Donald Ross Classics: Golf in Pinehurst and Southern Pines

Donald Ross turned North Carolina sand and scrub into hallowed golfing ground. After heading to the US from Scotland, where he apprenticed under Thomas “Old Tom” Morris at St. Andrews, Ross was hired by James Walker Tufts to design golf courses at Pinehurst Resort. Among those was Pinehurst No. 2, which became his most famous and is one of the top-ranked courses in the world. Just how highly regarded is Pinehurst No. 2? It's one of the US Open anchor sites, meaning it hosted the championship in 2024 and will do so again an additional four times through 2047.

If you want to take a swing on a Ross-designed golf course yourself, plan a three-day weekend in the "Home of American Golf." Here are three different ways to plan your trip.

Option 1: Play Ross’ Masterpiece

Since opening in 1907, Pinehurst No. 2 has served as the site of more golf championships than any course in America. In 2014, it became the first to host the men’s and women’s US Opens in consecutive weeks, and the championship will return in 2024, 2029, 2035, 2041 and 2047. Ross, a tournament winner himself, once called it “the fairest test of championship golf I have ever designed.”

Pinehurst Resort members and guests have priority when it comes to tee times, so plan on spending at least one night. Choose from traditional rooms and suites at AAA FourDiamond rated Carolina Hotel and its sweeping verandas or The Holly Inn, the resort’s original accommodation. Other options include The Manor, The Magnolia Inn, and onsite villas and condos.

Ross’ designs dote on the details. None were overlooked during No. 2’s $2.5 million renovation, which was completed in 2011. They included removing rough, adding 13 tees, and modifying the greens on 15 and 17 to increase hole locations. They returned the course to the time of Ross, whose former home and beds of championship roses sat behind the third hole’s fairway.

There’s plenty to do off the course at Pinehurst Resort. Soothe sore muscles at the spa, or stay active with other activities including tennis, swimming, pickleball, and kayaking and fishing in the 200-acre private lake. You’ll love the dining options too. The elegant Carolina Dining Room serves dinner and a Southern-style breakfast buffet, which is a longtime favorite of guests. Overlooking No. 2’s 18th hole, The Deuce serves lunch, small bites, cocktails and local craft beers.

Option 2: Explore Ross’ Adopted Hometown

Southern Pines Golf Club is another early Ross project. It features his trademark crowned greens, and you'll need to contemplate, not rip, your drives. Take time to walk it to better appreciate the thought put into its design.

After a long day of golf, you’ll need a place to retreat. Pine Crest Inn, which Ross owned for almost 30 years, offers traditional rooms with two beds, the private Telephone Cottage with two queens and a single, and the Barrett House, which can hold up to 16 guests.

The inn serves breakfast, Sunday brunch and dinner, when the 22-ounce porterhouse pork chop with mashed potatoes, vegetables and pan gravy has been the choice for more than 60 years. More restaurants, along with a variety of small shops, are within walking distance. Try family-friendly Pinehurst Pizza or Elliott’s on Linden for farm-to-table cuisine.

Staying at select hotels and inns in the area, such as Pine Crest, allows you to take advantage of golf packages to play at other Ross-designed courses, including Pinehurst Resort’s No. 1 and No. 3. It also makes it easy to stop by Tufts Archives inside Given Memorial Library for a lesson on local golf history. Its collection includes photos, memorabilia and course sketches made by Ross.

Option 3: Vintage Ross Courses and Southern Hospitality

Aerial photos from the Tufts Archives helped put the course at Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club back to Ross’ original 1921 configuration during a restoration in 2013. The work included widening fairways, creating sandy roughs and reconfiguring bunkers. It earned GOLF magazine’s 2013 Best US Course Restoration award.

It’s a great example of how Ross’ routing creates spectacular views and great golf. The 18th hole, 411 yards from the back tees, is a favorite. It’s uphill to the green and finishes outside The Inn at Mid Pines, which offers traditional Southern hospitality and more than 100 rooms. Villas with kitchenettes are available too. Dining options include breakfast, Sunday brunch, lunch, and dinner at The Terrace and Dining Room, or lunch at Pop’s Lounge.

You’ll find the pool across the street at The Lodge at Pine Needles on a second Ross-designed course. It offers chalet-style lodges, which can accommodate you and up to seven of your golfing buddies, along with classy dining rooms and quick bites at the In-the-Rough Lounge.

As Mid Pines did in 2013, Pine Needles replaced bent grass with Bermuda grass on its greens in 2016. That’s almost a century after Ross and his groundskeepers pioneered replacing oiled sand and clay with an earlier Bermuda variety. Pine Needles Golf Course plays vintage Ross. On the par-3 third hole, for example, your shot needs to be strong enough to clear a pond and wetland but land below the hole on a green that slopes back to front.

If your game needs a tune-up, Pine Needles offers private lessons and Golfaris, which combine instruction and relaxation. These will develop your complete game, giving you strategies to successfully navigate any course. And that would make Ross proud.

Updated January 2, 2024
About the Author
Pete M. Anderson

Pete M. Anderson

Pete M. Anderson is a Gastonia-based writer whose work also has appeared in Business North Carolina, Carolina Sportsman and Thousand Islands Life. He enjoys exploring North Carolina, especially its diverse fishing holes, local race tracks and world-renowned barbecue joints.

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