Say “Pinehurst” to a golfer and most likely, his first thoughts will be of the famed #2 course at the Pinehurst Resort, host of several US Opens and other important championships. There are 8 other courses under the Resort umbrella, most of them originally designed by the venerable Donald Ross, the most prolific course architect of the first half of the 20th century.
I’m more loose in my use of “Pinehurst;” for me, it references most of Moore County, which includes the village of Pinehurst and the towns of Southern Pines and Aberdeen. These locales comprise a socioeconomic area referred to as the Sand Hills, a name based on the geology of the area. The sandy soil and rolling terrain are ideal for golf, and Ross made the most of it; in addition to his work at the Resort, he built the charming Pine Needles and Mid-Pines courses, as well as the recently restored Southern Pines Golf Course, which the locals refer to as The Elks Club, due to its proximity to that Fraternal Order’s local headquarters.
[Ah, the locals . . . Pinehurst and Southern Pines are connected by a two mile highway, but they are as culturally different as Dallas and Ft Worth. Pinehurst is a true walking village, with a pristine town green and tony shops. Southern Pines is a bit more free wheeling – for one thing, it’s home to the only “gentlemen’s club” in the area – and has a slightly more funky feel to it. In any event, don’t mix them up with a local.]
In addition to the Ross courses, one can find work by the Maples (Ellis and Dan), the Nicklaus’s (Jack and Jackie), Mike Stranz, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones, and others. In all, I believe there are about 35 or so courses dotted through the area. In addition to the aforementioned topography, courses in Pinehurst are also noted for – well, for their pine trees. This is not to be taken lightly – it’s much easier to find a wayward shot sitting on top of pine needles than in a pile of hardwood leaves or knee-deep rough.
Pinehurst is a relatively short drive from my old Richmond stomping grounds, maybe about 3 ½ hours or so. I’ve been there at least a half-dozen times and never tire of it; primarily because something unusual always seems to happen when I visit.
There was the impromptu all night jam session I found myself in at the Little River Resort, playing guitar and singing with a group of visiting Canadian musicians. Or on one early March sojourn, our group saw cars coming in the opposite direction with lit headlamps and snow-covered roofs – never a good sign when traveling to a golf destination. Or having a lengthy conversation on the Veranda overlooking #18 at Pinehurst with writer Jim Dodson. Or chipping balls into the fireplace in the lounge at the Pinecrest Inn.
Or this. I was invited by a fellow club member to play in something called the Dick’s Place Invitational (hence the invite), an annual event that has had several hosting venues. This particular year, it was centered around Talamore Golf Resort, located on the Pinehurst/Southern Pines connector. It features a nice Rees Jones designed course and plenty of accommodations for visiting golfers. The Invitational typically draws around 200 players from the Carolinas and Virginia; in addition to golf, the three tournament, the entry fee – generally less than $400 – includes room, two meals a day, and drinks (including alcohol).
The tournament is played on three different courses (the other two on this trip were Seven Lakes and Beacon Ridge). Based on handicap, 4-man teams are essentially pulled out of a hat ahead of time in an A-B-C-D format (“A” being the lowest handicap, “D” being the highest]. Each round you are partnered with a different team member and play what is called a “Texas Scramble.” Both players tee off, select the best drive, and then play their own ball in. The better score on each hole is recorded.
At the time, I was a fairly solid 8 handicap, so I was the designated “A” player on our team. I was scheduled to play with our “D” player in the first round. I found our cart, put my bag on the passenger side of the rack, and went off to practice. Upon returning, my partner (we’ll call him Pete) had not yet arrived, and it was getting close to tee time. Finally, a short, pudgy fellow woozily approached the cart with his clubs. Seeing that my clubs were loaded on the passenger side, he shook his head and drawled, “Man, I don’t know if you want me driving the cart. I could get picked up for DUI.”
I chuckled a bit and said, “I’m sure you’re fine, Pete. Anyway, I’m Gary.”
He eyed me suspiciously and replied, “Call me Booger.”
Trying to make conversation, I asked him where he was from. “Dinwiddie County,” he shot back. “Oh,” I replied, “We’re practically neighbors. I grew up in Massachusetts, but I live in Richmond.”
“Sheet,” he spat. “I ain’t never been north of the James River.”
I could see that this was going to be a challenge.
We somehow managed a gross 76 that day. I say “we,” because I believe we actually might have used one of Booger’s shots during the course of the round. He did, however, manage to back our cart into a bunker and make a few unscheduled stops to rid himself of excess tequila from the night before. On around the 6th hole, play had slowed; Booger and our two other playing companions engaged in a tee-box discussion about their favorite squirrel recipes. I wanted to chime in with my squirrel risotto recipe, but wasn’t sure if 1) I could keep a straight face, and 2) they actually had heard of risotto.
But somehow we made it to the finish. Our B and C players had posted a decent number, and we were right in the mix for our Calcutta flight. We bought our team, and when the dust settled on Sunday, we wound up in second and split $1,100 bucks. I handed out the cash to our teammates, finishing with our D player.
“Well done, Booger!” I exclaimed.
Once again he gave me the eye. “My name’s Pete,” he grunted, and walked off.
[Postscript: The Dick’s Place Invitational was moved to Myrtle Beach the following year. No truth to the rumor that the golf cart tire tracks found in the fairway bunker on number 4 forced this action.]