FOMO. Fear of missing out. I have it. Bad. I have it for Cabot St Lucia, for Australia, for Fishers Island and New Zealand. I have it for an awful lot of golf destinations I may never experience. Heck, I even have it for Alaska (the only state in the US I haven’t been to). I’m worried I’ll never find out what those places are like … worried my clock is ticking … worried my wife’s tolerance for this nomadic lifestyle will eventually expire.
A return trip to Pinehurst was circled on my someday calendar since my last visit back in 2012, never knowing if I’d actually get back. But then Gil Hanse built The Cradle there, and then my son asked me if we could go out there … just to play The Cradle.
“No,” I shook my head. “Absolutely not. I’m not driving 2,500 miles (round trip) to play one course.”
“You did it for Sawgrass,” he replied.
Dang it. “I was an idiot back then.” Besides, that was 3,000 miles.
“You haven’t played #2 since Bill and Ben redid it.” (Mr. Coore insisted on “Bill” when we met him at Bandon, so Dylan’s stuck with that.)
“Okay, but …”
“I mean … wouldn’t it suck to have played all of America’s best short courses except The Cradle, Dad?”
Okay, enough. “Fine.”
The kid knows how to play his dad — knows how to feed that Fear Of Missing Out.
“The Cradle” of Love
There’s a stack of shoes by the first tee, a few steps past the small white building stocked with complimentary tees, ball markers, pencils and scorecards. “Welcome to The Cradle of American Golf,” the starter said. He added something about a course record, but I always tune those irrelevant words out. Not on my radar. Dylan though … the starter told him if he broke 24 he’d let him go around again. He had permission to anyway (kids 17 and under play for free with a parent), but words like that get him going. “You’ll have your Hanse full,” the man challenged, his play on words sailing well over my son’s head.
“Oh, I’ve got this,” Dylan replied.
We added our shoes to the pile. “You’ve got too many clubs,” the starter called out. I shook my head, about to say I didn’t have more than 15 when my son’s glare caught my eye. Duh. Dylan was holding five clubs in his hand. I had my entire bag. One of us looked like I’d never played a short course before. Idiot.
Let me back it up a bit — back to the Carolina Vista Drive up to one of the world’s most splendiferous clubhouses. As you circle towards the front door and look to your right you feel like you’re looking across one of those mega sports complexes with twenty fields, except that all those “fields” consist of a magnificent and massive putting complex (Thistle Dhu) and an infinite assortment of golf holes — Gil Hanse’s Cradle, and Courses 1, 3, 4 and 5 beyond it. I wondered how many people hit the curb while pulling up to the door — how many others made total fools of themselves in front of the gentleman there to collect your golf bags. “Sorry,” I muttered.
“For what, sir?” he asked, feigning blindness and nailing compassion.
The Cradle rocks, fulfilling its purpose of being “a pleasure, not a penance.” The Golf Channel calls the 9-hole, 789-yard course “The Most Fun 10 Acres in All of Golf.” With the shortest hole coming in at 56 yards, and the longest at 127, you needn’t carry anything more than an 8-iron no matter your strength. I had my 9, PW, SW, 60 and putter. Dylan had his 52, 56, 60, 64 and putter. We play different games with the same name.
Lest you be scoffing at the hole lengths, thinking you could dominate this course, rest assured that’s unlikely — The Cradle is no pushover. 75,000 feet of turbulent greens are guarded by 3 acres of sand. The elevation changes alone demand that you have a better-than-fine-tuned short game. Dylan birdied the first two holes, but scored a par on each of the last seven to finish with a 25. “It’s harder than it looks, Dad,” he said, a bit frustrated. He didn’t have to tell me (and my 32).
There’s a lot to absorb in that casual meander across the soft and meticulously groomed Carolina carpet. So much laughter, so much beauty … so much fun. Music plays, but not too loud. The beverage cart sits atop the hill serving an assortment of favorites in cute, clear, little souvenir cups with that phenomenally creative and catchy Cradle logo. “A smaller Sweeten’s Cove,” I muttered, at a loss for what else even compared so favorably. Similar vibe, in a different state.
We’d have rocked The Cradle ‘til dusk, were it not for the tumbling wavy putting course beside it, built around the famous “Putting Boy” statue. “Made bombs and F-bombs,” is what I recall of the go-round that night. Dylan sinking ridiculously long putts, and the guys in front of us shaking their heads and cursing in loud whispers, initially trying to respect our space, then completely disregarding it with fist bumps and high fives … for my son. Welcome to my world.
The Cradle and Thistle Dhu combo create a short game amusement park unlike few places in America, no argument to that. The resorts that are catching on to the “Short Course” movement are capitalizing on what Pinehurst sees and hears daily — infinite smiles and laughter … infinite fun for everyone.
Others might not come here for the short course. In fact, most likely come to North Carolina’s Central Park for a combination of the “regulation” offerings … and most of those for a shot at the past and future (2024) US Open host — Pinehurst #2.
#2 is different now. Different in the sun. Way different in the pouring rain. Is it better than before the 2011 restoration? I think so, but then I consider Coore and Crenshaw modern-day masters of subtlety. They maintained the original Donald Ross character — giving him credit for its genius — while ultimately fixing many of the “flaws.”
“They helped Einstein find his glasses,” a caddie told me.
“Ah,” I nodded. (What else can you even say to that?) Did Einstein even wear glasses?
While plenty had seemingly been lost from that quote’s original translation, I think he meant the course plays like the original design in most ways — the greens and their surrounds, respectively, brilliantly shaped and receptive collection areas. The course just … well … it looks better now — in large part thanks to the removal of 35 acres of rough. Bill and Ben exposed the course for what it was and should never have hidden from — a genuine Sandhills gem.
You can play the entire round without losing a ball. In fact, you should, especially with a caddie. “Is it worth the $495 peak rate,” a friend asks. I hate the angle of that question, as any answer either fails the experience, or fails to empathize with those who might not be able to afford it. “I’d contend it’s one of the two best public golf courses in North Carolina,” I reply. “And if you have $495 to spend on golf, it is absolutely worth that to play it.”
It costs more with a caddie … yes, but invaluable as they are, you don’t have to take one. And, better yet, should you need or want a cart, you can take one of those. They are restricted to the paths on courses 2 and 4 (the resort’s two “signature” courses), but they are available.
The 5-Par 4th hole and the 3-Par 17th hole are my personal favorites on the course — incidentally my only “others” in a somewhat damp round. The closing three-hole stretch is a magical crescendo, leading you to the famous statue of Payne Stewart extending every player an energetic fist-bump. Beyond the statue lies the indoor-outdoor “pub” — The Deuce — that many consider the best 19th hole in golf, and beyond it the pro shop that sells out of all the best products in Large, but has plenty of every other size.
It’s cliché to say “a visit is not complete without” at Pinehurst, considering every facet of the experience completes you in a different way. But it IS a treat to enhance your Pinehurst visit with an overnight stay at the Holly Inn, The Manor or the luxurious Carolina Hotel — The “Queen of the South” — on the opposite end of Carolina Vista Drive from the clubhouse. Need even more space? Families and golf groups heading to Pinehurst, make sure you check out the resort’s Villas and condos.
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but if you’re a golfer with a short list of places you need to visit before you die, “America’s St. Andrews” deserves a spot. Will #2 be your favorite course ever? Maybe not. But the walks across these historic and hallowed grounds — across the nine, short, and putting courses — easily propels Pinehurst to among the most memorable experiences not just in golf … but in life.
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