Last week I made the shortest walk yet in my “Random Walks” sojourn—just 789 yards of Bermuda turf on a sand base just outside the south entrance of the clubhouse at Pinehurst.
“We’ve got over 60,000 yards of golf at Pinehurst, and it’s amazing that these 789 yards are creating such a stir,” says Tom Pashley, president of Pinehurst Resort & Country Club.
It’s the new “short course” at Pinehurst, dubbed The Cradle as it’s positioned on ground where in 1898 some of the first crude holes were routed in what was to become known as the “Cradle of American Golf” and/or “The St. Andrews of American Golf.” Pinehurst certainly has the deepest historical roots of any American golf resort, and Pashley, owner Bob Dedman Jr. and their lieutenants are focused today on burnishing and celebrating that past while being nimble enough to connect with modern golfers.
“We love our black-and-whites,” Pashley says of the vintage images displayed throughout the resort. “They’re what distinguishes us. They make us unique. Some places try to manufacture a feeling of history. Pinehurst’s is authentic.
“At the same time, we cannot exist in a time capsule. Our color pictures are important as well. We have to remain relevant today. We’ve got to be in the conversation about the top golf destinations in the country—not because of what we were, but what we are and what we’re going to be.”
Ergo the resort’s many steps over the last few years to spiff up the core of the golf experience—the clubhouse that houses five golf courses, dining facilities, the practice range and the Pinehurst
The first domino to fall was the successful conversion in 2010-11 of the famed No. 2 course from a burnished and monochromatic green presentation to a rough-hewn and jagged-edge template more in keeping with Ross’s original vision and his memories of growing up in the Scottish seaside village of Dornoch. Then followed a new starter’s hut on the first tee built as a replica of the one at St. Andrews and an expansive putting course called Thistle Dhu, also patterned after the Himalayas course at St. Andrews. The resort in the fall of 2016 turned a retail shop overlooking the 18th green into a lively restaurant and veranda bar called “The Deuce”—complete with lots of those vintage photos and an appetizer featuring gourmet tater tots and candied bacon.
Now comes The Cradle.
Pinehurst officials removed the first holes of courses No. 3 and 5 and reconfigured them within the existing routings on the west side of Hwy. 5 and gave that 10-acre parcel to architect Gil Hanse and partner Jim Wagner. They started work in early June and over the summer sculpted nine holes with shots ranging from 56 to 127 yards long. The course opened in late September.
“The theme of this course is fun,” says Pashley. “Fun is undefeated. Fun knows no ages, no genders, no level of playing ability. Anyone can come out here with a few clubs and a ball and have some fun.”
Hanse applauded the first two aces on The Cradle—one from a 14-year-old, the other from an 84-year-old.
“That encapsulates exactly what we were hoping for,” says Hanse, who has just begun a redesign of the No. 4 course at Pinehurst. “We have built a playground where kids and elders can enjoy the game—they can hoot and holler and high-five all they want. It’s a relaxed and comfortable feeling.
“We all remember what brought us into golf in the first place—to hit it hard and laugh and giggle. No one at the beginning sweats over a three-foot putt. Hopefully, we can connect with that innocent, fun part of the game.”
The expedition around The Cradle actually begins when you leave the clubhouse and take three steps down on the weather-beaten bricks, the same ones where Ben Hogan and Harvie Ward stood over the last century to receive championship trophies, the white columns framing the photos in the background. From there you carry a couple of wedges, a putter and a golf ball to a small starter’s hut, where you’re loaned a canvas Sunday bag with leather and tartan trim in which to carry your clubs. It’s fifty bucks to play all day; your kids seventeen and under are free.
“It’s all right out the front door, so it sets a tone of the game truly being enjoyed,” Hanse says.
You hit a half-wedge on some holes. It’s a three-quarters shot on others. It’s a full pitching wedge on the ninth hole to a wide, shallow green. Some of the greens are designed to funnel the ball to certain hole locations; others punish an approach that lands three feet above the hole and reward one stuck six feet below it. You have to fly the ball and stick it to a front-right pin on the second hole; you can play a run-up shot to most any pin on the sixth.
“I think The Cradle will be a great benefit to players’ short games,” adds Pashley, who carries a low single-digit handicap. “This course will help them feel how far a 60-yard shot is versus 85 versus 105. Most of us don’t practice those shots often enough and struggle with the feel required to hit shorter distances.”
Next door, Hanse and Pinehurst’s maintenance staff took the existing putting green and Thistle Dhu course and reconfigured them into a 75,000 square foot odyssey of putting—part of the green designed into eighteen holes that wind their way from near the clubhouse steps, out a hundred yards amid an array of humps and mounds and valleys, then return home, just like a links course. The Putter Boy statue stands sentinel in the middle of the putting complex.
“I love how you see the clubhouse the entire time you’re out here,” says Director of Golf Ben Bridgers. “It’s sort of like Shinnecock in that regard.”
My introduction to The Cradle comprised two walks around the course in early October, with predictable highs and lows—my sand wedge on the third hole found the bottom of the cup—Hooray!—and my pitching wedge shot on the eighth hole kissed up against the hosel—Ouch!
I was playing with a handful of writers, broadcasters and bloggers, some local, some from afar. No one took themselves too seriously. One played barefoot. Hanse was amused that in the staid game of golf, an outing at The Cradle could be serenaded with the strains from alternative rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers and Cage the Elephant from a temporary sound system.
“The Cradle and Thistle Dhu comprise a kind of small-ball paradise,” said Jaime Diaz of Golf World.
“It’s small, but it packs a beautiful punch,” added Ashley Mayo of Golf Digest.
Short walk, easy carry, round and round and round. What’s not to like?
Lee Pace is searching out great walks in Carolinas golf and the interesting people, customs and clubs attendant to the old world elements of the game. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.