Best Public Golf Around Pinehurst

Come for one of the country’s premier golf resorts—but stay (or come back) for the incredible collection of public courses around Pinehurst

Let’s cut to the chase. There’s one reason every golfer wants to haul their sticks to the middle of North Carolina: taking on Donald Ross’s “Mona Lisa,” Course No. 2, and the rest of what awaits at the golf mega-center that is Pinehurst Resort.

Pinehurst is a well-oiled machine—a perfected operation of Southern hospitality with enough creature comforts and golf variety to last a foursome a fortnight and then some. Besides No. 2, a consensus top-10 public course and U.S. Open anchor site, two more of its now 10 regulation-sized courses—Gil Hanse’s revamped No. 4 and Tom Fazio’s No. 8—also grace the lists of America’s top public designs. And whether it be the addition of The Cradle 9-hole short course in 2017, the opening of Tom Doak’s Pinehurst No. 10 earlier this year, or the prospect of more to come, Pinehurst continues to give golfers new reasons to roll in.

But the resort and its courses aren’t the only games in town. Far from it. There are nearly 40 golf courses, public and private, within 15 miles of the village of Pinehurst in what has come to be known as the “Home of American Golf.”

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Pine Needles 3rd hole (photo by Matt Hahn)

“There’s no other community in the world outside of St. Andrews that embraces the game of golf more than Pinehurst does,” says Phil Werz, President and CEO of the Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) for the Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen Area. “When you come here and see the longleaf pines and those tall trees, your heartbeat slows and your excitement of being here is heightened.”

Start the excitement about five miles east of Pinehurst with a trio of Ross designs in nearby Southern Pines. The courses at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club, and Southern Pines Golf Club are all highly acclaimed. Owned and operated as a collective “resort” by the family of LPGA legend Peggy Kirk Bell, they’ve also all benefited from extensive restorations in the past decade by architect Kyle Franz, who contributed to the celebrated restoration of No. 2 back to its Ross roots by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in 2010–11.

Pine Needles is the closest thing the U.S. Women’s Open has to an anchor site, having hosted the ladies’ national championship a record four times with marquee winners Annika Sorenstam (1996), Karrie Webb (2001), Cristie Kerr (2007), and Minjee Lee (2022). The nearly century-old design (1927) is the newest of the trio, with its 2018 restoration returning the rugged bunkering and native wiregrass outside the fairway that existed in the early days. The result is a 7,035-yard par-71 test that features smartly contoured greens that are as Ross as any at No. 2, hops over cross-hazards, and unforgettable holes like the par-three 3rd, a 145-yard short iron across wetlands to a green surrounded by five bunkers.

pinehurst golf
Mid Pines 1st hole (photo by Matt Hahn)

Just across the street, Mid Pines (opened in 1921) is smaller than its neighbor, originally designed to be a member’s course rather than a championship challenge. An intimate 6,730 yards, it serpentines through tree-lined corridors that were greatly trimmed in 2013 by Franz. Visitors to both will be hard pressed to pick a favorite (one vote for Mid Pines here), but it’s hard to beat the smaller course’s finisher, a 405-yard dogleg-left with its green backdropped by the 103-year-old Georgian-style, redbrick and white-sided Inn.

Not to be missed is The Loop, a four-hole practice course a short walk from the 74-room Lodge at Pine Needles. Show up first-come, first-served to pitch around the three par threes and a short par four; while a little rough around the edges, it’s perfect for spirited enjoyment while enjoying some spirits.

southern pines
Southern Pines 11th hole (photo by Carolina Pines Golf)

In 2021, Franz took his renovation skills a few miles south to Southern Pines, circa 1906, with a dramatic, plunging landscape that plays longer than its 6,695 yards. He widened the fairways and removed rough, reinstating the feel of a Ross original while getting creative with new greens that rumple and roll with the best of them. Some of the most fun happens at the up-down-up par-five 2nd next to an active train track; the 325-yard par four 11th, which curves around a lake to an infinity green; and the “Lost Hole,” a par three with an authentic sand green that Ross added in 1911 (and Franz reintroduced) connecting holes 4 and 15 back to the clubhouse for a 9-hole loop. Before teeing off, take a turn around the 18-hole Overhills Putting Course, adjacent to the first tee, to acquaint yourself with the sort of treacherous greens you’ll encounter next door.

Thirty minutes north in Sanford is Tobacco Road Golf Club, another top-100 track and one generously described as “polarizing.” This fever dream of fairways was built on a tobacco-farm-turned-sand quarry in 1998 by the late architect Mike Strantz, whose goal was to test “a player’s eye, determination, and wits.” He accomplished all that and more with blind shots, eccentric green shapes, and both deep pits and mountainous mounds of sand. It is remarkable in its uniqueness, which is reason enough to give it a go.

Tobacco Road 9th Hole
Tobacco Road 9th Hole (photo by Brian Oar)

Want more Strantz? It’s a quick detour between Pinehurst and the Raleigh/Durham, Charlotte, or Greensboro airport to Tot Hill Farm Golf Club in Asheboro. Think of it as “Tobacco Road Lite,” built on a rocky site next to the mountainous Uwharrie National Forest. Opened in 2000, it went through a rough patch post-2008 recession, but returned better than ever thanks to new ownership and a restoration completed in 2023. Its quirky collection of five par threes could be the state’s best, while pictures of the peninsula green at the par-four 12th simply can’t do it justice.

