Dormie Club
North Carolina, United States of America

Tenth hole, 655 yards; A reviled hole, this never-ending three shotter is as polarizing as any hole Coore & Crenshaw have ever built. For some, it ruins their enjoyment of a round at Dormie and because it messes with people’s heads to such a degree, the author likes it in its current form. What is meant by ‘current form’? Three versions of this hole have existed in its ten year life. The hole has always swept left from on high to down low by the lake. The sole issue – and the entire root cause of so much venom – has been to what extent a finger of the wetland protruded into the fairway. Initially, Coore & Crenshaw staked out the fairway around the county’s delineating wetland. Fifty-five yards of fairway existed from the wetland to the right edge of the rough (i.e. plenty of room for all players to skirt around the wetland without a forced carry). After Coore & Crenshaw left, the state came back and said no, the wetland had been compromised and needed to extend twenty-five yards farther right. The strip of fairway around the wetland was almost reduced in half, making it too narrow. Therefore, the tenth ceased to function properly for several years. Ultimately, the state allowed some fairway to be reclaimed and to the author, today’s hole plays fine, even though it remains quite taxing. A few points: 1) today’s hole is not how Coore & Crenshaw designed it, 2) the tee ball has always been a fine one, 3) the front to back green is among the course’s neatest putting surfaces. Many golfers end up within 20 to 70 yards of the green in regulation only to see their pitch release to the green’s back right. Not being accustomed to front to back greens, their first putt from ~65 feet often times come up ~12 feet short as they continually underestimate the effect of the slope. The resulting double bogey – and that’s after intelligently skirting the wetland – proves irksome to the point where some never mentally recover. Hitting a forced carry second shot from a downhill lie over a wetland is emphatically not what Coore & Crenshaw stand for. Let that rankle your opponent, not you.

The tee shot has always been appealing as it is played to a fairway that bends left before …

… cascading downhill toward a finger of wetland. Today, nearly 40 yards exist between the wetland and the right edge of the fairway, which is sufficient room to allow people to navigate around it without having to attempt a 210 yard forced carry from a squirrelly downhill stance.

The green is the second largest on the course at over 8,875 square feet and is rife with character. Lewis notes with a smile that ‘it is one of the most harmless looking evil greens you will ever play.’

As seen front right, ‘rail’ contours add playing interest and create a lower back right pocket.

Just as with the par 5 6th , the green continues in the direction of the land, which is to say that it runs away from the player.

Twelfth hole, 115 yards; This ‘touch of poetry’ comes among the beating administered by the bruisingly long seventh, eighth, tenth and thirteenth holes. Some consider it their favorite hole on the course and it has certainly seen more that its share of hole-in-ones. A lack of length allows an architect to get saucy at the green, which is precisely what Coore & Crenshaw did. The range of moods one sees on the next tee is comical – and telling. Someone has likely birdied the hole and is chirping away while another nurses a truculent demeanor.

From 4 at Lost Farms in Tasmania to 17 at Clear Creek Tahoe to 11 at Hidden Creek in New Jersey, Coore & Crenshaw have produced short one shotters that tease and infuriate. The 12th’s idyllic charms on this autumn day are on full display. What isn’t as evident are the bold green contours.

Given the hole’s uphill nature, much of the putting surface is obscured from the tee. Even this view from 50 yards short reveals little.

This view from the left indicates how the putting surface is high along the right and back left with a false front left.

Thirteenth hole, 490 yards; Other than ‘discovering’ this hole in the routing process, little was required for the architect to do other than show restraint. And that’s a lot harder than it sounds. The original founding vision of Dormie was as a high end private club that would attract members to travel here from the eastern half of the country. To do so, the golf needed to be compelling. To the author, lay of the land holes are but others prefer more eye-candy. Thankfully, Coore & Crenshaw eschewed the lazy way out of adding frilly bunkers while firmly placing the spotlight on the fine landforms. Similar to the eighth, an approach shot of length makes the ground game options sing as both greens are far more fascinating to approach by banking in some sort of hybrid than merely flying a short iron into the middle of the green. A design point worth emphasizing is that the four longest two shotters at Dormie (e.g. the fourth, fifth, eighth, and thirteenth) all feature enduring ground game options that make the four holes fun to play.

England is the author’s favorite country for golf in part because the Colts and Fowlers and Hutchisons never dolled up the land with extraneous, man-made features. That same design ethos is wonderfully applied here too.

