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The Original Pinehurst No. 3

Chris Buie

March, 2013

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Exhibition matches by the best players of the day were a key feature of the early American golf story. Although this appealing format has essentially gone by the wayside, at one time Pinehurst featured many of the finest examples of the style. Harry Vardon and Bobby Jones were among the many first tier competitors to play highly contested exhibitions along the Carolina fairways. Many years later Palmer and Nicklaus had quite a duel on No. 2 Course for television. That one ended with Nicklaus making a dramatic putt on 18 – from 15 feet behind the green.

A great deal of the more memorable competitions held in Pinehurst have found their way into the history books. However, there was one classic match which has been all but forgotten. In 1923 the reigning (British) Open champion played U.S.  Open champion Alec Ross. They were joined by two other top pros – one of whom had just won the French Open – to make it a 4 ball. It was a 36 hole event with one round held in the morning and the second round in the afternoon.

Although No. 2 was available they decided there was another course more suited to a match of this caliber.

The British, French and American Open champions played not one but both rounds on Pinehurst No. 3.

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I just don’t think people understand how good those holes are.   – Ben Crenshaw on No. 3

Courtesy of the Tufts Archives

Courtesy of the Tufts Archives

By 1910 matters were progressing not too badly for the man from Dornoch. Only a few short years before Mr. Ross had arrived almost penniless on the shores of his adopted homeland. The journey had been prompted by a fairly casual invitation from a Boston professor during a golfing pilgrimage to Scotland the previous summer. Needless to say, the academic was more than a little surprised to find this Scot on his doorstep half frozen from a walk of several miles. But, it was handled with grace and he promptly got in touch with some people who might help this young man on his way.

Walking around hungry and essentially broke through a frozen country where he barely knew a soul was not the most auspicious of starts. However, it took little time at all for this man to establish himself in good stead with the golfing population of Boston. He was an expert at making clubs, taught well, was a quite a player and turned out to have a natural talent for improving the pre-existing courses.

This all around proficiency caught the attention of a local magnate who had only just begun a resort in the Mid South. The guests were remarkably keen on the obscure game and had to be tended to. So the Scot was quickly drafted and found himself traveling down the eastern seaboard toward a place very far away from Dornoch, Scotland.

Courtesy DigitalNC/Tufts Archives

Courtesy DigitalNC/Tufts Archives

After freshening up the course that was already going he became involved in lining out a second eighteen. At the time these courses were known as ‘the old’ and ‘the new’. Although there had been some grumbling about difficulty after the new course made its full debut, it didn’t take long for it to be viewed in a more favorable light. Even to this day the resort’s second course is regarded as a work of no small merit by a number of knowledgeable people.

Still, this was not sufficient. Long lines awaited those ready to play around those clearings just south of the hotel. That wouldn’t do – not for this place. And so, with the resort being run by an extremely industrious group entirely dedicated to presenting the finest of offerings the stage was set for yet another golfing area.

Long lines on the first tee of No. 2 - Golf Illustrated 1915

Long lines on the first tee of No. 2 – Golf Illustrated 1915

With Pinehurst No. 2 showing that the former St. Andrews intern had a solid talent for weaving together a suitable collection of holes they gave him more leeway with the untouched area adjacent to No. 1. Being of a golfing terrain superior to the resort’s previous efforts there was a justified confidence this man could create something worthy of the increasingly prominent guests.

Courtesy DigitalNC/Tufts Archives

Courtesy DigitalNC/Tufts Archives

With the rolling and turning landscape providing a scenic as well as playing value of remarkable quality that is exactly what he did. As with full debut of No. 2, there was a bit of criticism in some quarters regarding the difficulty prior to a consensus of high esteem.

From the standpoint of the picturesque the new nine-hole course opened for play last season and which is now in excellent condition, is probably the most attractive in the south and rarely equalled anywhere. From the stretching first to the long ninth, each and every hole is radically different, combining down hill approaches, up hill drives, hidden holes, undulating fair green, water hazards, gentle rises and distinct variety in the way of natural hazards. The additional nine holes which have been laid out on a connecting loop, promise to be fully as attractive. – American Golfer

The commonly held belief is that No. 3 Course opened in 1910. Actually, it opened as a nine holer in 1907.

While much of the staff was busy dealing with the 220,000 tree seedlings, shrubs and flowers which had been imported to beautify the village Ross became absorbed in the new project just across the street from the clubhouse. As ever, there were few to none who thought the manner in which he crafted his way through the virgin forest left anything to be desired. In fact, some of the more notable additions to the vast portfolio he ultimately rendered are to be found on this tract. On Pinehurst No. 3 you can find what is apparently the one and only hole he named (“Cathedral”) and perhaps the most intriguing par-5 he ever created.

Courtesy of the Tufts Archives

Courtesy of the Tufts Archives

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