Convenience and architectural variety highlight a getaway to the Carolina Sandhills

One road connects two Donald Ross classics with modern efforts from Rees Jones and Arnold Palmer in Southern Pines
Kyle Franz leads several attendees of the Golf Advisor Getaway on a walk of Mid Pines in Southern Pines, N.C.

SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. — The formula for a good group trip is not that complicated. All you need are some people willing to engage conversationally, a good course lineup and the most unpredictable but crucial part that’s easily overlooked: good weather. Luckily, we had all of it during our recent Golf Advisor Getaway to the North Carolina Sandhills.

The small area around Pinehurst and Southern Pines, N.C. is hardly a metropolis. But in terms of concentration of great public golf courses, it’s akin to the Kingdom of Fife in Scotland. Given the embarrassment of riches, it’s always a problem that in choosing some courses to play, you are inevitably missing out on others. A solid rule of thumb I have followed over 30+ years of coordinating such trips is never to worry about what you are missing and to make the most of what you line up.

We experienced a mix of representative modern and classic-era courses: The New Course at Talamore (Rees Jones, 1991) and Mid South Club (Arnold Palmer, 1993) sandwiched around Mid Pines Golf Club (Donald Ross, 1921) and Pine Needles (Ross, 1927). All four courses sit along Midland Road, the main connector between the towns of Pinehurst and Southern Pines. Besides minimizing driving, we simplified accommodations, with the across-the-street partnership of Talamore and Mid South enabling us to stay adjacent to the clubhouse at Mid South. There’s nothing on a golf trip like waking and walking your clubs over to an inviting driving range.

Back in the early 1990s, Talamore was the first new upscale daily-fee facility in the region that sold itself on course difficulty. That was the keyword back then in establishing a reputation. But as market perception changed an competition increased, the emphasis in the area – and nationwide – shifted to enjoyable and fun.

Kudos for Talamore for recognizing this and taking out more than 60 bunkers in the last decade. It’s still demanding in terms of the aerial approaches into its raised fill pads, and the signature Rees Jones lateral mounding still serves to exaggerate the effects of a wayward shot by kicking it outward. But the sense of the group was that Talamore was engaging and demanding yet also pressure-free in terms of do-or-die shot making.

The opening hole at Mid Pines.

The next day at Mid Pines proved the treat of the week, not least because the dry, clear early-fall weather allowed us to enjoy a modicum of ground roll after several days of wet weather had soaked area courses. My foursome – two guys, two gals – ended up playing from four different sets of tees on the par-72 layout: 6,723 yards, 6,163, 5,669 and 4,913. We were not playing a formal competition, and any awkwardness at the tee when it came to awaiting play from four different tees was more than compensated by the quickened pace of golfers playing their subsequent shots from areas more suited to their game.

Mid Pines had long taken a back seat to other Ross-designed courses in the area, including the Pinehurst Resort courses and Pine Needles across the street. But a 2012-13 restoration by designer/shaper Kyle Franz changed all of that and brought back Mid Pines’ character of uniquely shaped greenside fall-offs and fairways that meandered among towering pines and offered alternate paths to the greens.

During a post-round walk through of two holes with Franz, he explained to the group his thinking about what Ross was up to back in 1921. “This was always intended as the hard, demanding private course for the elite clients staying in the Pinehurst area,” said Franz. “Thus the severity of the putting surfaces on the periphery, which we brought back, following historic photography.” It explained a lot about the unusually demanding character of the approach shots at Mid Pines.

That night at a pig pickin' dinner over at Talamore we fretted over the weather forecast for the following day’s golf at Pine Needles. But instead of rain we simply faced heavy overcast skies and enjoyed the more generous fairway contours and softer lines of play that Ross created here in 1927. The real marvel of Pine Needles, a course that has hosted the U.S. Women’s Open in 1996, 2001 and 2007 and which just held the 2019 U.S. Senior Women’s Open, is how gently the holes sit on the rolling land that Ross actually designed to accommodate a traditional real estate development. Along with what we learned the day before at Mid Pines, it showed Ross’ flexibility as a genius of routing.

