We just concluded our annual buddies’ golf trip and we wanted to share our thoughts with fellow golf trippers.
Our group started as a bunch of Indiana University graduates and our first golf trip was to Boyne, MI in 1992 making this year’s trip the 22nd rendition of our annual get-together. We have visited Northern Michigan, Southern Indiana, Myrtle Beach, Pinehurst, Bend, OR, Reno, NV, Upstate NY and Summit County, CO. Much has changed over the years:
- Our group size has fluctuated between 20 and 8 golfers and in recent years we have settled on 8. As we get older, career and family obligations make it too difficult to secure firm commitments from a larger group.
- We CANNOT drink as much (or as well) as we did in our 20’s!!
- We snore much more and much louder giving rise to the first conversations on how much more are we willing to pay to get our own bedrooms.
- We are earning more money than ever and several of us want to move upscale in golf, lodging and food choices.
We stayed in the Ross Lodge at Pine Needles. It is a 2 floor building and each floor has 4 bedrooms each with a private bath and two full-size beds. A picture of our room is below. The bedrooms open up to a large common area with a kitchen, large dining room table, large flat-screen TV, fireplace and comfortable couches. There is even a ½ bath in the common area. Best of all, the Ross Lodge sits right next to what is essentially your group’s private driving range and is a very short walk to the Pro Shop, first tee, dining, and the main lodge at Pine Needles where there is a pool table and table tennis. The breakfast buffet was very good. The bar serves cold beer and the food, while not spectacular (other than the Bell Burger which is great), was filling. Bill Gilmore, the Sales Manager at Pine Needles, did a great job of greeting us, making us feel at home and otherwise doing Southern Hospitality proud. The only complaints we had were that we could very clearly hear the group on the second floor walk around early in the morning and that some of us had roommates who snore REALLY LOUDLY!
We flew into Raleigh Thursday morning and played our first round at Tobacco Road about 45 minutes from RDU and right on the way to the Pinehurst area. I have played Tobacco Road before and it was a blast. You’ll never play another course as visually intimidating, but if you can get over your initial fear when you first look at each hole, you'll find that there is plenty of room. Unfortunately for us, Tobacco Road had a very tough summer (several instances of torrential rain – some storms dumping up to 6” of water) and the greens were in very bad shape. The entire course was not “tight” and my buddies did not enjoy the course as much as I did when I played it six years earlier.
We checked into the Ross Lodge at Pine Needles Thursday evening and played Pine Needles Friday morning. Pine Needles is simply solid – in the best sense of the term. A Donald Ross classic that has hosted three US Women’s Opens, it is a straight-forward test of gold in very good condition. While not spectacular (and certainly a big difference from the visual fun park that is Tobacco Road) no one in your group will have a negative word to say about Pine Needles.
Friday afternoon we went across the street (literally) and played Mid Pines, another Donald Ross classic. Below is the approach shot on 18 at Mid Pines.
Mid Pines just completed a renovation much like what Coore Crenshaw did at Pinehurst #2. All the rough has been removed and fairways are now bordered by pine straw and/or scrubby natural sand areas. Mid Pines is the toughest “short” course I have ever played. The green complexes are very challenging (mishit-struck shots will roll off the upside down saucer greens in classic Donald Ross fashion) and every approach shot seemed uphill and into the wind. It’s in terrific condition and the renovations are great. We really enjoyed Mid Pines.
Saturday we slept in a bit and drove about 15 minutes to play the new Coore Crenshaw course, The Dormie Club. WOW!! Below is the view back down 18 from the porch of the temporary clubhouse. A very good place to sit in the shade, enjoy a beverage and relive a terrific round of golf.
The firm, fast and tight conditions at Dormie are perfect for the style of course. There is ample room off the tees with no rough. You have to spray it pretty good to reach the pine trees and sandy scrubby areas that surround each hole. If you do, you can still find your ball. The green complexes are huge and challenging, causing me to 3-putt about 5 of the first 9 holes before I figured things out. Dormie Club is now my favorite course in the Pinehurst area, surpassing #2 and #4 at the Pinehurst Resort. Get there and play it at any cost. And take the caddies – they are very good, experienced and will add to your enjoyment.
Sunday morning we played a final round at Pine Needles and again, we really enjoyed our experience.
The Games / Action
When our group was larger, we split up into Ryder Cup teams but with only 8 players, we’ve created a new game that we’ve really enjoyed. Each day, golfers are paired in 2-man teams for a 4-ball (best ball) match. Money is paid out to the winner of each match AND points are totaled from each match. 1 point for winning a hole, ½ for halves, and 0 for losing a hole. Point totals are kept for each individual so there is always incentive to keep playing even if you have already lost your match. For the first three matches, we don’t duplicate partners and we use GolfTripGenius to balance our 4-somes so everyone plays at least once with everyone else. On the last day, we pair and set matches in a manner that hopefully gives everyone a chance to get in the money on points. So in short, we pay the winners of each match and then pay 1st – 3rd places on the overall points.
For the Friday afternoon round, we play a 2-man scramble with a twist. Each team has to play 6 holes from the forward tees, 6 from the middle tees and 6 from the tips – at their discretion. It’s a fun way to have a more relaxed round and hopefully prevent getting “golfed-out.”