Editor’s Note: The author succumbed to the wretched state of his health, combined with a previously-acquired illness and got a bit behind. This is Tuesday’s installment. The brief trip across Midland road was our grace. While we would have like to complete all the open holes at MidPines, we knew that the frost delay rendered that an impossible feat. The somber mood of the group, thanks to reality’s intrusion, picked up when we arrived at Pine Needles. The feeling of a border being crossed was silently shared by the foursome as we switched cart partners and let fly uphill toward the first fairway at yet another Donald Ross golf course.
Given the volume of accessible courses in the sandhills (only two are private), one might play fifteen courses and never touch a Donald Ross design. While we neither encourage nor discourage this approach, we prod folks toward playing at least one Ross on every trip through the Pinehurst area. The eponymous resort has four Ross courses (numbers 1 to 4) which, combined with MidPines, Pine Needles and Southern Pines, brings the area to a baker’s half-dozen of the master’s layouts. Pine Needles has the distinction of being the only course in the region to host a United States women’s open golf championship. That will change next year, when both 2014 Open championships are played (in consecutive weeks, might I add) at Pinehurst #2. There was a fairway width at Pine Needles that was missing at the other Ross courses, a spaciousness that perhaps revealed a need to accommodate galleries, grandstands and other trimmings of televised, major-championship golf.
The putting greens at Pine Needles differed from those across the road. While there was roiling, oceanic nature to the smooths at MidPines (perhaps due to not being the original Donald Ross greens), the surfaces at Pine Needles were less turbulent, with subtler turning points. In the morning round, the fear that the ball (and perhaps the putter himself) might tumble over an edge was never allayed; in the afternoon, the fear never appeared. This notion should not be construed to indict the greens at Needles as ineffective. The grander number of pin locations, due to the size of the greens, ensures that a round of putts at Pine Needles will be as challenging as the one across the street, just in a dissimilar way.
There is a marvelous section of the course, beginning with the tenth hole, that occupies what might be described as a bowl at a ski resort. Fairways rise and fall recklessly, bunkers of size and distinction make a varied yet consistent appearance, and holes endear themselves to the golfer. It is quite a challenge to maintain the crescendo through to the finish, so the course eases back a bit over the closing four holes. Something about Ross, though: he loved his closing, one-shot holes and the 16th at Pine Needles is quite the par three. The 18th, a mighty par four down the North Carolina equivalent of a ski run, is a capital finish.