Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club
North Carolina, United States of America
When the Donald Ross Society first convened in 1990, Pinehurst was the logical place to meet. After all, Ross’s most intricate, complex design and the one on which he lavished the most attention over a 47 year period (!) is found here.
Yet, to gain a truer sense of Donald Ross‘s design philosophy of bringing pleasure to the greatest number, the golfer is well served to cast his eye farther a field than Pinehurst No.2. In nearby Southern Pines, there are three Ross gems that embody his general philosophy of golf as a pleasurable pursuit: Southern Pines (which makes for a wonderful study on how to route a course), Mid Pines and Pine Needles, which hosted the 1996 U.S. Women’s Open with such success that it was quickly awarded the 2001 U.S. Women’s Open during the closing ceremony! In fact, Pine Needles went on to host a third U.S. Women’s Open in 2007.
The origins of Mid Pines and Pine Needles trace the growth of American golf in the early decades of the twentieth century. After the conclusion of WWI, Richard Tufts found his resort turning away as many as 15,000 guests during the peak season of February and March. Realizing that his four courses at Pinehurst Country Club could not keep pace with the game’s growing demand, Tufts and Ross searched for more land. Back in 1920, they had their pick and found 5,000 acres of ideal terrain in what could be described – this time fairly – as the sand hills of North Carolina.
Located five miles from the village of Pinehurst, the terrain takes on a distinctly more rolling nature than nearer the village. The soil was of such sandy nature that many people referred to the area as the sand barrens. Whether one calls it the sand hills or sand barrens, Ross happily went straight to work on Mid Pines. Before too long, another course (a sixth) was required, and Tufts instructed Ross go to work across Midland Road on building Pine Needles late in 1926.
The diversity of the property leads to natural variety of the holes at Mid Pines. The holes that traverse the flatter interior of the course like the sixth, eleventh, the last 2/3 of the sixteenth and seventeenth holes feature shallower bunkers. Ross’s bunkering schemes create the playing interest for these holes. The bunkering at the majority of the other holes tends to be deeper and more expansive because the bunkers are cut into natural hillocks or built-up green pads.
Mid Pines opened to rave reviews and golfers flocked to it. Historian Chris Buie found this quote from XXX: “The Mid-Pines course, the latest achievement of Donald Ross, far surpasses the Pinehurst courses in scenic beauty and will probably prove a more severe test of golfing ability than either the championship course or the dreaded No.3 course at Pinehurst proper.”
The factors that conspired to make Mid Pines a success are evident to this day. The sides of the property are high and the course sits in its own secluded bowl with only a few homes on the perimeter. Donald Ross clearly thought highly of it as he selected it himself for his first course away from the Pinehurst village. From high on the fifteenth fairway, the golfer delights in the long views below and through the long leaf pines across the course. Some of the subtle slopes found across the property (e.g. the fairways at the fourth, seventh, and twelfth) were put to great use. A very inspired set of Donald Ross greens are a particular highlight. Kyle Franz’s green restoration project from June-August 2013 will recapture ~15,000 square feet of putting surface and restore several great hole locations (e.g. front right on seven, left of the knob on sixteen, back on eighteen). In addition, his work will greatly improved the eighth and ninth greens which were the only two non-Ross greens on the course. When done, the course will look and play like it did when Donald Ross was roaming around this special part of the golf world.
Holes to Note at Mid Pines
First hole, 390 yards; What an appealing sight: From the elevated tee, the golfer sees a broad fairway handsomely framed by mature long leaf pine trees that are well back from play. The green is located on a far hillock with four bunkers cut into the hillside. The rolling green at 43 yards is one of the deepest on the course and the golfer should note the day’s location from the tee before descending into the fairway.
Second hole, 190 yards; Working from one high point to another approximately 190 yards away, one imagines that Ross found this one shotter fairly quickly as he went through the routing process. Unusual for such a hole, the green is crowned (as opposed to being benched into the hillside) and falls away on all sides. When taken as a group – the sharply downhill eighth, the tightly bunkered eleventh, and the monstrously long 230 yard thirteenth – the one shotters at Mid Pines are a varied set where even the best are happy to make par.
Fourth hole, 330 yards; This innocuous looking hole is a fooler thanks to the most severe green complex on either course. The plateau green angles away from the golfer to the right, and narrows toward its back. The approach shot with a short iron must be unusually precise as a ball can easily hit several feet onto the green only to spin off. A must-see hole for golf architecture fans.
Sixth hole, 520 yards; A mark of any good restoration is that the Golden Age architect’s design philosophies are allowed to flourish. Take this hole as a case study. In 2010, the last 100 yards featured a pine tree left and rough right. The lay up for 95% of the golfers was a straightforward affair, devoid of any interest. Down came the tree in the winter of 2012 and the fairway was extended well right to the edge of the sandy floor. Now options exist. Golfers can elect to go long left toward the green or lay up to the right in what is now fairway to enjoy the best look at certain hole locations. Ross would be proud that this hole’s full potential has been realized.