Forest Creek Golf Club (South Course)
North Carolina, United States of America

The charms of playing beneath the swaying, fragranted pines in the Sand Hills of North Carolina are on full display at the South Course at Forest Creek.

For many Pinehurst conjures up idyllic thoughts and that certainly applies to Terry Brown and his family. Starting in 1948 at the age of one, Terry and his brother Louis traveled from Chicago to visit their grandparents in Pinehurst. His grandfather Charles Louis Meyer had purchased a Manor House in 1942 on 500 acres three miles from the village of Pinehurst. A guesthouse, small log cabin, and an eight stall barn were the only other structures on the rolling, forested property.  Horse riding, fox hunting and golf served as primary pastimes. Many a day began with granddad heading to the stables and grandmother off to the golf course. Back then, quail hunting was a pastime in central North Carolina. Over time and by regularly purchasing land that, Meyer impressively amassed a near 3,000 acre estate which he passed on debt-free to his wife who in turn passed it to Terry, his brother Louis and their cousin Heidi Hall-Jones in 1990.

Like their father, an alternate for the Walker Cup team just prior to World War II, Terry and  Louis were both ace players and they saw a need in Pinehurst for a high-end private club that would attract the better player. Hall-Jones was also keen to see the land put to good use and the three considered several architects including Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus and Rees Jones but it was Tom Fazio who made the best impression. Rather than talk at them, Fazio listened to the Browns and Hall-Jones and embraced their vision for the family land. While a poor economy and unrest in the Middle East delayed the start of construction until 1994, the luxury of owning the land debt-free allowed them to wait until the timing was right.

Several tranches of their grandparant’s estate were donated but when it came time to build the course, Fazio was given 1,265 acres in the rolling sand hills of North Carolina with which to route 36 holes.  No restrictions were placed on him and the full acreage was at his disposal. Even better, the land enjoyed the same sandy properties that Donald Ross fell in love with nearly one hundred years ago. In fact, at one point Ross designed a course which was never realized for the previous land owner which partly ran across this very property.

In partnership with a developer from Greenville, South Carolina, the family members sought to build the finest course in the Pinehurst area since Ross’s death in 1948. Based in western North Carolina, Fazio drove east numerous times to walk underneath the pine trees and gain a sense of the topography. The first tree was felled in November, 1994. Apart from several elevated tee pads, Fazio’s approach was low profile in nature, instinctually draping the holes across the land so as to require the movement of very little. Thus, the course enjoys an unforced, natural appearance as it weaves through the broad corridors of pine. Other big name architects including Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Rees Jones have failed to deliver such a pleasing natural appearance with their efforts in the Pinehurst area. Indeed, Fazio’s subsequent work at Pinehurst No. 8 and the remodeled Pinehurst No. 4 are more manufactured than his efforts on the South Course.

The land is pleasantly rolling with most holes enjoying 15 feet or more of elevation change. Wetlands are found at the low point of some holes but only the ninth green is fronted by a water hazard. Generally, the wetlands are carried with ease from the tee making the odds of losing a ball on the South Course low. According to Terry, ‘The thing that has impressed me the most is the way the entire course fits into the land. Nothing is contrived, nothing is tricked up but rather each hole rests peacefully upon the land. Fazio didn’t move much dirt. There was no need. The manner in which he opened up the playing corridors and the resulting long views were done in a respectful manner and I have no doubt that my grandfather would be proud of the number of people that now gain enjoyment from what was his land.’

It is worth noting that very little has changed since the course opened. A bunker behind the seventeenth green has been pulled farther away from the putting surface for better drainage and two pine trees were removed at the ninth hole. Otherwise, the course is the same one that opened for play in July, 1996. Surely that’s a measure of a job done well. Generally, many more drainage issues become apparent after a course opens but this property’s sandy soil helped keep that to a minimum. The large scale bunkers are well placed and their rolled down grass faces/construction handle summer afternoon thunderstorms with greater ease than much of Fazio’s other work in Pinehurst. The tantalizing greens which slope in all directions have also proven to be quite conducive for water management. Though the course is traditional and relatively straightforward in appearance, it’s the lack of artificial features that has helped it function so well and mature gracefully.

The South Course measures nearly 7,100 yards from the back markers but the vast majority of play is concentrated from either the 6,600 yard or 6,300 yard set of tees. Distances below are from the Long tees which measure 6,600 yards.

Holes to Note

First hole, 375 yards; The first is a microcosm of what is ahead. Though the fairway is wide, it bends and only one section of the fairway offers a level stance. In this case, the inside of the dogleg is ideal becaue of the lie and also because it gives the golfer the best view of the angled green. Holes configured whereby the fairway bends one way (in this case, to the right) and the green is angled in the opposite manner (in this case, front right to back left) are a favorite design ploy of the author. Why architects don’t employ  this gambit more often is a mystery.

