Pine Needles
NC, USA

Located on higher land, Pine Needles is a sprawling course, occupying a full 250 acres and is more open to the affects of the wind. The brilliance of Pine Needles lies in how Donald Ross routed the holes across the rolling terrain. The crests of the rolling sand hills continually hit the golfer indifferent ways. Donald Ross draped some holes so that the crest of the hill angles from left to right across the fairway. Thus, on holes like the second and sixth, if the golfer can hug the left side, his tee ball will hit on top of the crest and bound down the far side. Conversely, if he edges down the right hand side (which is the shorter way home), his ball is unlikely to reach the crest and it will die into the hillside with little roll. The difference in the position of two identically struck tee balls with one down the left and one down the right can be as much as forty yards.

Pine Needles, Golf in Pinehurst, Donald Ross, Kelly Miller

The view from the eleventh tee typifies the rolling nature – and the challenge – at Pine Needles. How well the golfer positions himself off the tee in relation to the crest of the hill likely determines his success on the hole.

Pine Needles‘ rolling topography creates a variety of approach shots. For instance, the approach to the fourth is sharply uphill, the approach to the fifth is across a valley and the approach to the sixth is downhill. On the back nine, the tee ball on the eleventh is well downhill, the tee ball on the twelfth is uphill to a crest, and the tee ball on the fourteenth is level but must carry across a valley. Thus, the course progresses along in such a manner with no two holes being similar.

Holes to Note at Pine Needles

(Please note: two distances are given below, one from the new back tees which sees Pine Needles stretched to over 7,000 yards and the other from the ‘Donald Ross‘ tees, which were the back markers when the course opened in the days of hickory golf.)

First hole, 505/480 yards; Some consider that Donald Ross was the first prolific architect to test each shot and this hole is a fine example.The drive must flirt with the bunker on the inside of this gentle dogleg right, to obtain the shortest route to the green in two.If the player elects to lay up,care must be taken again as a bunker pinches the fairway in sixty yards from the green. Finally,the green complex itself quickly turns two shots into three with any of its right hole locations. The unsuspecting golfer ruefully watches his approach shot hit on the right of this green only to watch it slowly start to drift away, roll off the green and down into the swale or bunker. The resulting recovery shot needs to be played safely to the middle of the green, least the golfer wish to seethe ball return to his feet.

Pine Needles, Golf in Pinehurst, Donald Ross, Kelly Miller

As architect Gil Hanse admiringly says, notice how ‘softly’ the holes at Pine Needles sit on the land.

Pine Needles, Golf in Pinehurst, Donald Ross, Kelly Miller

Just three paces to the right of this hole location and a ball ends up in the right greenside bunker.

  

Second hole, 480/440 yards; Though it is well known that Donald Ross generally defended par at the green, the broad fairways at Pine Needles are among his best for dictating the ideal line. Take the second. As noted above, the crest of the hill angles from left to right across the fairway in the drive zone. If the golfer can hit it down the ‘speed slot’ on the left, his ball can get as much as forty yards more roll than the golfer who goes right,where the ball hits into the hill and dies. As for the green, it is more broad than deep and is open in front.Past the middle, the green gently slopes away from the player. From back at the crest of the hill, the golfer can visualize one of several type approach shots. Too many modern courses accept only one approach shot (a highball carried to the hole) and it is refreshing to find a course where the ground game remains in favor.

Pine Needles, Golf in Pinehurst, Donald Ross, Kelly Miller

Ross routed the second fairway at a diagonal over the crest of the hill; the shortest carry over the crest is down the left.

Pine Needles, Golf in Pinehurst, Donald Ross, Kelly Miller

Pre-restoration, a bunker added in the 1970s along the right of the second green would have dominated this photograph. It kept missed approach shots close to the green. Following Ross’s hole diagram, John Fought removed the bunker and balls now kick well away from the green, promoting a greater range in recovery shots.

Third hole, 145/135; The pressure was squarely on Fought when he restored this green. The reason? Because of its photogenic nature, it may well be the most photographed hole ever in Moore County. The abundance of old photographs of this hole from the days when Donald Ross still lived in Pinehurst make it easy to judge the authenticity of Fought’s restoration.

Pine Needles, Golf in Pinehurst, Donald Ross, Kelly Miller

Fought’s restoration returned the third green to Ross’s original drawing, reducing its size by 20% as a front right tongue from the 1970s was removed.

Fourth hole, 405/380 yards; Pine Needles‘ lasting trump card over every other course in Moore County is its topography and how Donald Ross‘s routing took advantage of it. In this case, the approach shot is abruptly uphill. As it is the only such one on the course, the golfer should appreciate the variety that it adds to the overall challenge.

Pine Needles, Golf in Pinehurst, Donald Ross, Kelly Miller

Unusual for Pine Needles, the tee ball at the fourth is level, albeit over water. The uphill approach requires at least one extra club.

Fifth hole, 220/180 yards; A sturdy one shotter across a valley, one can imagine Donald Ross walking the property for the first time and spotting this hole straightaway. Michael Fay considers it his favorite single Donald Ross one shot hole; strong praise indeed from a man who has played over two hundred Donald Ross courses. This green is of the sort normally associated with Donald Ross in Pinehurst, which is to say it is domed in shape with the high point in the middle of the green. The false front sends many a shot that was just a touch weak trickling back off the green.

Pine Needles, Golf in Pinehurst, Donald Ross, Kelly Miller

The thrilling one shot fifth plays across a valley to a well conceived green complex.

Pine Needles, Golf in Pinehurst, Donald Ross, Kelly Miller

Pine Needles enjoys an intimacy rare for a housing course. Pictured above is the fifth flag, the seventh flag higher to its right, and the back of the eighth tee box.

Sixth hole and Seventh holes,460/410 and455/405 yards, respectively; Pine Needles hosted the U.S. Women’s Open in 1995, 2001, and 2007, a rare feat to have a sport’s preeminent event so many times in such a short period. Some of this was in homage to Peggy Kirk Bell, who stays busy at the resort to this day teaching. One natural consequence is that the Pine Needles resort is – logically – closely tied to women’s golf. However, what about Pine Needles as a test for the low handicap male golfer?The sixth and seventh holes clearly dispel the notion that Pine Needles is more about charm than anything else. At over 450 yards each, they play even longer unless the crests of the hills are properly negotiated. Otherwise,the drives hit into the hill and are robbed of needed run. As is evident from the holes selected in this section, the golfer is hard pressed to stay at level fours with the two shot holes at Pine Needles, as many are in the 420 yard plus category. However, Donald Ross never saw value in just beating a golfer into the ground.His three shot holes are not long here and certainly with today’s technology, they give the golfer the opportunity to make up lost ground. This give and take with the golfer has helped make Donald Ross courses appealing for over a century.

Pine Needles, Golf in Pinehurst, Donald Ross, Kelly Miller

Some of Fought’s best work occurred off the sixth tee, though most golfer’s will never realize it. In an effort to keep Pine Needles current against advances in technology, the hillside was shaved down to accommodate this new back tee which makes the sixth now play 460 yards.

 

 

…to a well defended green with everything sloping to this deep right bunker.

 

Pine Needles, Golf in Pinehurst, Donald Ross, Kelly Miller

At 7,015 yards, Pine Needles has plenty of length yet only takes 3 1/2 hours to walk. Part of the reason? Short green to tee walks where possible, such as from the seventh green to the eighth tee as seen above.

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