Our Getaway ended with another good weather day, this time at Mid South. The course is very much an example of mid-1990s design, when the golf boom was producing a lot of boldly shaped layouts that maximized real estate frontage. The back nine has a softer, more natural feel, and for all the shaping you still had a clear sense of intended target line and what to avoid.

Teeing off at Mid South, a modern Arnold Palmer design.

Our group included three couples, and the best of the golfers among them, Beth Cowell of Myrtle Beach, S.C., carries a 6.8 index and is competitive in the Grand Strand and on the Carolinas amateur circuit. She and her husband have played all over the U.S, and they frequently hit the road with serious golf couples because, as she says, “I don’t care about much else but golf, and as long as we have a comfortable place to stay and a decent place to eat we’re happy.”

She said she “really enjoyed the course walk with the architect [Franz] and appreciated how all of the tee times and accommodations made the trip so easy.” She’s already talked to other couples about attending future events.

Fine golf courses. Knowledgeable, keen golfers. Decent-enough weather and a program that provides a behind-the-scenes look at golf course set up. It all makes for a worthy trip, as we found in Southern Pines.

Preview Golf Advisor Round Trip: Pinehurst

Up Next

Autoplay is paused

Preview Golf Advisor Round Trip: Pinehurst
Write a review or read reviews of these courses around Pinehurst and Southern Pines
Southern Pines, North Carolina
Resort
4.4068764706
37
Southern Pines, North Carolina
Resort
3.7388764706
39
Southern Pines, North Carolina
Private
4.6470588235
69
Southern Pines, North Carolina
Public/Resort
4.6837705882
488
See what it's like to join a Golf Advisor Getaway!

Up Next

Autoplay is paused

Companion Content

Hosted Getaways
90

Companion Content

Hosted Getaways
50

Veteran golf travel, history and architecture journalist, Bradley S. Klein has written more than 1,500 feature articles on course architecture, resort travel, golf course development, golf history and the media for such other publications as Golfweek, Golf Digest, Financial Times, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. He has published seven books on golf architecture and history, including Discovering Donald Ross, winner of the USGA 2001 International Book Award. In 2015, Klein won the Donald Ross Award for lifetime achievement from the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Follow Brad on Twitter
1 Comments
Commented on

Hi brad

More from the author
8 Min Read
December 19, 2019
A year-by-year guide to an eventful decade in design.
6 Min Read
November 22, 2019
Beyond Pinehurst, the famed architect designed over 400 courses during his career. You don't need a membership or even a lot of cash to experience these works.
4 Min Read
November 8, 2019
The new WHS for 2020 brings changes to golf clubs and players. Here is what the USGA & R&A have updated and what it means for your index and handicap.
3 Min Read
November 5, 2019
An increase in extreme weather events is having an impact on golf courses all over the world, but there is no single way to adapt.
2 Min Read
October 28, 2019
New layout by Bill Bergin & Rees Jones is a dazzling addition to North Georgia golf.
7 Min Read
October 18, 2019
In the lad up to the 2020 Olympics and Skins Game featuring Hideki Matsuyama, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Jason Day, the country's golf courses and culture remain impressive in spite of a recent downturn.
Popular
2 Min Read
November 15, 2021
Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and world-class instructors help you get up-and-down more often.
6 Min Read
November 20, 2021
Help the golfer in your life shoot lower scores, look and feel better than ever this holiday season with these eight golf gifts.
5 Min Read
November 2, 2021
Some U.S. cities have frighteningly few public-access courses for its residents. If you like variety, you may not want to live in these metros.
12 Min Read
November 18, 2021
Golfers can choose from a wide variety of portable launch monitor price points and user experiences. Here is what's new and the best ones to consider to improve your golf.
Load More
Now Reading
Convenience and architectural variety highlight a getaway to the Carolina Sandhills