Mid-Pines: Golf With a Shot of Tradition

The 18th at Mid-Pines, guarded by sand, azaleas and dogwoods

If you like your golf with a shot of tradition and a chaser of beauty, you should consider the Mid-Pines Inn and Golf Club in the spring time.

Donald Ross laid out the Mid-Pines course 90 years ago, in 1921 when the Sandhills region of North Carolina was just emerging as a golf destination. He worked with land that enabled him to incorporate some of his favorite design principles. The sandy soil allowed him to shape greens with subtly challenging contours, false fronts and slippery perimeters.  The up-and-down topography gave him numerous opportunities to create his most characteristic par four, with a tees and greens set on high ground and fairways in the valleys between them. The classic Ross tee shot is downhill and inviting, while the second shot is uphill and demanding.

The first at Mid-Pines is just such a hole. As you would expect, towering pines frame the fairway.  Over the years, the stewards of Ross’s work have enhanced it with dogwoods and azaleas. So on an April day, the deep green of the pines and the brighter green of the fairways are interrupted by sprays of white, pink and lavender.  There’s something profoundly pleasing about setting up for a shot, searching the horizon line for a target, and finding a flowering dogwood in just the right spot.

The downhill first tee shot at Mid-Pines

A well-struck tee shot on No. 1 at Mid-Pines hangs in the air for a few, equally pleasing extra moments. Even a bad shot looks acceptable. The iron to the green is another matter. How much extra club is required for the elevation change?  Do I risk trying to carry the big, deep bunker that guards the flag? Or do I play safe and leave myself a long lag putt over a couple of swales and hollows? If I’m in the rough, which is kept mercifully low, will I be able to spin the ball enough to hold the green? Or will the ball roll through and leave me with a chip shot off a downhill lie that will need to carry a little indentation just behind the green and still stop on a downhill slope?  Ross posed those questions 90 years ago, and Mid-Pines still asks them.

Like many of the Ross courses I’ve played, Mid-Pines makes restrained use of water hazards. There’s a pond to carry off the tee at No. 3 and another to avoid in the fairway on the par-five fifth hole.  But that’s it. The vast majority of the hazards at Mid-Pines are dry ones.

With Pinehurst No. 2 being just a couple of miles to the west, it’s not likely that Ross intended Mid-Pines to be a severe, championship test. And at about 6,500 yards from the back tees, it’s not. The par fives are easily reachable in two shots by long hitters or even medium hitters. The rough is modest before it gives way to pine straw.

It remains, probably as Ross intended, a very enjoyable round for players of good to average ability, one with more than enough challenge and complexity to stay fresh over a week’s vacation. The owners these days are Peggy Kirk Bell and her family, who also own Pine Needles across the road. They carefully maintain the course.

The inn, which lies just behind the 18th green, also dates from 1921. It’s an odd combination of brick and wood-frame architecture, and it encompasses a lot of golf history. Julius Boros, who deprived Arnold Palmer of a couple of major titles half a century ago, was for many years the head pro. His picture hangs on the wall. So does a group shot of the British Ryder Cup team, which visited when the matches were held in Pinehurst in 1951. The building has a locker room replete with dark wood paneling and brown leather, a cozy 19th-hole bar, a player piano in the dining room, and lots of nooks in which to sit, read, and watch the foursomes come up the final fairway. It’s a little creaky, and it doubtless could use a thoughtful update. The wireless service in my austere room was hit-or-miss, and the bathroom was tiny. The dining room served my wife a steak that hadn’t quite thawed in the middle.

But guests don’t come to Mid-Pines for gourmet dining, or surfing the Web. They come for the golf. And that remains every bit as good as it was when Donald Ross laid the place out 90 years ago. Which is high praise, indeed. I give Mid-Pines an A.

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