The must-play course at Pinehurst Resort is hidden this week

Pros warm up on the range (a.k.a. The Cradle) at Pinehurst Resort on Tuesday.

Pros warm up on the range (a.k.a. The Cradle) at Pinehurst Resort on Tuesday.

Josh Berhow

PINEHURST, N.C. — Best is subjective. So is most fun and most thrilling. But we can say, with confidence, that the one must-play course at Pinehurst Resort is hiding in plain sight this U.S. Open week.

With the newly unveiled Tom-Doak designed Pinehurst No. 10, there are now 10 (Ten!) 18-hole courses on this sprawling property. And while the iconic Donald Ross-designed No. 2 will host this week’s championship, there’s a ton of variety in the rest, including No. 4, which was redesigned by Gil Hanse and is one of the other favorites here. But the course you need on your radar, the one you have to play if you ever visit this quintessential southern getaway, is actually this week’s driving range.

The Cradle short course, which was also designed by Hanse, debuted in 2017, as did the nearby Thistle Dhu, the 75,000-square foot 18-hole putting green that’s four times larger than the one it replaced. The Cradle is nine holes and plays to just 789 yards. Holes range from 56 to 127 yards, and it’s all laid out over the same sandy soil that Dr. Leroy Culver used to create the resort’s first nine holes back in 1898.

Pinehurst Cradle
A view of The Cradle, which opened in 2017. Courtesy Pinehurst

But what makes The Cradle stand out is its laid-back atmosphere. On a typical day here, music plays over loudspeakers. You can merge groups to go from four to eight to 12. The greens are dynamic and fun — the Punchbowl 3rd is a personal favorite — and there’s even a grab-and-go stop for snacks and drinks you’ll stumble upon, the Cradle Crossing, which replaced the Pinecone, a wooden barcart on wheels.

The Cradle Crossing also boasts a TV and firepit complete with Adirondack chairs and a sitting area. Oh, and we forgot the best part: it’s just 50 bucks to play The Cradle but that’s good for the entire day. Kids under 17 are free if playing with an adult (and only $15 without an adult).

Although this week’s range sitting atop The Cradle is no oversight. In fact, it was designed this way. The north side of The Cradle is long, elevated and flat, which is perfect for viewing and/or corporate or resort functions that need tents or catering, etc. But that’s also ideal for a driving range of a pro golf tournament, like it is this week. Now, instead of nine unique golf holes for hackers to play, pros have nine different targets to choose from when going through their bag. A fence at the end — some 340 yards away — keeps the long balls at bay.

On Tuesday, Hideki Matsuyama chipped balls onto the 9th green, while Viktor Hovland blasted irons to the 7th and 8th greens. Behind them, hundreds of spectators looked on. The world’s best players were merely loosening up. The fans watching were salivating over a chance to play those rollicking, hidden nine holes.

Josh Berhow Editor

As’s managing editor, Berhow handles the day-to-day and long-term planning of one of the sport’s most-read news and service websites. He spends most of his days writing, editing, planning and wondering if he’ll ever break 80. Before joining in 2015, he worked at newspapers in Minnesota and Iowa. A graduate of Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minn., he resides in the Twin Cities with his wife and two kids. You can reach him at