The inside of the dogleg offers the optimal stance and angle into the green. As with several other holes (e.g. the 11th, 13th, and 15th), it is possible to blow a driver through the dogleg if it isn’t shaped appropriately. Unlike the North Course, the driver isn’t an automatic selection on every tee. Finesse plays a distinct role on the South.

 

Third hole, 485 yards; Uphill par fives can seem like a grind but not this one, thanks to two beautifully placed bunkers in the middle of the fairway 100 yards shy of the green. Options abound each time the golfer confronts the hole. Modest in length, par is amply defended at the green which features the steepest back to front pitch on the course. Power golfers have reached the back of the green in two only to putt off the front in three!

A view from the third tee shows how Fazio utilized the gradual upslope to carve out some of the most graceful bunkers on the entire property.

The two central hazards seen above are 100 yards short of the putting surface. When the hole is back right, the golfer dearly loves to get past these bunkers in two so that he can enjoy a pitch down the axis of the green.


Fourth hole, 415 yards;
 Here is a fine example of bunkers utilized to mis-direct the golfer. The pair of bunkers on the inside of the dogleg plays much bigger than they look as they gather balls in from as much as twenty yards. Often the Tiger who insists on trying to make the 240 yard carry will find his ball stays in the rough and be left with a hanging lie. Better to play away from the bunkers to the middle or even outside of this dogleg right. From here,  the golfer has good angle plus a comparatively flat stance. Achieving good contact on the approach shot is crucial as the green tilts away from the player and shunts aside the thin or indifferently struck ball.

This zoomed photograph captures the sloping nature of the ground around the bunker on the inside of the dogleg as well as the front left to back right slope of the green 180 yards in the distance.


Sixth hole, 170 yards; 
The South’s sister course more often features large, sandy areas which create strategic dilemmas. Though there are several on the South, only on the approach to the fourteenth does one play an integral role. Here, the exposed sand lends the hole visual appeal and might actually distract the golfer from the real task: Getting one’s tee ball to finish below the hole on a green that features a severe tilt to the right.

An uphill putt from twenty-five feet right of this hole location is more desirable than one much closer left but downhill of the hole.


Seventh hole, 540 yards;
There is much debate about the tougher course at Forest Creek. The North is longer and features brawnier hazards and more visual intimidation, so the tendency is to select it. Yet, persuasive arguments can be made that the South Course is craftier in the manner in which it bleeds shots away from the golfer. One way it accomplishes this is with a pair of stiff par fives in its middle. Similar to the 560 yard twelfth, the seventh requires smart, stout hitting. A loose first or second shot makes hitting either green in regulation unlikely.

Standing on the tee, a certain appeal exists in seeing the flag at the end of such a long hole. Here’s the plan. One, avoid the 48 yard long bunker off the tee. Two, slot one’s second between the left and right bunkers ahead. Three, avoid getting anywhere near the deep vertical face of bunker that walls off much of the green.


Eighth hole, 335 yards;
A real teaser, this gem features a central hazard 230 yards from the Long tees. What to do? Look at the flag and aim for the side of the fairway opposite to the hole location. While the wall of sand created by the six bunkers intimidates, the real kicker is the green that runs from front to back. With forward hole locations, the following scenario plays out with comedic regularity: Aware of all the visible trouble between his drive and the hole, the golfer hits his approach to the middle of the green from where the ball drifts to the back. Unaccustomed to putting uphill toward the front of a green, the first putt comes up well short. Whether he makes the second one or not is immaterial. Heading to the ninth tee, he is left wondering how such a short hole caused such headache.

A sea of bunkers is found across the eighth fairway.

The left side of the fairway is the higher one and affords the golfer a glimpse of the putting surface.

The eighth green is the smallest target on the course at just over 5,000 square feet. As seen from behind, it plays even smaller thanks to its front to back slope and how the left third of the putting surface cants left.

The eighth green is the smallest target on the course at just over 5,000 square feet. As seen from behind, it plays even smaller thanks to its front to back slope and how the left third of the putting surface cants left (i.e. right as seen from behind). This photograph was taken in the dead of winter.


Ninth hole, 430 yards;
Fazio puts the screws to the golfer here: The green is fronted by a finger of the spring-fed lake, steeply pitched from back to front, and only 22 paces deep. Even the bail out area on the left makes for an extremely unlikely up and down as the green tilts to the right. Courses built in the mid 1980s regularly featured several holes of such uncompromising difficulty. Golfers grew frustrated watching their golf balls being gobbled up. Tom Fazio was one of the principal architects who led the change away from penal designs to more playable ones. Having said that, every course should have one such brute, and the ninth is that hole on the South.

Finding the fairway off the tee is imperative. The good news is that tee balls pulled left are likely to get a favorable kick into the fairway. Note how the flag is now visible through the pines, courtesy of two large pines wisely being removed a few years ago. One result is that golfers who push their tee ball right have a greater chance of going for the green in two. Such bold recovery shots out of the bermuda rough do lead to heroics but also many more double bogeys.

The most stringent shot on the course is the approach to the ninth. Short is obviously no good but the green races away from shots missed long or left as well.

 

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