Dormie isn’t north of Oakhurst, it is north of Pinehurst, and this specimen oak is a feature not often found on the area golf courses. Coore shrewdly incorporated it into the playing of the hole as the slight left to right tilt of the fairway is enough to send tee balls toward it. This oak is just another feature that gives Dormie its own voice.

The beauty of simplicity resonates on the approach. Once again, look to the green’s high side for an optimal way to run an approach shot on. The playing aspects of the dormant Bermuda as cultivated by Green Keeper Lewis allow the hole to play to perfection.

Fourteenth hole, 300 yards; Another less is more hole. Though the fairway is wide and bunkerless, it calls for one of the day’s most precise tee shots. Similar to the last hole whereby the left to right cant of the fairway shunts the tee ball to a disadvantaged position (in the case of the thirteenth, behind the oak), this tilted fairway also thrives in feeding a tee ball into a materially worse position. The solitary greenside bunker comes into play more and more as the golfer allows his tee shot to drift right. Visually not as dynamic as many of the other holes, a cadre of locals nominate this deceptively difficult teaser as their favorite. Like the short 3rd, this hole is made by its green which, as seen in the photograph below, is higher in the front than the back and it follows the tilt of the land. An approach that lands a little long and right of the hole location seen below can be seen exiting the green to the right beyond the bunker.

Stretching 62 yards from side to side, the 14th fairway seems void of golfing virtue.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Look at all the divots – the right half of the fairway is a popular spot to end up, which means the golfer has to carry the bunker and approach the narrow green from an oblique angle.

Far more advantageous to approach the green from the high left center. Only from here does the golfer see much of the putting surface and hit down the axis of the green.

This view from behind shows the third and final green at Dormie that slopes from front to back. Under 3,900 square feet, this is also the smallest target the golfer faces all day.

Fifteenth hole, 380 yards; A special hole, the fifteenth features one of Pete Dye’s favorite ploys, namely a fairway that runs diagonal to the tee. The fierce hazard in the form of a wetland appears a daunting carry but again, Coore & Crenshaw let you do so with the ball perfectly placed on a tee. Plus, the cant of the fairway is such that the real aim is toward the pair of distant bunkers from where the ground contours will shunt the ball right and into good position.

Don’t let the sight of the green to the right woo you into being too greedy off the tee. Better to aim at the pair of distant bunkers and let the ground do the work.

Ultimately, it is important that the player end up in the right center of the fairway. Otherwise, the left hill obscures a view of the green.

The course’s deepest greenside bunker is to right but given the bank and short grass left, the player should never visit it.

Sixteenth hole, 200 yards; The first five holes built and open for play were four, fifteen through eighteen. It made for an extremely fine loop in the early days and exposed potential members to some of the best features and holes. If you didn’t like those holes, you weren’t going to join! All five holes enjoy some of the best detail work on the course. The property’s similarities to Pine Valley manifest themselves at the sixteenth as the combination of hardwoods, pines and sandy soil conspire to present a portrait of pure golf.

Postcard perfect, one aspect of the 16th that is overlooked is how well it compliments the other one shotters. There is the tilted 7th, the back to front slopes at the 9th and the wild interior contours of the 12th. Meanwhile here a Perry Maxwell type ‘puff’ appears in the green’s center, meaning that the middle is the high point of the putting surface, in stark contrast to the other three greens. As Pete Dye liked to say, variety, variety, variety!

Seventeenth hole, 495 yards; Once the Dormie project was announced in 2005, this was the exact sort of hole that the author hoped would emerge. Why? Because it is the only type hole – a gambling par 5 – that Pine Valley lacks. A forty yard deep cross bunker walls off the fairway before it then stair-steps up to a higher level. The penultimate hole’s challenge boils down to getting past this great hazard in two and then keeping one’s approach below the hole on what is the course’s steepest pitched green.

The curve of the fairway as it bends left and heads uphill is a sight to behold; the site’s full potential is realized.

A big drive presents the opportunity to carry the South’s version of Hell’s Half-Acre and reach the green in two.

Why study golf course architecture? One reason is to reduce your score! The sight of an uphill Coore & Crenshaw green blares at the student to be on full alert as the green will follow the land and be steeply pitched from back to front. That knowledge serves the golfer well at Dormie’s three most uphill approaches, namely 3, 12 and 17. All three are excellent positional holes.

