It’s a question guaranteed to stop a travelling golf writer in mid-swing. "OK, Columbus: which is your favourite destination for a golfing holiday?" It's a no-win situation and you ponder the potential gaffes in ignoring Scotland and Ireland and certain European fleshpots. You avoid these by replying: "Tough question, but if we're talking long haul I'd have to flip a coin. Hawaii, maybe, or Georgia, or Thailand." A brief pause here for effect. "No. On second thoughts I'd have to say North Carolina in general and Pinehurst in particular." That usually has the desired effect, of turning the questioner green with envy.
Most folk of a golfing disposition will have heard of Pinehurst, the cradle of American golf. It ranks alongside St Andrews as the place most want to see. They say in US golfing circles that you don't go to Pinehurst on vacation; you go there on a pilgrimage. To the fortunate such a trip is an annual event, as imperative as it is addictive. Some families have been going for generations.
Thousands flock each month to the place regarded as the home of US golf, pulse quickening as they turn into the arrow-straight driveway whose terminus is the regal Carolina Hotel, known as The Queen of the South. Colonnaded, pristine white and with a gleaming copper roof, it oozes the style and the aura that is the very essence of Pinehurst and yet it is as homely and welcoming as your granny's parlour. To many, indeed, each visit is like going home. They'll have their favourite suite and their special table in the gracious Carolina Dining Room where dinner is almost a family gathering of familiar faces and friendly staff, where a piano gently counterpoints the quiet buzz of conversation and the clink of crystal and china.
A highlight is taking afternoon tea in the lobby, in armchairs arranged in conversational clusters. Nearby is a large half-finished jig saw puzzle, a diversion for passing guests who will take a moment or two to place a piece and chat with others of similar mind. It's symptomatic of the pace of daily life, where the only need for a watch is to check on an imminent tee time.
Ah, yes, the golf! Some say that if Pinehurst had only one golf course worthy of the name the world would still beat a path there, week in and week out. As the great Bill Campbell has it: "Pinehurst is more than good golf courses. It's a state of mind." At its heart is a unique and all-pervading ambience, created by the expansive dimensions of an estate enhanced by the sweet aroma of millions of pine trees.
With 5,000 acres out there, over-crowding is no problem, even when every room is filled – the resort has two other hotels and various forms of self-catering accommodation – and upwards of 1,000 people are going about their daily activities. Some guests delight in doing not much at all; they're happy simply to saunter or soak up the ambience beside a pool or from a rocking chair on the hotel's veranda, a glass of mint julep to hand as they watch the world go about having a good time.
For the more active there's a 24 court tennis club and a croquet lawn; there's a 200 acre lake for sail boating, swimming and fishing; there's a marina with paddle boats, and there are five swimming pools dotted about, plus several miles of nature trails. There's a new $5 million spa and health and fitness centre, there are shops within the hotel and also in the charming Pinehurst village, a stroll away, where it all began back at the turn of the century.
It was in 1895 that James Tufts, a Boston pharmacist, first saw the place, then a barren site whose trees had been cleared for timber. It must have been singularly unprepossessing but he liked the dry climate and, as history was to prove, he was a visionary with dreams of a health resort where northerners might escape their bitter winters. Nearby was a halt on the Boston-Miami railway line and that was the key to success. Tufts paid a dollar an acre, called in a renowned Boston architect to replicate a New England village and named it Pinehurst. It had a small hotel (the Holly Inn, now beautifully restored), two boarding houses and cottages and a general store, all edging the village green.
Those buildings remain and though the village has grown to encompass a cluster of restaurants, a variety of shops and several small hotels it is still true to the original concept, formulated when electric lights were a novelty. Life here has a serenity that is tangible. Tufts planted thousands of pine saplings and introduced leisure attractions: horses, croquet, archery, tennis and bicycles. Pretty soon he needed more accommodation and in 1901 he opened The Carolina Hotel, the Queen of the South.
Golf came about almost by chance. Seeing guests practicing the game in a meadow, Tufts recruited a golfing friend to lay out a rudimentary nine-hole course. Then while in Boston on business he bumped into a young Scot by the name of Donald Ross, fresh from Royal Dornoch where he'd been green keeper and professional. It may have been the happiest accident in the history of sport.
Article by Barry Ward. Click the banner to complete the read.