Back in Southern Pines, Talamore Golf Resort is a trendy destination offering tremendous value, modern turnkey villas and lodges, an eight-bay Toptracer range, and a putting course as well as two 18-hole courses, Talamore and Mid South. In 1991, “Open Doctor” Rees Jones designed Talamore Golf Club, his second course in the Sandhills after Pinehurst No. 7, which opened in 1986. His design is distinguished by its 12 “Scotland meets the Sandhills” sod-wall bunkers. Mid South Club, an Arnold Palmer course that debuted in 1993, plays through 500 acres of lakes and longleaf pines, both nines finishing over water to a giant shared green below the clubhouse. Restoration work on both courses within the last decade included upgrading the putting surfaces to Champion Bermuda, the same turf found on No. 2.

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Tot Hill Farm (photo by Carolina Pines Golf)

Nearby and very popular, the semi-private Longleaf Golf & Family Club is home to the U.S. Kids Golf Academy, a 10,000-square-foot putting green, six-hole short course, and a Dan Maples-designed 18-hole course that was recently remodeled by Bill Bergin. Part of the reworking included introduction of the “Longleaf Tee System,” which has players choose their tee box based on their typical driving distance. At just $8 a round, Bergin’s Bottlebrush short course has been called the Sandhills’ “best kept secret,” appealing to all ages with six par-three holes, ranging from 50 to 100 yards, filled with engaging contours and charming accents including white furlong fencing left over from the property’s past life as a horse track.

Fifteen minutes northeast of Pinehurst, the semi-private Country Club of Whispering Pines boasts two courses designed by Ross protégé Ellis Maples. The Pines and River courses (formerly known as the East and West, respectively) provide contrasting challenges: The 7,094-yard Pines is characterized as an “inland links,” playing to wide landing zones with firm surrounds; the 6,521-yard River demands supreme control of the golf ball to avoid its many lakes and streams.

Talamore Golf Club 9th Hole
Talamore Golf Club 9th hole

A little farther east, the semi-private Woodlake Country Club in Vass reopened last fall after native North Carolinian Kris Spence redesigned the Maples Course, a 1971 Ellis Maples/Ed Seay work that was seemingly closed for good after Hurricane Matthew swept through in 2016. Spence resuscitated the design, which has several holes hugging 1,200-acre Lake Surf, including the first four and the finisher.

With so much golf about, there have to be a few oddities. Course architect, author, and Pinehurst resident Richard Mandell recommends Knollwood Fairways, a “little 9-holer” where, legend has it, Gary Player used to practice in preparation for tournaments. “Each green is about 2,500 square feet, so it’s not the place to go work on your lag putting,” says Mandell. “Your short game will get better in a heartbeat because they are somewhat plateau greens and everything falls away from you. It’s hard to hold the green with many of your approach shots. Bunker shots are about as challenging as you can get because you don’t have much landing zone. And all the fairways are really narrow, 25 yards wide like a U.S. Open. …It’s not that visually attractive so to speak, but for a challenge with your sticks, it’s about as good as you can get.”

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Woodlake 8th hole

Then there’s Wee Pines, a newly opened mini-golf facility a mile north of the Carolina Hotel, with two 18-hole courses: Calamity Jane and Bullseye. Because you just can’t have enough Pines.

9 More Reasons to Love the Pinehurst Area

There’s much more to do in Pinehurst than simply playing the area’s courses. Such as: 

  1. The USGA Experience: Officially opened in May, the USGA’s Golf House Pinehurst is a two-story building with interactive exhibits about USGA championships, the Science of Golf, and Museum galleries, plus the relocated World Golf Hall of Fame.
  1. Sandhills Pour Tour: Sip your way through local breweries, a cider house, and the state’s longest-operating bottle shop. The newest stop is The Buggy Factory by Southern Pines Brewing Co. in Carthage—featuring a two-story restaurant, beer garden, outdoor amphitheater, and more.
  1. Moments of Nature: Moore County offers 32 miles of groomed nature trails for hiking and biking around scenic lakes, longleaf pine forests, and horticultural gardens.
  1. Southern Serenity: Sooth the mind, body, and soul by booking a massage, facial, mani/pedi, or another tempting treatment at The Spa at Pinehurst, located steps from the historic Carolina Hotel.
  1. Plows & Paintbrushes: Over four weekends this fall, the inaugural AG+ART Tour kicks off with self-guided experiences celebrating the area’s agricultural heritage and vibrant art community.
  1. History Lesson: The Tufts Archives—funded by Pinehurst’s founding family and located in the Given Memorial Library—details the history of the village (including original maps of Donald Ross’s course designs) from 1895 to today.
  1. All the Smoke: For meat lovers, the Smokehouse Sampler at Pinehurst Brewing Company is a must. Or plan your trip around the Pinehurst BBQ Festival, a three-day event in late August that cooks up a “Q” School Grilling Class, Bourbon & Bites tasting, and Pitmaster Invitational showing off the state’s premier BBQ smokers.
  2. Get a Grip: Visitors to Golf Pride’s 36,000-square-foot headquarters, next to Pinehurst No. 8, get tour-pro treatment at the Golf Pride Retail Lab with a custom grip consultation, selection, and personal installation experience.
  1. Destination Distillery: Opened in early 2024, the 16,000-square-foot BHAWK Distillery in Southern Pines honors the military. Founder Brad Halling, a retired sergeant major in the Army’s Special Forces, was part of the 1993 battle in Mogadishu later documented in the movie Black Hawk Down.

Thank you for supporting our journalism. If you prefer to read in print, you can also find this article in the Summer 2024 issue of LINKS Magazine. Click here for more information.

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