The more golf destinations I visit, the more I appreciate Pinehurst.
I've had the opportunity to visit the area several times over the last 20-plus years, and even though its infrastructure has grown and evolved, I still feel the same sense of excitement that gripped me when my father first took me there to compete in a junior golf tournament in 2000.
It's hard to fully describe, but the place vibrates at a golf frequency that agrees with my own golf sensibilities. At Pinehurst Resort, the vibe is simultaneously refined and unfussy and 99% focused on golf. The resort's main golf campus, from The Cradle par-3 course to the Thistle Dhu putting course to its "Maniac Hill" practice facility, feels like a big shared golf playground where one can come, go and wander at leisure. It paints a stark contrast to some newer facilities, where I have often felt like I am constantly being watched and catered to, whether I want that or not. Other trappings also tend to get in the way of the golf immersion. Pinehurst's genteel golf obsession radiates out from the resort to Pine Needles, Mid Pines, Southern Pines and other facilities orbiting the charming, eponymous Village.
Golf has surged for a few years now, including throughout the Sandhills, but 2024 will be cause for celebration thanks to a slew of significant events, course openings and revivals.
The main event: The 2024 U.S. Open
After a long lull in high-profile golf events, the 1999 U.S. Open helped put Pinehurst No. 2 back American golfer's bucket lists with Payne Stewart's thrilling victory, made all the more poignant in the wake of his tragic passing four months later. In the quarter-century since, Pinehurst has worn the changes the decades have wrought more comfortably than almost any other place where golf is the main pastime.
Gradually, it has become a darling of the USGA, which is bringing several of its championships to town, christening Pinehurst its first "anchor site" for the U.S. Open and much more. In 2014, No. 2 held the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open in consecutive weeks, first with Martin Kaymer dominating, then Michelle Wie holding off several challengers for her lone major title. The 36-hole 2019 U.S. Amateur final was innovative, with Pinehurst No. 4 hosting the first 18 holes of the match before Andy Ogletree defeated John Augenstein on the 17th hole at Pinehurst No. 2 in the second.
In 2022 the USGA made more history at Pinehurst No. 6, choosing the course to host the inaugural U.S. Adaptive Open, a national championship for golfers with disabilities. A few weeks prior, Min Jee Lee captured the U.S. Women's Open at Pine Needles.
Things really ramp up between Pinehurst and the USGA starting in 2024, when the U.S. Open returns. It will be the second such championship contested over Donald Ross' masterpiece since architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw's tremendous restoration of the course to its shabby-chic original looks in 2010. The sandy waste areas that line the holes have had a further decade to bed in, which will make recovery shots into the famously elusive greens fraught and exciting. Starting this year, No. 2 will host the U.S. Open a total of five times in 24 years, with 2029, 2035, 20411 and 2047 already set to return to the course. 2029 will bring a reprise of 2014, when the U.S. Women's Open will also visit No. 2. At least half a dozen other USGA championships, including both the 2032 U.S. Junior Amateur and 2032 U.S. Girls Junior, are scheduled through 2044.
Few places in golf are better equipped to handle such a parade of high-level golf. That the competitive game is so much a part of Pinehurst's fabric - including a slew of annual North & South Amateur Championships the resort holds - is a key part of its greatness.
New USGA digs at Golf House Pinehurst
On six acres of resort property across the street from Pinehurst's main golf hub, the USGA will unveil its new outpost in 2024. Golf House Pinehurst will be a new place for visitors to take in the history of the game, as well as learn about golf's future from its main governing body in America. Part of the build includes relocating the World Golf Hall of Fame from St. Augustine, Fla., to this space in Pinehurst.
In addition, the USGA will run its Research and Test Center out of Golf House Pinehurst. Goings on at this facility will be of particular interest to golfers and manufacturers who will be affected by the recently-announced golf ball rollback, set to take effect in 2028.
New and new-look golf courses at Pinehurst Resort and beyond
The game's recent surge in popularity has stemmed the tide of course closures that marked the 2010s. More golf courses are being built than at any time in the last 15 years, and the Pinehurst area is benefiting from the boom, too. At the resort, the much-anticipated brand-new Pinehurst No. 10 golf course will officially open on April 3, 2024, Laid out by Tom Doak with associate Angela Moser having overseen the day-to-day build, No. 10 sits five miles from the main resort on a 900-acre property formerly home to The Pit Golf Links in the town of Aberdeen.
On characteristically sandy soil, Doak's course crests a heaving hill multiple times, making for an invigorating walk that offers some of the most scenic views found at Pinehurst. No. 10 will remind golfers of the subtle cleverness of No. 2 and the bolder bluster of No. 4, while retaining its own character thanks to Doak's adventuresome greens and a palette that includes the striking maroon hue of centipede grass alongside broad green fairways and tan bunkers and natural areas. Well-traveled golfers may find themselves briefly transported to England's heathlands while traversing No. 10.
Two other noteworthy new-look golf courses add punch to Pinehurst from the periphery. Just under an hour north, 2023's major renovation project at Tot Hill Farm Golf Club has restored the Mike Strantz's design's lost luster. With more than 1,000 trees having been felled to open up the corridors, the course is arguably more fun and playable than at any time in its history, including its 2000 opening.
About 25 minutes northeast of the Village of Pinehurst, Woodlake Country Club is in the midst of its own revival. Once home to 36 holes of golf - 18 each by Ellis Maples and Arnold Palmer - the golf facility went defunct in the 2010s after decades of mismanagement and a dam break that caused its namesake 1,200-acre lake to drain and grow over. With the effort to restore the lake underway, architect Kris Spence was hired by Woodlake's new owners to restore the Ellis Maples course, which starts and ends lakeside, with a hilly but plenty walkable interlude of forest holes in the middle of the course.
Spence, who is a leading restorer of Donald Ross courses, has described Woodlake as one of the best courses Maples - a Ross protege - ever laid out. I played the course shortly after it reopened in October 2023 and loved it. Pinehurst-bound golfers should put Woodlake squarely on their radars, especially if the club begins offering stay-and-play packages to its on-site condos.