Southern Pines Golf Club
Green Keeper: Scott Sorget
Classic courses have a way of making many modern courses appear labored and overshaped to the point of silliness, especially when the courses are side by side for ease of comparison.
Take the Pinehurst area. Courses by Arnold Palmer and Rees Jones feature plenty of length, mounding galore, llamas (!), and man-made lakes lined by stone. As a tribute to Donald Ross, Tom Fazio’s revision of Pinehurst No. 4 has 150 plus pot bunkers, though Donald Ross himself never built one. Long green to tee hikes are present at many of the Pinehurst area courses built since Donald Ross‘s death, mostly due to the fact that theyare real estate courses.
Then consider the Southern Pines Golf Club which is part of the Elk’s Club. Opened as a nine holer in 1906 (golfers at the time played a par three hole from a tee left of today’s fourth green down to near today’s fifteenth tee, making for a nine hole loop), Donald Ross extended it to eighteen holes in the early 1920s. The course reached its full potential when Donald Ross‘s sand greens were converted to grass by Angus Maples in the late 1930s.
From that time on, the unending appeal of the course has been in the succession of one fine hole after another, which is the direct result of Donald Ross‘s elegant routing of the Azalea/Bluebird nines over the rolling, sandy terrain. Neither length nor water are primary factors nor is there anything forced or contrived about the holes or hazards. Rather, it is how Donald Ross used the topography that provides the playing quality to so many of the holes. Every hole features at least twenty feet of elevation change and yet the golfer never complains of hilliness. As at Beverly Country Club, a famously well routed Donald Ross course, the golfer keeps expecting to find an ordinary or indifferent hole but instead only encounters one enticing shot after another, the kind that makes you play golf until dark.
Typical of a Golden Age course, as the player approaches the greens, the challenge steps up several notches. Many of the greens occupy the high point of the hole. In such cases, Donald Ross took advantage of the opportunity to create deep greenside bunkers, making recovery shots difficult. Such examples are found at the second, seventh, tenth, fourteenth,sixteenth and eighteenth greens.
The classic Donald Ross give and take is much in evidence throughout the round with the stretch from the second through the sixth being a case in point. The second is a reachable par five to a severe green and while many strong golfers get near the green in two, getting down in two is another matter. This par 4 1/2 hole is followed by a pair of tough holes but then comes another three shotter that can be reached in two if the golfer can turn his drive from right to left and have it bound down the hill. The ‘give’ of this potential birdie hole is followed by Donald Ross‘s ‘take’ at the next, which is the longest two shotter on the course at 425 yards. And so it goes for the rest of the round, with the golfer given several opportunities to score well while still always being challenged.
Golf is supposed to be a fun and engaging sport to play and that is exactly what the golfer finds here during his round, as we see below.
Holes to Note
First hole, 360 yards; An appealing opener, with everything laid out below for the golfer to see, as the hole tumbles downhill. The green rises in the back right third and the effect is to create tough but interesting hole locations. As good as this hole is today, apparently it once featured one of Donald Ross‘s most interesting greens: Any ball hit on the right third was almost assured of being gathered into a right greenside bunker, either that or rolling well back into the fairway. Why the original Donald Ross green complexes were modified remains a mystery to the author but John LaFoy was called in twice, in 1988 and again almost a decade later. LaFoy deserves credit for such vexing green complexes as the second and eighth of today but conversely, he is responsible for the clumsy use of mounds that are poorly integrated into their surrounds as at the sixth and thirteenth.
Second hole, 495 yards; Southern Pines enjoys a strong local following in part because so many of its holes are fun to play with this one being a prime example. A big drive over the crest of the hill brings the green within reach in two shots but the remaining challenge is two fold. First, the tee ball is guaranteed to finish on a downslope while the elevated green is located a top the far hill. Putting a clean hit on a ball from a downslope is always tricky and anything less than perfect is likely to end up in one of the two deep greenside bunkers. The second challenge is that the green is the most heavily contoured on the course with a three foot deep bowl in its front giving way to shallow wings on either side. The author has played the hole with many a fine golfer, none being better than David Eger. His tale was commonplace: Just off the green in two but unable to get down in two for a birdie. Though a birdie may prove elusive today, the golfer looks forward to another crack at the hole tomorrow.
Third hole, 195 yards; In regards to visibility, a game at Southern Pines offers the best of both worlds. Some holes like the second (as we saw), the fifth, sixth and thirteenth offer blind drives over crests of hills. Other holes, in particular its set of par threes, offer well defined targets where it is clear what the golfer must do. In this case, the golfer standing on the elevated tee soaks in the view of the entire putting surface. After a few rounds, it becomes evident that the object is to stay below the day’s hole location as the this green features some of the most pronounced back to front tilt of any on the course. Though the task is straightforward, judging and executing a shot of this length is not. This one of the more respected holes in Moore County.
Fourth hole, 385 yards; Measuring just under 6,300 yards from the back markers, some golfers mistakenly think they will have an easy day of things. When you combine the number of times that drives hit into the side of hills (and thus kill any significant bounce forward) plus the number of overtly uphill approach shots, Southern Pines plays longer than the card suggests.
Fifth hole, 535 yards; Southern Pines enjoys great topography but that natural advantage would have been wasted if Donald Ross had not captured the rolling nature of the property in all sorts of different ways and manners. Here at the fifth, the fairway abruptly falls thirty feet downhill in the 245 yard range from the tee, just where the hole bends slightly to the left. Good club golfers delight in trying to hit a draw and have their tee ball get a big kick forward off the downslope. If successful, the green is in reach in two.
Seventh hole, 165 yards; This hole has bee greatly improved ever since Avestra took over the management and day to day running of the golf course in 2007 from the Elk’s Club. Old photos from Donald Ross‘s day show a raw, rugged one shotter that played over the rim of a sandy bowl toa green on the far side. As with too many other clubs in the 1980s, the Elks at Southern Pines made the mistake of trying to ‘Augusta-fy’ the course. Such efforts included hiding the natural sandy character of this hole underneath Bermuda grass. In addition, three dogwood trees were planted in the bottom of what had been a sandy pit. Mercifully, Averstra has restored some of the rugged character to this hole.