A History of Southern Pines Golf Club

Page 4

“The hills are rugged little mountains, giving all the charm desired to a climb or a walk in the pursuit of the game or in a ramble among the pine woods, where walks and roads and springs and forest foliage suggest the primeval.” – SPGC Ad

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Looking back from the 4th fairway to the 3rd green.

The topography of SPGC is undoubtedly the most dramatic of the Sandhills courses. The more level areas are set amidst a landscape which continually turns one way or another “heaped in picturesque patterns” around the knolls and ridges. The article which Mr. Cirba provided earlier portrayed a fairly extraordinary degree of consideration being given to sorting out the shot values. It is everybody’s good fortune that was the case because that’s exactly what it took to weave together a coherent and compelling playability within this terrain. On flatter land a lesser talent could more or less put together a string of holes that work passably. But a lesser talent would not have had the wherewithal to discern the unbroken sequence configurations which continues to work so very well here. At the time you could count on one hand the number of designers who had the capability to bring a superior golfing logic to the hills of Southern Pines. And make no mistake, what you’ll find on the SPGC course is the result of a deft hand and very advanced thinking. That is, of course, why it has continued to provide a fascinating golfing journey for more than a hundred years.

God created golf holes. It’s the duty of the architect to find them. – Donald Ross

Most golfers don’t pay a great deal of attention to the major and minor aspects of design. Their golfing experience is not one of advanced thinking – which is perfectly fine. It is not necessary for an elevating experience. The reaction to any given course for most is a visceral one. An ill presented set of holes will elicit one reaction and vice versa. But it is not through the intellect that either response is summoned to the forefront of the individuals experience. It’s the same with many things, actually – like wine, for instance. Is it necessary to know about tannins or what temperature the cellar was kept to enjoy a glass? Or, do you really need to know what was in the roux to enjoy a bowl of gumbo on Bourbon Street? Certainly not. Analysis of such matters is an exercise some enjoy pursuing but courses aren’t made to be analyzed – they are made to be played. Knowledge of what underpins the presentation is not necessary for the golfer or the epicurean.

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The one shot 14th hole.

Whereas most American courses offer a high number of approach shots from flat land the player of SPGC will encounter less redundant fare. In this regard, it reflects more of a British than an American sensibility.

One of the primary charms of the proper British links is that the golfer is presented with scenarios which call for creativity rather than the same shots over and over. The instinctive approach to the situations presented is greatly diminished when precise distances are handed out for yet another shot from a flat pancake fairway. The swings made will be little different from one another. Executing what is essentially the same swing all day long lacks a sense of adventure – and a sense of adventure is what you most definitely will find at SPGC – no matter how many times you play it.

When Tom Watson first started playing the Open he did not enjoy that style of play. That is understandable because the contrast with what most Americans are familiar with is rather stark. Watson thought dart throwing to soggy fairways and greens was the way golf was supposed to be played. Later, he said about the traditional British style: “wait a minute, this is real golf.” Given the opportunity, most Americans – who don’t have an entrenched and inflexible mind set – would also come to greatly appreciate playing shots in a manner which calls for a more artful approach.

The way in which each hole varies from one another is one of the best aspects of SPGC. However, being distinct from one another does not in and of itself make for a recommendable course. Almost anybody could give you a radically different set of holes – but that would be unlikely to provide for an appealing collection. Like the varying aspects of any creative endeavor the elements must relate to one another with a certain sense of balance. This happened to be one of Ross’s strongest suits. SPGC called upon his first tier talents quite a bit more than the less dramatic terrains he often worked with. The fact that he was able to forge not only fascinating individual holes but a masterful collection was an impressive feat. Again, this is an achievement that a fair number may sense but not be entirely conscious of. As with Ross’s best work the closer one examines it the more impressed one becomes with his capabilities.

The 2nd green with the Highland Pines Inn of Weymouth Heights in the distance.

The 2nd green with the Highland Pines Inn of Weymouth Heights in the distance.

On many tee shots the player is offered different target areas from which to then approach the green. For instance, the horizontal bulge which crosses the 10th in the area where most drive the ball can leave the player with a somewhat uphill or downhill stance – to a long, 2 1/2 club uphill green. The stance depends on how far the drive was hit. Without that element it’s not such an interesting hole. On the 13th the fairway starts to descend where the average drive is hit. Your approach is usually either from just short of where the ground descends about 150 out (to a downhill green) with a level lie…or a punch wedge from a fairly sharp downhill lie. Which approach would you prefer?

Even on the one shot holes you are presented with some sort of option. For instance, the 7th can play up to about 200 yards. The angled green is set just beyond a cavernous bowl – but there is plenty of bail out room on the right for those who flinch at the perilous carry. There are few places where options are not presented to go along with shots that require great skill to pull off.

The exquisite rumbles of the landscape are much in evidence on the 7th. The angled green is center left.

The rumpled landscape is much in evidence on the 7th. The angled green is center left – with plenty of bail out on the right.

There are only two aspects which criticism can on occasion be found. Some prefer flatter courses. That’s reminiscent of Watson’s view of the old links courses. In other words, it is largely a matter of unfamiliarity – with a bit of laziness being mixed in there as well. The other matter which has received some criticism is that although terrains and the strategies of the par-3’s vary considerably, the distances of these holes are not so terribly different. The latter critique is usually only to be found among those who spend much more time than the vast majority studying course design. Regarding the former criticism it really is a matter of personal preference – in this case with the majority finding great favor in the varied challenges Ross left us with.

All in all, you will not find a single individual who would say the course is not abundant with personality. That so many have appreciated it for so many decades puts it firmly in a category called “classic” or “gem”.

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For a large part of the 20th century SPGC was known as a 27 hole club. Some latter day players were vaguely aware that the land had been cleared for a fourth nine but generally it was thought to have never been realized and put into play. As you saw in the earlier references it was actually a fully functioning 36 hole complex by 1929.

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A 1933 advertisement showing 36 holes.

How long did the club remain 36 holes? The following is an article from November 1935 which shows the club to have 27 holes. So, it was but a few short years as a full two course club.

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The following 1940 aerial was kindly provided by Craig Disher. The red numbers indicate the holes (which are still current) on what was called the No. 1 Course. The yellow numbers indicate the routing of the 9 hole course which was in play until about a decade ago. The lines with no numbers are the holes which were in play at one time and later to be abandoned.

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Going back to the days before the Depression set in the popularity of the two courses was such that 36 holes were deemed to be insufficient – and elaborate plans were made accordingly…

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