Pinehurst is an odd mix of golfing theme park and golfing heaven.
There is a definite air of St Andrews about the village, given it is almost entirely focused on golf; but at the same time, it is hard not to realise that it is corporate in a way that Scottish golf towns are not. Yet, because the village was developed more than a hundred years ago, it feels ‘proper’ in a way that a newer development of a similar nature might not.
The other thing to note about Pinehurst is that the golf is not all of the highest quality. The resort is, obviously, anchored by Donald Ross’s classic No. 2 course, but nothing else in its portfolio comes close to the same level. Course No. 8 is a Tom Fazio production which many people like, and No. 4 has recently been restored by Gil Hanse; but the fact remains that Pinehurst is No. 2 and change.
There is no doubt that the resort has altered considerably in the last 10 to 15 years. The truly epic restoration of No. 2 by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in 2011, covered in GCA issue 24, put Pinehurst on a whole new track: since then, it is unarguably home to one of the world’s greatest courses, and its sustainability has been transformed. And that change inevitably feeds through to the rest of the resort.
Pinehurst Resort bought the thousand-acre property occupied by the former Pit Golf Links more than a decade ago. The Pit was, in many ways, a trendsetting course. Located in what had previously been a sand quarry, Pinehurst native, architect and developer Dan Maples built a course that was wildly different to anything else in the area, with blind holes and drama. But by the mid-2000s, the Pit had been outflanked. Mike Strantz’s Tobacco Road, not far from Pinehurst, took a lot of the themes of the Pit and amped them up: more blindness, deeper bunkers, bigger slopes in the greens. Suddenly, the Pit didn’t look quite so radical, and eventually it went bust.
Pinehurst sat on the Pit for a long time. To be truly honest, the resort had no pressing need for new golf until the impact of the pandemic on the game started to be felt. Once the post-Covid boom in the game started to feed through, the redevelopment of the Pit property started to gain some urgency, and Pinehurst boss Bob Dedman signed off on the resort’s tenth course.
Course No. 10 – as it has not, until now, been officially known, though it has always seemed an inevitable and necessary name – will be something unlike anything else the resort has to offer. It is designed by Tom Doak, and built by a crew headed by regular Doak associate Angela Moser, the German’s first job as site lead. It is an incredibly rapid build: the team mobilised on site at the very start of 2023, and much of the course was grassed when GCA visited in early June. It will be completed by early autumn, and will open in 2024: such is life when you are in as much demand as Doak’s team is at the moment, and you have the priceless advantage of working with warm season grasses, which grow in at a frankly terrifying speed.
Course No. 10 is fairly obviously a Doak design. The architect is one of the greatest routers of courses that has ever lived, and the journey that No. 10 makes is complex. The beautiful seventeenth hole, which plays over a substantial lake to a rather wonderfully located green might well have been routed by any old architect, but it would not, surely, have been executed so well.
Although the Pit was renowned for its eccentricity, I would say that No. 10 is, by Doak standards at least, mostly rather sane. Golfers will not encounter wild hole after wild hole: yes, there are greens that are relatively severe – the first hole, for example, whose approach is significantly downhill, and whose putting surface creates a definite ‘infinity’ effect, features a green that slopes front to back in a dramatic way. Frankly, the green appears to fall off a cliff. Given that the tee shot is essentially blind, it is a brave opening hole without doubt, though it is, typically for Doak, beautifully routed and essentially natural.
No. 10 does not occupy that much of the ground that previously was home to the Pit holes. Mostly, the course explores parts of the thousand-acre property that were previously virgin, and indeed, an additional course (No. 11!) will eventually share the property. But there is one hole that has to be viewed as among the boldest the architect has ever built.
No. 10’s eighth hole is part of the course that does sit on land formerly used by the Pit. It is, very clearly, part of the old sand quarry, and it essentially occupies a valley among trees whose bases are higher than (most of) the land they encompass. But not all of it: the valley is home to a number of enormous, and steep, sand mounds, the biggest of which is fully 20 feet high, and is, presumably, left over from the sand quarrying operation. They are as large as any contours I have ever seen in the direct line of play. The hole is, to top it all, mostly blind: a sliver of fairway can be seen from the tee, but not much! You can get a view of the green for your second, but only if you are brave enough to drive straight over the top of the ‘Matterhorn’. It is, essentially, a larger version of Harry Colt’s unique (until now) sixth hole at De Pan in the Netherlands, a par four that also involves a drive over a large hill and is mostly blind.
Truly, No. 10’s eighth is among the boldest holes that I have ever seen: there cannot be many other places in golf where a 20-foot-high contour is in the direct line of play. It should not, though, be too brutal: the nature of the valley means that balls will inevitably bounce or roll off the huge contours, but will not often go out of play. It is a fine piece of design by Doak: a hole that everyone who plays it will always remember and discuss, and it will also not eat golf balls too hungrily.
Angela Moser is, I think, entitled to be well pleased with her first job as a lead associate for Doak. Pinehurst No. 10 will be a splendid addition to the resort’s offering, with enough radicalness and drama to be hugely memorable to resort golfers, yet sane enough to be very playable and unlikely to scare too many horses. When golfers, after their rounds, sit down and analyse what they have played, it will not, I think, be regarded as one of Doak’s more extreme courses. But nobody will ever forget that eighth hole.
This article first appeared in the October 2023 issue of Golf Course Architecture. For a printed subscription or free digital edition, please visit our subscriptions page.