It was a‚??comin‚??. ¬†For the first time this year one of us fired under par. ¬†And it was Michael, which won‚??t come as a surprise to some of you (those that have played with us!). ¬†The man himself nudged it round at Pine Needles this morning in 1 under the card ‚?? thanks to solid golf most of the way and a few birdies down the stretch. ¬†Good playin‚??. ¬†Yesterday I had 30 feet on the final hole for The Title (after an eagle on 17), but bottled it and 3 putted. ¬†Honours to MG. ¬†Fair play to the man.
But the scoring ain‚??t really what it‚??s all about. ¬†(You may have noticed the Southern twang has crept its way into my narratives ‚?? you should hear me speak!). ¬†To pick up on the themes of Richard Tufts‚?? Creed of Amateurism, it‚??s about being in the great outdoors; enjoying the golf course and the good company; and thanking your lucky stars you‚??re not behind a desk. ¬†Playing well is just a bonus.
Pine Needles wasn‚??t originally part of the plan for today, Day 166. ¬†We already had a tee time lined up for Tom Fazio‚??s Pinehurst No.8 about lunchtime. ¬†But. ¬†A new friend of ours, Norm Swenson, told us we just had to play Pine Needles if we were in town. ¬†His buddy ‚?? a fine gentleman by the name of Kelly Miller ‚?? owns and runs the place; and he made the call ahead¬†on our behalf. ¬†36 holes ain‚??t usually a good idea, but when you have courses of this calibre offering to host you, it‚??s tough to say no. ¬†The course has held the US Women‚??s Open (I think on several occasions) and is Top Drawer. ¬†One of those courses that you find yourself taking a lot of pictures of, as you can see.
Peggy Kirk Bell is in fact the owner. ¬†Mrs Bell was one of the founders of the LPGA Tour, some years ago. ¬†She and her husband bought Pine Needles ‚?? a Donald Ross course ‚?? way back when, and helped turn it into what it is today. ¬†A beautiful and warm place. ¬†We didn‚??t have the privilege to meet Mrs Bell, unfortunately, but Kelly was kind enough to entertain us his guests at lunch after we played. ¬†He and his wife, Peggy Anne (Peggy Kirk‚??s daughter), also joined us for dinner later on at The Pinecrest Inn (more on the Inn in a standalone blog to follow ‚?? stay tuned). ¬†Great people; and great golfers too. ¬†Kelly‚??s played in more US Amateurs than he can probably count, and has travelled the world playing his entire life. ¬†A golf kingpin around here, which translates to a kingpin full stop, this place being entirely arranged around golf. ¬†The pair met in college down in Alabama (both on golf scholarships ‚?? although Peggy Anne was initially there on a volleyball scholarship before she found out the coach and the entire team were of a different sexual orientation to her!). ¬†We enjoyed great craic with them and with a couple of guys we met in the bar, Mike and Joe (more on them later too).
After playing the benign Pinehurst No.1 yesterday Pine Needles stood up as a much stronger test of golf. ¬†It‚??s pretty long from the tips, and really requires you to hit your irons with precision. ¬†Donald Ross‚?? green complexes are a thing of beauty. ¬†It‚??s not often that I find myself standing mesmerised by the greenside, just admiring the undulations. ¬†Not ‚??tricked up‚?Ě, unlike other less refined courses. ¬†Just thoughtfully laid out and wonderfully presented. ¬†A+ to Mr Ross and the greenkeepers.
The layout has changed slightly since the original one (which you can school up on in the hallways of the clubhouse, lined with black & white photographs taken all those years ago). ¬†A big ol‚?? hotel was erected behind what is currently the 2nd hole (back then, the 3rd), but due to unfortunate timing ‚?? something called The Great Depression hit ‚?? its existence wasn‚??t sustainable. ¬†And the owner had a fallout with the locals. ¬†So the outcome was this: he gifted it to be used as a Catholic Hospital, a gesture that had favourable tax implications for him. ¬†Amazing that they were up to those tracks even back then! ¬†Maybe not that amazing...
Walking up the 4th hole I turned to Michael and asked him something. ¬†Do you think Donald Ross favoured red flags Back In The Day, or do you think they just use ‚??em now because they look pretty? ¬†Neither of us knew, but the smart money‚??s probably on the latter. ¬†A moot point perhaps, but I thought I‚??d share it. ¬†Because they do look stunning against the deep green of the grass and the pine forests. ¬†Really stunning.
