This is the third 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.
Southern Pines Golf Club, revamped under new ownership after becoming the third leg of the exquisite Mid Pines, Pine Needles, and Southern Pines non-Pinehurst triumvirate, will eventually surpass its two corporate Donald Ross-designed cousins as the most popular non-Pinehurst course in the North Carolina Sandhills. Of this, I am sure.
Southern Pine’s previous iteration was beloved by locals: an inexpensive course composed of a fun routing, questionable turf conditions, and some of the last remaining bentgrass greens in the area. The worst kept secret in Carolina golf was that Southern Pines was probably the best routing, the course with the best “bones” of any around Pinehurst, include the famous courses at the big resort down the street.
Some, myself included, feared that Kyle Franz’s renovation might transform Southern Pines from a scruffy underdog to Pine Needles-lite, a place a little too polished and too familiar; just another course with the exposed sand aesthetic and clumped native grasses dotting some of the best land in the Sandhills. What Franz had done, breathing new life into the Mid Pines and Pine Needles courses, was nothing less than spectacular. Bringing century-old courses into the modern era while retaining the flair of the original Ross designs using a distinct formula of replacing the secondary playing surfaces turf with sandy waste areas and clumps of native grasses, while also restoring the playing character of the greens.
It’s a tried and true formula, but Southern Pines deserved more than just new paint and new carpet, so to speak. The course is too good, on too wonderful of a piece of land to just be a clone of something else nearby. Fortunately, such fears were misplaced, as it turns out.
The Southern Pines renovation is brilliant. The greens have been re-contoured and re-grassed. While there may be less pinnable area on the greens after the renovation, the new putting surfaces contain infinitely more intrigue. New ridges, bumps, humps, and shelves await golfers where once smooth transitions from the back to front of greens resided predictably in years past.
New bunkers and the reintroduction of native grass-dotted sandy waste bunkers and cross-fairway hazards was done with a light touch, bringing in just enough strategic trouble to make golfers think off of the tee, but not so much that the course imagery is too busy or unnatural. Thinning of the dense stands of pine trees, coupled with the investment in new, modern drainage infrastructure, should improve year-round turf conditions, allowing air and light to move throughout the course more freely, which will improve the overall playing conditions for years to come.
The most dramatic change to date, other than the reintroduction of the lost hole (located between the 4th, 5th, and 10th holes), was the dramatic clearcutting and removal of trees along the signature corner of the course, the right sides of the 8th and 11th fairways above the lake. Where once only only partial openings existed, a clear, unobstructed view across the lake that separates the two holes creates a more intimate atmosphere at the key confluence of the front and back nines. Strategically, the opened space adds a hazard to both holes tee shots, as previously, one could pretty well count on the trees to knock down wayward drives to the right.
The renovation is an awesome improvement over the previously neglected version of Southern Pines, What many consider a great routing has been released from it’s benign neglect, and now has the opportunity to be its best self. What was already a local favorite is slated to become the marquee non-Pinehurst public course in the Pinehurst-Southern Pines–Aberdeen triangle, the kind of place that entire golf trips will be built around.
The collection of Southern Pines, Mid Pines, and Pine Needles under the same corporate umbrella will be an interesting entity to watch, as the knock-on effects of Pinehurst becoming an official anchor site for USGA Championships and corporate offices continue to ripple through the Sandhills’ golf economy. For now, Southern Pines’ rebirth is worthy of celebration and a trip to see it specifically, as one of the really good public Donald Ross courses has become great. Golfers everywhere