Pinehurst Hits the Jackpot (Again)
With Tom Doak as the designer, the storied resort is adding a 10th course on 900 picturesque acres just four miles from its hub
By Matt Ginella
Pinehurst Resort in the sandhills of North Carolina, what is often referred to as “The Cradle of American Golf,” is adding a 10th course. And for the first time, this one will be a Tom Doak design.
“This was a decision inspired by an overwhelming demand for more golf,” said Tom Pashley, who has been working at the resort for almost 30 years and has served as the president since 2014.
Ever since Pashley came on board, Pinehurst has been restoring, revamping and enhancing its prestigious portfolio of golf and lodging: most notably, the iconic Carolina Hotel, a fortress of Southern charm that is famous for its breakfast buffet, and No. 2, the Donald Ross original (1907) that Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw restored in 2011.
No. 2 has been the host to three U.S. Opens since 1999, and the USGA now calls Pinehurst a second home. The association recently announced No. 2 will get five more men’s major championships over the next 25 years. And just like that, No. 2 has become to the U.S. Open what the Old Course is to the Open Championship.
Ever since the Dedman family bought it from the banks in 1984, Pinehurst has been on a steady path to prominence. First, under the leadership of Robert H. Dedman Sr., and now his son, Bob Jr. The one-time owners of ClubCorp sold off 170 golf clubs and three resorts for $1.8 billion in 2006. But they didn’t let go of Pinehurst.
And they have been relentless in their pursuit to enhance the vast property. A piece of pine straw doesn’t hit the ground without close inspection.
As for the golf, the last bit of big news came when Gil Hanse was hired to reimagine the front porch with The Cradle, a 789-yard 9-hole par-3 course in 2017. A year later he redesigned No. 4.
But one question never generated a definitive answer from Pinehurst leadership: “What are you guys going to do with The Pit?”
What they did with the deserted routing—an original Dan Maples design built in 1985, about four miles from the center of activity—was wait. And wait some more. They were busy focusing on getting the main hubs of Pinehurst golf and activity in order. There’s a fairly new back-porch experience, which overlooks No. 2’s 18th green. A brewery that serves barbeque was added. Donald Ross’s original house was bought and restored. The Manor Inn, which is almost 100 years old, was gutted and restored. The list goes on, and yet every project has been completed with a deft touch, maintaining the prestigious feel of the property while also lowering the average age of visitors and hipping-up the general vibe. A little less rocking chair on the porches, a little more rock music on the par-3 course. The only real misstep involved the location of the original putting course, Thistle Dhu, which was later moved closer to the clubhouse.
As for the Aberdeen land, the site of the 10th course, Pashley and Dedman have spent the last few years hosting architects, professional land planners and other prominent members of the golf industry, listening to their thoughts and ideas. Imagine 900 acres of sandy land, sprinkle in several small lakes and streams, dramatic elevation changes, with nothing but views of, well, nothing.
Which is why Dedman, 65, and Pashley, 53, weren’t in a rush. Until now.
“I’m obviously excited,” Pashley said, “but this means a lot to Bob. He knows that land better than anyone. Almost every time he has been here in the last five years, he’s out there, walking around, dreaming about the possibilities.”
Those possibilities seem endless.
I was privy to one of those Pashley-led tours of Aberdeen. It was about a year ago. We drove around on a small sand cruiser and walked portions of the original Pit routing, which was almost entirely overgrown by native shrubbery. You could barely make out some tee boxes, and you could see clearings that once were fairways and greens. There was significant growth in what once were bunkers.
Coore and Crenshaw came on board in 2012 with a proposed routing of their own, but that is as far as the project got. They are busy now with projects in St. Lucia, Florida, Colorado, Montana and the Bahamas. And Doak had a window in his busy schedule that accommodated Pinehurst’s sense of urgency.
“I actually can’t tell you what he’s going to build,” Pashley said. “Not yet. But he continues to reference the word ‘fun,’ which is a good thing.”
Pashley does know this much: The new addition isn’t going to be a “championship course,” and it will be “different” than anything else at Pinehurst. He knows that Doak has named Angela Moser as his lead design associate on the project.
Moser has worked with Gil Hanse restoring Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course and helped him build Ohoopee Match Club in Georgia, maybe his best original work. And she worked with Doak at St. Patrick’s in Ireland, which is one of my favorite new courses that I’ve played in the last several years.
“What’s happening around our main clubhouse has become golf’s national park,” Pashley said. “It’s a wonderful celebration of activity. It’s busy. But what will happen at Aberdeen will be a more quiet and immersive experience.”
It sounds like it will offer an atmosphere more conducive to buddies trips or small groups, featuring cottages and at least one short course, fire pits, and most likely another 18-hole course, which could be the original Coore and Crenshaw routing, or a variation of it.
“The site is topographically distinct and drastically different from anywhere in Pinehurst,” Doak said in the press release announcing the project. “It’s bigger, bolder and more dramatic. There’s about 75 feet of elevation change, and we’ll work our way up to it around the mid-point of the layout. You’ll have expansive views from this apex over the rest of the course. It will be an unforgettable experience for golfers.”
Not to mention, the architect. It’s a designer’s wildest dream to get a chance to offer up an original addition to a place like Pinehurst on land like Aberdeen. But Tom Doak? A competitive historian with a healthy ego and a run of success stories already on his resume?
“The number one thing that excited us about the project is working with the beautiful sand that’s native to this region,” Doak said. “The sand, the wiregrass, the bluestem grass, and other native grasses that grow around the Sandhills create a fabulous texture for golf. It’s something most places just don’t have.”
He would know. Doak has built two courses for Mike Keiser at Bandon Dunes in Oregon: Pacific Dunes and Old Macdonald. He has built two for Keiser’s sons at Sand Valley in Wisconsin: the Lido Course and Sedge Valley. He built one at Barnbougle in Tasmania. He is in various phases of construction on two courses at Tara Iti in New Zealand. One at Streamsong in Florida. He built The Loop, the reversible routing at Forest Dunes in Michigan. Ballyneal in Colorado. Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand. And so many more.
In the last 30 years, Doak has established himself as one of the preeminent architects in this modern era of design, in which there continues to be inspiration from the variety, strategy, adventure and minimalism of the Golden Age. Doak has helped lead the way by incorporating what he considers the best of the past. And when he does that at Pinehurst, Aberdeen will be the anchor to a down-the-street destination built within one of America’s greatest golf resorts.
“We’ve always just edited Pinehurst,” Pashley said. “But this is the first time it feels like we get to be creators. We’re full-throttle. I can’t wait.”
Doak will break ground later this month. Pashley says they hope to have grass growing by the end of the summer or early fall, with a soft opening in the spring of 2024. That would coincide with the lead-up to another men’s U.S. Open in June.
No decisions have been made about the name, whether it will be public or a hybrid of private with limited outside play.
“Pinehurst needs more golf,” Pashley said. “Sooner than we imagined. Aberdeen allows us to grow.”
As for Bill Coore? Pashley says he reached out and let him know that Doak would be getting started, but that Doak’s design would in no way interfere with Coore’s routing.
“Bill said to me, ‘If you hired Tom and Angela to work on that site, you hit the jackpot,’” Pashley added.
Listen closely. Can you hear it? That’s the ringing of a slot machine. Pinehurst has won again.