Eighteenth hole, 420 yards; Underrated, the Home hole epitomizes the course in many ways. The fairway appears wide because it is (!) but the high left is far preferable than the right third which dips and peels right and away from the green. A comparably hit tee shot with a draw might end up forty yards (!) closer to the green than one hit with a fade that gets shunted right. Draping the fairway over the land in such a manner is one of the things that separates Coore & Crenshaw from all but one other design firm. Coore’s ability to route and ensnare such a feature into the how the hole plays is truly of exception. Just imagine having 1,200 acres at your disposal and spotting this subtle slope and incorporating it into a hole so well. Coore & Crenshaw didn’t move a scintilla of dirt in the fairway and yet the hole is engrossing off the tee. The approach is full of allure to a green that caps off a sterling collection of eighteen putting surfaces. Indeed, the greens here are so good and diverse that the author puts the set in Coore & Crenshaw’s all-time top 5 sets.

The native grasses and vegetation have always meant that Dormie enjoyed great texture. Here at 18, Coore uses the native fescues to hide the preferred left side of the fairway.

Only once the golfer reaches the fairway do the sights of the green to the left and the fairway sliding away right fully reveal themselves.

Formalized cross bunkers and an exposed sandy expanse bisect the fairway 150 yards from the green, essentially creating an island fairway off the tee.

This view from behind captures the rolling ‘sea waves’ found within the green’s right portion. Fifty-two paces long, this is the deepest green on the course and Lewis notes that back hole locations can add two clubs for one’s approach.

All the ingredients for good golf – unspoiled land, sandy soil, hardwoods, rolling topography – were present. True, the wetlands made it a challenging proposition to create a walkable course and thank goodness the original owners had the foresight to hire Coore & Crenshaw. After nearly 100 rounds played here, the author finds it hard to imagine that a finer collection of holes could have emerged. Since Donald Ross’s death in 1948 until 2005, the author contends that the greatest thing to have happened in Moore County golf-wise was the arrival of Coore & Crenshaw for this project. Not only was this the finest course built in the area since Ross’s passing, it established a more authentic approach to design that embraced the philosophies from the Golden Age of Design. Instead of introducing the lakes into play like so many of the courses built here from 1970-2000, it played away from such features. Dormie incorporated far less shaping than all the courses built here in the modern age and it all adds up to better playing experience with man cocooned in nature.

Dormie as a club had a rough beginning. Originally created as private club with a six figure initiation fee and a housing component around the course’s perimeter, those aspirations crumbled in the wake of the 2007/2008 financial recession. When the recession hit, course construction was suspended for over a year. The last three holes built were the first three. Play commenced in the fall of 2010 with Dormie open to outside play. The only thing that it held it together where the people who worked here, especially its Green Keeper Billy Lewis, and the quality of the golf. Lewis did a phenomenal job stretching a thin budget by focusing his attention and available resources to insuring the playing surfaces released the ball as quickly as possible.  His approach dovetailed perfectly with Coore’s lay of the land architecture and created a unique playing experience in the area. Happily, Lewis is here to this day, which portends well for future golfers. If the golf had been indifferent, the course would not have survived. Indeed, Coore has always noted that, ‘It’s a survivor course, which must mean that people enjoy it.’ Survive it did and in 2018 a new entity, soon thereafter to be called the Dormie Network, purchased the course and the hope is that the course will soon realize its full potential.

For the reasons articulated throughout this profile, the author considers Dormie to be an underrated design gem. Even within Coore & Crenshaw’s own body of work, I place it quite highly, largely because of its emphasis on the ground and its greens. True, it could be better. The eleventh hole never fully materialized and the detail work on holes one and two is lacking compared to the ones built early like sixteen and eighteen. Though the course opened in 2010, the walk in February, 2020 remains far from perfect as too many times the golfer is unable to proceed down the hole but rather has to zigzag into the woods on a cart path to cross a wetland and emerge on the far side. Thankfully, walking bridges are slated to be added to the second, fifteenth and seventh holes in the summer of 2020. Also, ground has been broken for a modern clubhouse, which sends a clear message that Dormie Network is here to stay and invest capital to enhance the overall playing experience. With a routing this exceptional and greens this good, the author cannot help but think more and more people will soon appreciate the golf before them once the finishing touches are applied.

After Dormie, Coore & Crenshaw went on to re-establish Pinehurst No. 2 as a world top 20 course in preparation for the back to back men and women’s U.S. Opens in 2014. In turn, Mid Pines and Pine Needles then raised their game with first-rate restoration projects as well. Soon thereafter, the Pinehurst Resort brought in Gil Hanse to build the Cradle, the Thistle-Du putting course and Pinehurst No. 4. The area has been a stunning run of successes – and it started with Dormie.

The End