Pinehurst, here we come

Golf Things Considered column by John Rogers
JSpencerRogers@msn.com  

It’s February. That means some slim green fingers, tulips to be, stretch out from soil softened by the sun after another night’s freeze, seeking Gulf moisture in the air, and some warmth, which lingers a day or two before Canada blows hard again and reminds us that there are still several weeks to winter.

February is a battleground of warm and cold days. But there are enough good days to send us in search of our spikes, to have us clean the grooves in our irons, brushing away the little circle of grass and dirt left on the clubface by the last ball struck, which might have been in October. But lately the television has captivated us with images from Hawaii and the Monterey Peninsula, and while we’d love to join the tour players in exotic places like those, we’ll settle for some snow-free greens and a round or two on dormant grass.

It’s February in the Mid-Atlantic, and that means it’s time for a golf trip, a pilgrimage to one of the holy cities of golf like Myrtle Beach. We set out hoping the golf gods will give us a few mild days, but we also set out with our foul-weather gear, and a deck of cards, just in case we’re not so lucky.

For a group of Lakeview members and me, Pinehurst is the destination each February. Technically we don’t actually play in Pinehurst, which is a small village in North Carolina, home to a large resort. The resort consists of nine golf courses (each known simply by its number), a history-filled clubhouse, a grand hotel, stately manor houses, tennis courts and many other amenities that plebeians like me never get to experience. The village itself is made up of classy little shops, comfortable Southern homes, a few upscale inns, and a lot of towering pine trees. It’s a special place with a unique charm to it.

But we can’t afford the resort, so technically our destination is the Sand Hills region that surrounds the village of Pinehurst. We’ll stay and play in and around Southern Pines and Aberdeen, which is where you can find the discount golf shops and greasy spoons that fit our budgets better.

I still call it The Pinehurst Trip.

Usually the third Wednesday in February marks the arrival of sixteen golfers at Talamore Golf Course. It takes about five hours driving from the Shenandoah Valley, and after two months of winter and a few hours in the car, we are ready to play. So we arrive at Talamore, where they used to provide llamas for caddies. They no longer have caddies of any kind, but they do have some clean and spacious condos that we’ll call home for the better part of a week.

We get to Southern Pines in time for a practice round on Wednesday and then play four tournament rounds at four different courses over the next fours days. We’ll drive home on Sunday, tired but satisfied, like we just finished the golf equivalent of Thanksgiving dinner.

As the commissioner on this trip, I run a tight tournament – tracking players’ scoring averages over the years, setting handicaps, making pairings, posting a leaderboard, paying out prizes, and awarding Blow-Up Betty. That’s right, Blow-Up Betty. She is an almost life-sized doll who rides in the cart with whomever had the highest net score the day before. She draws a lot of attention at the various golf courses, but so far nobody has charged us an extra cart fee. That’s good for Scotty Hurt, who is like a mascot on our trip. He has a date with Betty in the practice round this year because of his final-round meltdown last year. (I’m sure Scotty would have played all right – if he had been able to stand up after a week of highly dedicated partying and libation.)

After each tournament round, we go out for a nine or 18-hole replay, usually a captain’s choice format. That’s when we really let our hair down, which is definitely a figurative saying for some of us. Then we go our separate ways for dinner, maybe Outback or Rigazzi’s, and back to the condos for a poker match.

The Pinehurst area does not have the nightlife of a place like Myrtle Beach. For years our trip coincided with a NASCAR race at nearby Rockingham, so the bars and restaurants were busier for that week, and we’d see a few drivers and television announcers (Boogity, Boogity, Boogity), but generally it’s pretty quiet. Rumor has it that there is one bar in Aberdeen that features some kind of special dancing, but that’s all I know about that.

So we play cards, tell stories, laugh, check out the golf and weather channels, and sleep for a few hours before starting again.

At least once during the week, we’ll all eat together at The Lobsteer, 16 of us settling bets, and recounting the highlights and comical events from the golf course that day. Usually the commissioner gets an earful about which courses the guys like and don’t like. It’s at the Lobsteer that we used to see the familiar NASCAR faces, but now they’ve taken Rockingham off the circuit, so we won’t be dining with Junior anymore.

At least once during the week a group of us will go over to the Pinehurst Resort to check out the clubhouse, and the 18th green of the #2 course, where Payne Stewart won the U.S. Open in 1999, shortly before he died. Now there is a statue beside the green of Stewart, one leg kicked out behind him, one fist thrown out in front, just like he was after he made that final putt. It’s all very recognizable, the hat, the knickers, right down to the W.W.J.D bracelet on his wrist.

The U.S. Open returns to Pinehurst #2 this summer, so our group will get to browse through the extra pro shop they’ll already have set up for the championship. And we’ll walk slowly down the long hall in the clubhouse to look at all the pictures and memorabilia from a long history of golf at the resort. Everybody from Bobby Jones to Tiger Woods. And maybe, on the way out of the village, we’ll stop at the Pinecrest Inn, a dark and comfortable place filled with its own golf history, for a nightcap.

The Pinehurst Trip. We’ll play some mediocre preseason golf at some beautiful golf courses. We’ll do the things that contemporary hunter-gatherers do: leave home for a few days to compete, gamble, make fun of each other, swear and snore. Probably it’s not just about golf. It’s like a purging. We get to use golf as an excuse to act like the crude but heroic warriors of old, only it’s the loser who gets to run off with Betty. Then we can go home to our wives, girlfriends or jobs as the sensitive, modern men we are. Something like that. But it’s also as simple as playing golf and enjoying the camaraderie.

The tug of war over temperature between the equator and the North Pole can be a little indecisive in Pinehurst this time of year. But we generally get readings between 50 and 60 degrees. Good enough for February. Good enough for us. Pinehurst, here we come.



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