Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, Southern Pines, North Carolina - a Throwback Golf Course Designed by Scottish Legend Donald Ross
The Pine Needles golf course is the design of legendary Scottish golf course architect Donald Ross. The course opened in 1927 and is situated amid the Sandhills of North Carolina, where golfers won't find any mountain vistas or sprawling lakes, just a very natural-looking course with rolling terrain and an endless number of tall, thin pine trees that can make the layout feel like a cathedral.
Pine Needles is a throwback to golf in its purest form, with a landscape of gentle sandy hills and hollows. Golfers will also find all of the architectural design elements for which Ross is known, including wide fairways with sand traps right where tee shots tend to land, along with deep, grass-faced greenside bunkers. The greens are medium in size and mostly flat, but feature steep slopes around the edges.
The course has experienced several changes over the years, including a recent renovation in 2004 by golf architect John Fought of Scottsdale, who set out to restore the course to its original glory.
A key part of that renovation was returning the greens to their original Ross design, while rebuilding their foundations to meet USGA specifications, including replanting them with modern A-1 Bent grass. Another part of the renovation included placing fairway bunkers to serve as the kind of hazard that Ross intended from the tee, while adding yardage to some of the short par-5s that had begun to play like par-4s with today's modern equipment.
The result is an 18-hole, par-71 course that now plays to more than 7,000 yards, with a USGA rating of 72.2 and a slope rating of 131 on Bermuda grass.
It's generally agreed that the par-3 holes at Pine Needles are among the best in the area and one of the course's best features. Hole No. 3 is a short par-3 that plays to only about 130 yards, but serves as one of the signature holes for the course and is the most-photographed. The hole calls for a precise tee shot over a small pond and wetlands to a putting surface that slopes sharply from back to front and is guarded by bunkers front and back.
Perhaps even better than the par-3s at Pine Needles is its collection of par-4s, which have been said to be superb. With the par-4s, Ross saved the hardest for the last, with Holes No. 15, 17 and 18 lurking to ruin what might have been a promising score. The difficulties arise as all these holes narrow significantly as they near the greens, and all call for some intimidating approach shots.
Throughout Pine Needles' near century of existence, it has received much acclaim. It hosted the U.S. Women's Open in 1996, when only Annika Sorenstam managed to post a sub-par score for the tournament. More recently, Golf Digest awarded the course 4? Stars, while Golfweek named Pine Needles to its list of America's Best 100 Top Classic Courses.
Pine Needles practice facilities include a massive teaching area with multiple teeing areas and practice traps. It's also been jokingly said that the hardest green at Pine Needles is the practice green just outside the clubhouse.
The Pine Needles Lodge also offers lodging as well as two dining options, the In-the-Rough Lounge for more casual fare, and the Crest Dining Room for breakfast and lunch buffets and dinner menu.
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