as if it were pennies. We ended almost all even anyway, with Terry and I with 4 skins each and Brent with 3.
On Sunday, we played The Legacy in Aberdeen south of Pinehurst. John Brewster had mentioned it as a better course than Talamore, which had been our Plan A. It's a design by Jackie Nicklaus; afterwards, Terry said it really was "Nicklaus Lite".

You've already heard Brent's description. I'm not quite as negative about the day as Brent, for several reasons. First of all, I just got away from a cold, snowy New Jerseay (and yes, it did snow here today again). I think almost any goat track in the weather we had would have elicited a positive response from me. But Legacy is also a pretty and a very playable course; I have no complaints on that score.

But it is an ordinary course, as Brent mentioned, not as novel and challenging as Pine Needles. And, worst of all, it was really designed for carts, not for walking. A few hints:
The round lasted about five and a half hours. No, it wasn't because we were walking. It was the usual Sunday crowd at an "upscale public access" course. There was a shotgun start about an hour before we started. (That usually spells "scramble"... which in turn usually spells five and a half hours anyway.) The skill level of the golfers was certainly questionable. For instance, the second hole is a par-3 from a considerably elevated tee, with a lake to the right; the hole is 165 yards, and the first 80 of that is over marshland. The group in front of us was playing from the blues. The best shot they had was far enough right to bounce into the lake. Their other shots didn't carry the marsh.

I played my best -- or at least my most consistent -- golf of the weekend on Sunday. I scratched out an even bogey round of 90. Got a birdie during that time, and limited my "dreaded others" much better than earlier in the weekend. A few memorable holes:
After the round, we ran a few errands, stopped for an Italian supper in Sanford, then back to the airport. I took off for NJ, and Terry turned the car toward Ohio.

The best thing about the weekend? Hard to say. The prime candidates are: