The Pinehurst Dream 18: The best holes you can play in the Pinehurst region

Ah, Pinehurst. To serious traveling golfers, the very name conjures up images of reverence and awe, commensurate with the very best in golf. Just about every great stick, from Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan to Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, has competed and won at a Pinehurst-area course, and each has gushed praise for the virtues of golf in the Carolina Sandhills. The Pinehurst/Southern Pines/Aberdeen region is sprinkled with stellar public-access layouts, but which holes that you can play are the best of the best in Pinehurst? We compiled a blue-ribbon panel of architects, club champions and design scholars, all with deep familiarity with golf in and around Pinehurst and had them handpick the best in show. The result is the Pinehurst Dream 18. 

No. 1 

Talamore Golf Resort, Southern Pines
1st hole, par 5, 623 yards

The most memorable, and perhaps most daunting opener in town is this gargantuan three-shotter from architect Rees Jones. Mature pines, wetlands that intrude into the fairway on the right, a stout bunker front-right of the green and a large green framed by mounds place a premium on accuracy, yet its massive length means you better be ready to smash away right from the opening bell.   

No. 2

Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, Southern Pines
2nd hole, par 4, 481 yards

Donald Ross’ 1927 masterpiece has hosted three U.S. Women’s Opens, won by Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and Cristie Kerr, all of whom faced a demanding early-round test at the second. Its shot value recently restored by architect John Fought, this sturdy par 4 calls for a drive to a plateau, followed by a well-gauged downhill approach to a green that slopes beguilingly away from the player.  

No. 3

Southern Pines Country Club, Southern Pines
3rd hole, par 3, 198 yards

Formerly owned by the Elks Club, this Donald Ross original bares its antlers at the third. From an elevated tee, it’s easy to see what’s ahead—a healthy long iron to a well-bunkered green that slopes sharply from back to front. It’s tough to chase a ball to a back pin, with a fear of airmailing the green giving pause. Yet a front hole is cut in the narrowest portion of the green. Find the middle of the putting surface and you still face a tough downhill putt. Simple in plan, stupendous in execution.

No. 4

Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club, Southern Pines
4th hole, par 4, 330 yards

A unanimous selection by our panel, this mighty-mite bears the architectural footprint of Donald Ross in 1921, but not until Kyle Franz’ 2013 restoration did its star truly shine. The ideal layup drive to a left-to-right tilting fairway will hug the sandy hazard on the left, which affords a great angle and look into the green. A precise approach is a must, as the shallow, plateau target slopes away back-right, so any indifferent wedge will spin off the green. It’s drivable, but miss in the wrong place and face 5 or worse.

No. 5

Pinehurst Resort (No. 2), Pinehurst
5th hole, par 4/5, 481/576 yards

As one of our panelists put it, “one of the top five holes in the world—as a par-4. Now it’s an ordinary par-5.” A par 4 for the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Opens and a par 5 for the 2014 U.S. Open, either way, it’s memorable. A right-to-left fairway tilt suggests keeping the drive up the right side, but too far right and the ball will be well above your feet for the long, demanding second. The same vicious tilt at the throat of the green will repel all but the most skillfully judged approaches.

No. 6

Dormie Club, West End
4th hole, par 4, 434 yards

The mid-length 2010 Coore-Crenshaw creation features an extra-wide, left-to-right tilting fairway that contains a speed slot down the left side. Find it with your crisply drawing drive and you’ll gain an extra 40 yards, a la Augusta National’s par-4 10th, along with a preferred angle into the strategically bunkered green. The downhill approach is enhanced by a lake behind the green and by the presence of clever contours on and around the putting surface.

No. 7

Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club, Southern Pines
3rd hole, par 3, 145 yards

Low-handicap ball-strikers might choose Pine Needles’ strong 218-yard 5th as the best par 3 on the property, but the most memorable is the petite downhill 3rd. One of Donald Ross’s prettiest holes asks for a precise short-iron over a lake to a back-to-front sloping, boldly bunkered green that’s backdropped by towering pines and bursts of colorful dogwoods and flowers.   

No. 8

Pinehurst Resort (No. 9), Pinehurst
10th hole, par 5, 514 yards

Formerly known as Pinehurst National, then simply National, a private, 1988 Jack Nicklaus design, this rugged, gorgeous layout was welcomed into the Pinehurst resort family several years back, opening up some unforgettable holes to outside play. Among them is this dogleg-right, risk/reward par 5 that tempts with a wide fairway and gettable green, but which also sports a scorecard-wrecking lake that bisects the fairway and menaces the green in front and to the right.   

No. 9

Mid Pines Inn & Club, Southern Pines
18th hole, par 4, 411 yards

Are there stronger holes than the closer at this superbly restored Donald Ross design? Sure. Holes 3, 12, 16 and 17 come to mind. None however, will linger longer than our pick here. A controlled draw is the preferred tee shot to a fairway framed by tall pines, formal bunkers and sandy scrub. What follows is an approach to a back-to-front sloping green backdropped by the handsome, Georgian-style Mid Pines Inn. It’s the grandest stage in Pinehurst.

