Pinehurst’s new short course, The Cradle, is 789 yards of pure unadulterated fun

PINEHURST, N.C. — The famed Pinehurst Resort often still refers to itself as the The Cradle of American Golf. Now, the century-old resort is going back to its golfing roots with The Cradle short course, a tribute to its founder and considerable golfing history.

A Gil Hanse design that debuted earlier this month, The Cradle occupies land where resort founder James Walker Tufts had the first holes built by a local designer more than a century ago. The nine-holer adds up to all of 789 yards, with yardages ranging from 56 to a meaty 127. Scruffy bunkering, wire grass and saucer-like greens, the same features that test golfers on Pinehurst’s famed No. 2 course, ensure the layout is no pushover, yet it’s still wholly playable for all abilities and ages.

In fact, two holes-in-one were made in the opening days—one by a teenager, another by a player in his 80s.

“Our goal wasn’t shot values or extensive routing, but just creating a fun course, and I think we did that,” said Hanse, who designed the course with his partner Jim Wagner, and who will now begin a year-long redesign on Pinehurst’s No. 4. “To work at the same facility as (architects) Donald Ross, Tom Fazio, Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore and so many others was a great pleasure.”

Ross, who designed the No. 2 course and many others in the area and lived here for nearly 40 years, is at least partially responsible for The Cradle’s Pinehurst location.

Shortly after Tufts hired Ross to oversee the golf construction at Pinehurst, Ross ordered the original holes, where The Cradle now sits, to be plowed, saying it was not worthy of a championship design. That meant the hilly 10-acre plot was available for Hanse and his crew. They arrived to create something the golf resort lacked, another chance to soak up the green grass pleasures of the iconic North Carolina Sandhills property.

The opening hole might be the simplest, with a downhill shot of about 100 yards, while the 2nd is shorter still and defends with a tricky green. The 3rd, Hanse’s personal favorite, plays uphill to a punchbowl green (and was the site of the course’s first ace). The good times extend beyond just the chance to hit flip wedges off the tee. Larger groups are allowed to play together (as long as they don’t hold up play), and rounds can be played in about an hour. The course also offers several options for gaming. Three-club limit? Gap wedge and a putter? Slug a brew after making a 2? Options are plentiful.

“This will be here as a testament to what can be from a fun standpoint,” Hanse said. “You want creativity — to try to inspire people. We all started this game and it was sort of a lot of hit-and-giggle, have a good time, go out, play the game, and then as you get better and better it gets more serious and more frustrating. Part of what we love about this game of golf is that it is maddening, and you are always striving to be better and striving for perfection, but here hopefully we can put all of that aside, and it really is just about going out there and having fun and getting back to the roots of how we started to play this game.”

The resort plans to park a wood-paneled vintage drink cart at a well-traveled area of the course — near the 3rd green, 4th tee, 8th green and 9th tee — where beverages of all varieties and potency will be available. Green fees are $50 for resort guests and include all-day play (and a nifty carry bag, courtesy of Seamus Golf). Kids 17 and under play for free when with an adult.

At a media event last week the resort also showed off its newly remodeled Thistle Dhu putting green, a heaving, 75,000-square-foot surface adjacent to The Cradle. It first opened in 2012, but was recently expanded and is now four-times bigger than the original. It boasts an 18-hole putting course that’s open to the public, and in the center of the green stands the iconic Putter Boy statue.

That fun thing? Mission accomplished. 

Josh Berhow contributed to this story.

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