As we reached the solace of the air conditioned pro shop, something remarkable was screening on TV. ¬†New Zealand had equalised against Slovakia deep into injury time in their first game of the World Cup. ¬†The All Whites‚?? first ever point in the tournament (on their second visit). ¬†And we missed it because we were on the golf course... (it was a replay we saw)... ¬†What a moment though. ¬†Just after Mike had shot under par too. ¬†
We sat with Kelly in the bar and swapped lies about golf and Life In General. ¬†Boy he‚??s had some experiences a lot of golfers would kill for. ¬†Like playing in the World Club Championship ‚?? entry to which is restricted to members of Top 100 In The World Course members. ¬†He‚??s played in it both as a member of Pine Valley and of Seminole (a Donald Ross cracker down in Florida that we unfortunately missed). ¬†He‚??s got some Great stories, and has also been kind enough to help tee us up with a few games up around New York. ¬†
1.33 was drawing nearer, so we made our way to Pinehurst No.8 ‚?? the newest of the courses at the famous resort. ¬†It was commissioned to mark the centenary year of Pinehurst in 1996. ¬†Whereas Nos. 1 thru 5 sit adjacent to each other, No.8 is 5 minutes away. ¬†(That‚??s about as far away as anything gets here ‚?? small place, geared entirely towards golf). ¬†The famous North-South is being held here at the moment, on Nos. 2,5 and 8 (it‚??s the juniors‚?? turn right now, with the ladies coming in a few weeks). ¬†Amateur golf is alive and well down here. ¬†Fathers with sons on the putting green, doing their drills and mulling over the mental obstacles of tournament golf. ¬†Not my kind of golf, but if it makes these young bucks happy then all power to ‚??em. ¬†
Pine Needles set the bar pretty high in the morning, and may have coloured our impressions of No.8. ¬†The heat played its part too ‚?? a real scorcher. ¬†We‚??d taken Shanks‚?? Pony in the morning but the afternoon round was firmly a cart only affair. ¬†I might‚??ve fallen dead as a doornail otherwise. ¬†HOT.
I‚??d like to see Fazio shorten his short par 4s and mix up his long par ones. ¬†For mine, a little too many middle distance ones ‚?? 380, 400 etc. ¬†I‚??m a great fan of Dr. MacKenzie‚??s ability to create golf holes that are playable by people of all abilities. ¬†The par 4s don‚??t need to be long to ankle tap you. ¬†Drop the tee markers at 310 yards on a hole that has a wide fairway narrowing at the green, and you‚??ll get scratch golfers trying to knock it on there; and 20 handicappers able to play it without losing their ball. ¬†Maybe you cut the green on an angle and bunker it aggressively, so those laying back have to hit their tee shot to the right part of the fairway to have the best angle. ¬†But don‚??t make them (being the high markers) play from 185 yards out of the first cut. ¬†It‚??s just not going to be fun.
There‚??s a place for long par 4s too. ¬†And Fazio has built some good ones here ‚?? like the dogleg right 9th, or the 18th. ¬†On these holes you‚??ve got a fair bit to aim at, and a clear run to the green if you‚??re straight. ¬†Get off line though and your ball can kick into swails or traps or both. ¬†Clever stuff.
I got the impression too that Tom when he built the course was trying to emulate something similar to Donald Ross‚?? greens round the corner. ¬†Perhaps that was part of his brief. ¬†But, if I‚??m not speaking out of turn, he didn‚??t quite nail it. ¬†Greens like the 10th and 17th were tricked up, or at least the pins were cut in places where they shouldn‚??t have been. ¬†On ridges. ¬†I don‚??t doubt that people come down here from All Around to play a test of golf. ¬†A test of golf however needn‚??t be unfair. ¬†Maybe we were just tired...
No.8 is a good golf course, and fun to play if you‚??re flushing it. ¬†The unique character of this Sand Hills area is very striking, and quite something to behold as you make your way around the place. ¬†Fazio capitalises on that character by using waste bunkers to good effect and by taking the golfer up, down, left and right through the natural undulations. ¬†It‚??s a course you could walk and thoroughly enjoy if it weren‚??t so hot. ¬†Would love to return in time during Spring or Fall and take a second look.
Back at The Pinecrest we had a G&T with Kelly & Peggy Anne. ¬†As is the case every day with this place, the bar was humming. ¬†Golfers coming in from the numerous courses ‚??round here, either beaten up, elated or somewhere in between. ¬†All just happy to be in the bar, regardless of what has gone before. ¬†While waiting for Kelly & Peggy Anne we got talking to Mike (from Pennsylvania) and Joe (from Dublin, Eire) - a couple of colleagues (software) in town for a brief stay on business. ¬†They ended up joining us for dinner (no, those in the know, before you ask, I didn‚??t have the pork chop...). ¬†(The pork chop at The Pinecrest is world famous, and at 22 ounces I can guess why).
The 6 of us had a famous time. ¬†Funny to think that when we came up with this idea we‚??d find ourselves some 10 months later in the bar of one of the most famous golf hotels in the world, in the company of an Irishman, an Italian / Irishman (if you take Mike‚??s heritage back a step) and a couple of famous golfers. ¬†The evening continued for longer than anticipated. ¬†I found myself sitting on the deck at 1.30 am with a glass of red wine in hand, engaged well and truly in spirited debates with Mike and Joe. ¬†Whether any of us were talking any sense at that hour I cannot say. ¬†But we had fun and I enjoyed the banter.
Another cracking day in Pinehurst ‚?? as pure a place as you could hope to find. ¬†Made pure by its heritage and by the good people here. ¬†Shame we‚??re only here for a few of days...
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