No. 10

Pinehurst Resort (No. 1), Pinehurst
13th hole, par 4, 414 yards

For the best glimpse of what golf looked like when it began here in the 19th century, check out the current 13th on No. 1, whose routing and fairway dates to the late 1890s—just prior to Ross’s arrival in Pinehurst. Early on, it played as the 317-yard 12th, and for decades, existed on the same terrain, with the same tee shot carry over Buchanan’s Branch. Following several course design tweaks, it plays today as the 13th. Favor the left-center of the fairway for the best look at the green.  

No. 11

Mid South Club, Southern Pines
11th hole, par 3, 175 yards

If the club’s par-3 6th is considered the signature hole, the 11th is the most distinctive. Crafted by Arnold Palmer in 1993, this daring one-shotter features tee boxes on the left edge of the forest and more on the right side, nearly 90 degrees apart. Wherever the tees markers are set that day, the play is a forced carry over gigantic sand sprawls and native scrub to a diamond-shaped green infused with a false front that will repel any timid effort.

No. 12

Longleaf Golf and Family Club, Southern Pines
12th hole, par 4, 423 yards

Architect Dan Maples transformed this former horse-training farm into a championship course in 1988. In 2015, U.S. Kids Golf Academy purchased it and retrofitted it with tee markers for all ages and abilities. Highly skilled adults will definitely warm to the 12th, which architect-panelist Richard Mandell praised as a “deceptively long-playing par 4 with great bunker placement into the rising ground. It’s especially memorable because of its use of sentinel longleaf pines and the horse track that surrounds the hole.”

No. 13

Tobacco Road, Sanford
13th hole, par 5, 573 yards

Mike Strantz was a design genius who left us far too early. Fortunately, he also left us exciting, option-filled and occasionally confusing holes, such as this brilliant par 5 that swings hard to the right on the second shot. One panelist said, “I love this double-dogleg five with a green nestled between two bluffs. There is only one spot where you can see the putting surface with your third shot clearly enough. Anything else is all about feel.” 

No. 14

Pinehurst (No. 8), Pinehurst
14th hole, par 4, 404 yards

Long overshadowed by its major-worthy sibling, No. 2, Tom Fazio’s No. 8 holds its own with its blend of modern and classic stylings, over terrain that was once the Pinehurst Resort Gun Club, which employed Annie Oakley as an instructor. Straight shooting will help at the 14th, a Cape-style hole that doglegs left around a large lake. The key is the “bite-off-as-much-as-you-can-chew” tee shot, where the more you risk with a long drive close to the lake edge, the easier your approach.

No. 15

Legacy Golf Links, Aberdeen
18th hole, par 4, 459 yards

Home to the 2000 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, where Michelle Wie became the youngest-ever competitor at age 10, this Jack Nicklaus II design concludes with one of the region’s most spectacular holes. A short carry over water leads to a heaving, tree-framed fairway that eventually bends to the right, revealing a stunning approach over a large lake shored up by a rock wall. A shallow green awaits, with a bunker long-right and a bail-out short left.

No. 16

Pinehurst (No. 7), Pinehurst
16th hole, par 3, 197 yards

Some would argue that the 16th isn’t even the best par 3 on the back nine of this 1986 Rees Jones creation, opting instead for the 13th. Our choice, however is for this terrific test that sports sandy fairway that explodes in swirls of sandy fingers, all of which must be carried to reach the green. To the sides are tree-covered tiny islands in the sand- and scrub-filled wasteland. This is big, bold golf at its finest. 

No. 17

Dormie Club, West End
17th hole, par 5, 497 yards

Rare indeed is the exciting risk/reward uphill hole, but this Coore/Crenshaw-designed beauty is just that. Following a straightforward drive, the bunker-bracketed fairway thrusts uphill and to the left, where your choice awaits: Fly the ball over a massive, Pine Valley-like sand-and-scrub hazard to a green atop a steep slope, or else lay up. Either way, you’ll relish the achievement of reaching the green.

No. 18

Pinehurst (No. 2), Pinehurst
18th hole, par 4, 451 yards

Perhaps it’s not Pinehurst’s most spectacular hole, but the 18th on No. 2 is surely its most iconic. Leave your drive short of the fairway crest and you’re facing a long, blind approach. Carry to the top and a short iron awaits—as do superbly placed bunkers and a cleverly contoured green, making for tough up-and-downs. Payne Stewart did just that, in his 1999 U.S. Open-clinching win. His fist-pump is immortalized in bronze to the back-left of the green—the perfect touch to the classic finish on the Pinehurst Dream 18. 

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