This is the first in a series, a back nine of thoughts cultivated from a recent fall golf trip to the Pinehurst and Southern Pines areas of North Carolina. What started as bullet points grew into substantial realizations. I hope you enjoy reading them.
The happiest place in golf is the south porch at Pinehurst resort clubhouse, overlooking the The Cradle short course and the Thistle Dhu putting course.
From a cushy couch seat or an armed chair under a patio table umbrella, one can take in the vast swath of unfiltered joy emanating from both courses, with incredible views of the rising or setting sun adding dramatic flair to the scene. It’s where golfers are their best versions of themselves, with a club or two, a ball, and a hole. No pretense, no formality, just camaraderie and friendly competition, with the emphasis on the friendly part.
There are other spots where mass gatherings of golfers and enthusiastic onlookers are possible: around the 18th green at the Old Course comes to mind; the porch at Sweetens Cove; maybe even the back patio at Pebble Beach. But nowhere else do so many active amateur participants and spectators converge in congress with everyone in almost uniformly good spirits and common purpose.
People sitting on the porch enjoying a cocktail on one of those dusty, beautifully hued evenings, where the last few hours of golden sunlight fall gently upon the rumpled contours of Thistle Dhu and turn each acre of The Cradle into a vision worthy of a postcard, are content to simply take in the scene before them. Lines form for both the Red and the Green courses at Thistle Dhu, as unfinished wagers from earlier in the day are decided, along with a few new ones within the round. Attention occasionally turns to The Cradle, where groups as small as two and as large as six or eight amble about, with the occasional excited utterance of a near miss or a groan at a terrible attempt, echoing from the porch to the Pinehurst No 1 starter hut and back.
These feelings are completely justified, too. I’ve not played all of the new short courses that are now so in vogue at serious golf destinations , but of the ones I have played, The Cradle is at the head of the class. The variety of shots available to golfers in such a short collection of holes is the hook that draws golfers back to those same 789 yards, time and again. The course is a little bit traditional par three, a little bit pitch-and-putt, and a little bit crazy putting course, all wrapped up into one experience. Practically perfect at an astonishingly reasonable $50 green fee (which entitles you to two trips around the nine-hole course, if you can get two tee times).
Thistle Dhu is the default gathering place for the mass of humanity that is waiting to play a Pinehurst course, has just played a course, has just finished dinner at The Deuce, or all of the above. It’s free to play and it’s open to non-resort guests. The “tee” for the Thistle Dhu holes are actually drink stands that will hold two open-cup cocktails or beer bottles or whatever. What could be more inviting and still be golf?
The challenge of the Cradle, paired with the hit-and-giggle nature of Thistle Dhu, is the best version of what community golf could be. None of it is too serious. None of it is strenuous. Solving brain-tickling problems in the most raucous environment east of the Phoenix Open is infectious. Some of it is free. All of it is fun, and all are welcome to partake in it. It truly is the happiest place in golf.