Southern Pines Golf Club
North Carolina, United States of America

Eighth hole, 375 yards; A charming slight dogleg that needs to be approached with caution and where a driver may not be prudent. The fairway may be the most important one to find on the course as peril lurks on either side. Routed along the spine of a hill, a drive that misses right kicks sharply toward a lake while a drive that misses the fairway left kicks deeper into the pine trees. As the lake is a full sixty paces from the fairway and is thus out of sight from the tee, the golfer may not realize the problems of a slice until it is too late. To spring such a delayed trap on the golfer is more clever than building a lake a few feet off the fairway, a sight that is too commonplace in modern golf. The eighth green is equally neat as the left third is protected by a bunker but it also features a bowl contour, allowing the smart golfer to ignore the bunker and let the slope of the green feed the ball down toward the left hole locations. In 1998/1999, John LaFoy oversaw the greens being seeded with Crenshaw bent. Such grass behaves well in the hot summer conditions and this grass allows the greens to play firm so that features such as this left bowl actually play as intended.

The downhill eighth bends around the bunker on the inside of the dogleg but the real trouble is how just off the fairway slopes right toward a lake and left into pine trees.

Ninth hole, 180 yards; One reason that the routing works so well at Southern Pines is because the architect wasn’t forced to return the first nine to the clubhouse. In fact, the ninth green is more than two thousand yards from the clubhouse and it’s the third par three on this side. Most modern architects aren’t afforded such latitude. Back in the 1920s, architects were freer to find the routing that yielded the finest holes – no wonder that period yielded courses of such high quality.

Though Ross’s original bunkers have changed over the years, today’s configuration provides challenging back left hole locations. The golfer who can shape the ball enjoys the chance to showcase his skill when such hole locations are used.

Tenth hole, 335 yards; Wonderful sidehill architecture. A hillock crosses the fairway at the 220 yard mark from the tee and the golfer who can place his tee ball near its broad crest is afforded the more level stance into the green. The green itself mirrors the left to right pitch of the fairway and any approach that ends up above the hole on the left is a three putt in the making. Where Ross got the fill for this green is a mystery. Big hitters who take a powerful swing with their drivers often find it is to no avail as the left to right pitch of the ground encourages their tee ball to end up in the right rough or on a bed of pine needles from where the angle and lie rarely are conducive for a birdie. In short, advances in technology have done little to diminish the playing qualities of this subtle hole.

Though the shadows make it a bit hard to tell, this view from the tenth tee still shows the general left to right pitch of the land.

The six foot deep bunker on the right of the green gets plenty of play, given that the approach shot is often times played with the ball below one’s feet.

Eleventh hole, 320 yards; In general, unlike many Ross courses, Southern Pines has not been overgrown by trees. The one primary exception was here at the eleventh where trees had encroached on the hole’s strategy. Originally, Ross gave the golfer a good look at the green on this dogleg right with the inside of the dogleg lined with four deep bunkers. Unfortunately, the growth of the pine trees over the past sixty years obscured the view of the green and several of bunkers on the inside of the dogleg were removed. Good golfers treated it exclusively as a three wood and pitch hole. Happily, the offending pine trees were removed in the fall of 2007 from the inside of the dogleg and once again good golfers are opting for driver on the tee. The feedback to date from the better players has been that they are making a few more birdies now and a lot more doubles (!) as they are suckered into taking too aggressive a line off the tee.

The green is once again visible around the bend and good golfers are being goaded into being too greedy off the tee.

Fourteenth hole, 170 yards; The one shot holes at Southern Pines highlight the need for a crisp iron game. In general, these four holes require a three, six, four and a five iron here at the fourteenth. As with the others, the green site is a natural, with a ten foot deep bunker cut into the right front slope. Unfortunately, this LaFoy green is the fifth one that has a distinct tier in it, an un-Ross like feature.

A picture perfect hole, played from the top of one hillock to the top of another.

Fifteenth hole, 425 yards; LaFoy created a new tee seventy yards from the prior green and made this hole a straightaway 475 yard three shotter. The hole is more interesting from Ross’s original tee, which is twenty paces behind the fourteenth green. From there, it plays at 425 yards and is a slight dogleg to the right with the uphill second shot requiring some kind of long iron or utility wood. Having the course require the golfer to hit a long-ish approach into the green is a good thing as it fits in well – and adds to the variety – of the course’s other approach shot requirements. Also, such a hard two shotter perfectly complements the next hole, which is a drive and pitch 310 yarder.

As seen from the Ross tee, the fifteenth swings left to right before heading uphill.

Seventeenth hole, 410 yards; The right to left fairway slope encourages the tee ball to find the left side of the fairway. The snake bunker that extends down the left side of the green encourages the golfer to seek the right side of the fairway. Thus, though the hole itself is straight and wide off the tee, Ross does a fine job of asking the golfer to hit a fade off the tee to gain (and hold) the preferred angle into the green, which in turn best accepts a draw.

The fairway wants to kick the ball toward the left, which brings the ….

…left greenside bunker into play.

Eighteenth hole, 340 yards; The kind of finishing hole that is sadly never built today. A knoll 240 yards from the tee in the middle of the fairway often times gives the golfer an awkward stance to the elevated green. On countless occasions, the golfer sticks his wedge into the ground and his uphill approach comes up woefully short. The expected birdie rarely materializes and more times than one might guess based on its modest yardage, a bogey is recorded. Such a swing hole is infinitely more appealing – and memorable – than a long arduous two shotter that provides a demoralizing conclusion.

This drive and short iron closing hole isn’t as simple as its yardage suggests. The large shadow in the fairway past the bunker falls across the knob in the fairway that complicates many an approach.

No one should overlook the merits of Southern Pines when arranging games in the greater Pinehurst area. American golfers are often fixated with playing a ‘championship’ golf course and at 6,300 yards and a par of 71, Southern Pines may not fit that definition. Yet, similar with Machrihanish, golfers never quite seem to post the score that they had hoped, as strokes seem to bleed away here and there. In fact, in July 2001,David Eger (the then reigning North-South Amateur Champion and Senior PGA Tour player) managed two under par at Southern Pines when the day before he was four under at Pinehurst No.4, which measures 900 yards (!) longer.

More importantly still for the golfer in need of a vacation is that Southern Pines is a walker’s paradise. The longest green to tee walk is from the sixth green to the seventh tee, which is fifty yards. Free from outside intrusions save for some single story condominiums down the fourth and fifth fairways, Donald Ross’s tight routing insures that relaxing afternoon rounds can be walked in three hours. London is so blessed with and the United States is so void of courses where the green-to-tee walk is at a minimum. Swinley Forest, West Sussex and Woking exemplify such clever routings and the Brits have long appreciated the virtues of courses where distance accounts for little and charm and character everything.

Southern Pines also shares with such United Kingdom courses the fact that it is an ideal winter course.The sandy soil drains well while winter stretches the course and makes it play more like Ross intended. However, regardless of the time of year, when in the Pinehurst area, head straight for this beauty – you will leave more invigorated than when you arrived.

The End