The Early Days of Pinehurst

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Not being the sort to take things by half measures, James Tufts wasted no time in seizing upon the idea of this unusual game. In short order he drafted a man by the name of Dr. Leroy Culver to design a nine hole run for resort guests. Culver – who had been an NYC public health official – was chosen because he had visited St. Andrews and had sound ideas regarding the game. It is not well known that, while resident physician, Dr. Culver also designed a small golfing area at the Piney Woods Inn in neighboring Southern Pines.


The “course” at the Piney Woods Inn where according to their advertising ” nervous women are inspired with new life, and where the little people imbibe vigor with every breath” – as well as the remarkable structure itself are no longer with us. A pity because from its lofty perch on the edge of downtown it lent more than a measure of the dramatic to the proceedings. Starry eyed recollections by a few of the old timers said that in the full swing of evenings in season when the building was glowing at night and strains of music and laughter drifted out of the ballroom and through the sleeping pines that it seemed like something more out of a dream than real life.

Rather Fitzgeraldean – in fact, F. Scott himself was present during the era. He had the same editor as Southern Pines author James Boyd. Maxwell Perkins dispatched the Great Gatsby to the Sandhills in hopes that Boyd’s sensible approach to the profession would influence his wayward magician. It did not work but Fitzgerald did make quite an impression making an inebriated leap over a hedge in Pinehurst to a party “wearing a blue sport coat and white duck pants”.

Boyd was known as an arch equestrian. The founder of the highly regarded Moore County Hounds actually had an estate more than a little similar to the Overhills affair just a few miles east. The equestrian world which is as vital today as in yesteryear does not remember the fact that this exemplary gentleman not only played golf – but, like Overhills, actually had his own course to match his extensive fox hunting grounds.

By the way, the worlds oldest known longleaf pine is situated in the area of Boyd’s fox hunting grounds which now make up Weymouth Woods State Park. The tree is approximately 500 years old. The golf course is no longer with us.

To return from our little sideways stroll through a contemporary sense of the area, Tufts consulted with some of the substantive employees that made up the upper tier of his staff regarding his intention to pursue the transplantation of the Scottish game to the backwoods of North Carolina. They unequivocally assured him that this game of golf was nothing more than a fad and to pursue it as core pillar of the resort was quite foolhardy.

Tufts thanked them for their collective wisdom, promptly dispensed with it and summoned Dr. Culver for the purpose of sorting out some proper links for his guests. While the echoes of their approbation rang around the back rooms of offices the first Pinehurst golf course took shape in very short order.

Courtesy of the Tufts Archives

As was stated before, Culver was chosen because Tufts thought he had a solid grasp of how a proper course was supposed to be set up. Here are some quotes from Dr. Culver:

“A nine hole course has been laid out after the famous St. Andrews.”

“To be sure groves of trees beautify the landscape, but mar the joy of the game.”

“There are no links in the South to be compared with those at Pinehurst, and they will prove the great magnet of attraction to lovers of the game.”

In spite of the lofty rhetoric and theory the first nine hole course – which debuted in 1898 – was a very primitive effort. This does not mean to imply that it was not a worthy endeavor because allowing the purity of the land to speak for itself rather than the sophisticated artistry of future design masters had its own considerable appeal. Never the less, the original course was essentially a field with tees and square sand greens strewn about. A humble beginning – but a beginning none the less.

Courtesy of the Tufts Archives

Unlike the previous resort concepts, fate treated Tufts more kindly with this new sporting approach. In fact, it became such a draw that a new nine was required later that very same year – lest the guests get frustrated with those ghastly three hour rounds. For the design of the additional nine holes Tufts turned to the new golf professional by way of Scotland. His name was not Donald Ross.

John Dunn Tucker hailed from the Dunn golfing family of Musselburgh, Scotland. To give you an idea of the significance of Musselburgh – consider the fact that Mary Queen of Scots played golf there in…the 1500’s. It is, in fact, considered the worlds oldest course. And so, from its earliest days Pinehurst bore the imprint of the most authentic of golfing traditions.

The Tucker family featured several accomplished golf professionals. They were associated with many links within the British Isles – chiefly North Berwick. But their reach did not stop at the shores of the Atlantic. The family was involved in several substantial courses in the States. In particular, Tucker’s cousin Willie Dunn was responsible for several highly rated designs. The most notable of these being a place on the farther reaches of Long Island called Shinnecock.

This new Pinehurst nine drifted out into a rolling terrain that is among the best in the area. Within this sandy loam Tucker formed intriguing corridors which are largely in play to this day. Over many years, his successor Donald Ross went on to slowly craft this course into what made for quite a compelling round. It ended up – then as now – right in front of the clubhouse veranda.

As with other esteemed Pinehurst courses time and less traditional perspectives led No.1 Course away from its Scottish heritage. Like No. 2 Course the original magic became more than a bit covered up. Also like No. 2, its potent appeal is not lost to history but waiting for proper hands to bring the graceful artistry back into focus.

The 223 yard 11th hole of Pinehurst No. 1

Even before Ross brought the course up to the praise worthy level it ultimately reached, the course received high regard from many quarters. Harry Vardon himself was most favorably pleased when he played several rounds there during his 1900 tour of the former colonies.

Vardon was but one of many who found their way to the isolated community from places far afield…

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