Pinehurst revisited

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

The Pinehurst Trip is over, and after a week down there, it seems to me that there is something almost enchanted, at least in a golf sense, about Pinehurst.

It’s a place of convergence, like the traffic circle just outside of the Village itself, and all roads in golf seem to lead to, or at least pass through, this place. It calls to golfers.

This year’s experience started two weeks ago when I wrote about the annual golf journey that 16 Valley golfers make to the Pinehurst area. I explained that I call it the Pinehurst Trip even though we don’t actually play golf in Pinehurst. The beautiful, classy resort does not fit our budgets, so we play in the surrounding Sand Hills region of North Carolina.

The column I wrote posted at midnight. By 8:30 a.m. the next morning, Pinehurst was trying to reach me, or at least Janeen Driscoll was.

“Pinehurst without Pinehurst?” was the subject line of the e-mail from Ms. Driscoll, who is the communications manager at the resort. Apparently she did a Google search and found my article. She wanted to take me to task in a friendly, Carolina kind of way.

How could I go to the Mecca of Golf without playing there? She made sure I knew about some winter specials, including this package: one night, buffet breakfast (an amazing spread in the Carolina Hotel), and a round of golf on Course #2, site of this year’s U.S. Open – all for $252. My guys paid $360 for their whole week at Talamore (plus $80 more for payouts), including five rounds at various courses, so they wouldn’t be too impressed.

But it’s like Ms. Driscoll said – this is Pinehurst. I told her I might have to try to convince some of the members to make a return trip before #2 closes at the end of May, in preparation for the Open.

Ms. Driscoll is right. It’s a shame not to play at the resort. We stop by the clubhouse every year, have a few drinks in the village every year, but never play there.

There’s no denying the gravitational effect this place has. Strange, interesting and even enchanted things happen in Pinehurst. It’s like all those monumental pines are spires that reach out to the spirit world, summoning the ghosts of golf past, present and future. This place exudes golf.

One night the guys and I dropped by the Pinecrest Inn, where Clarence plays a keyboard and sings in the lobby, eventually moving some of the couples to dance. When it’s not so crowded, they put a box in front of the fireplace. The box is covered with that fake green turf used to make putting mats, and one side of the box has a cantaloupe-sized hole in it. People practice their chipping, right there in the lobby, pausing to give guests safe passage to the dining room.

So there I was sitting in the Pinecrest bar, under a photo of Payne Stewart – an image of him holding the U.S. Open trophy he won at Pinehurst in 1999, superimposed over a picture of the bagpiper who played at Payne’s memorial service a few months later; and the eerie little footprints in the dew that followed the piper into the fog.

There was Payne with both arms wrapped around the trophy, and me thinking how cool it would be to come back to Pinehurst for the 2005 Open. When I went up to the bar for a refill on my cocktail, I met Lisa, an attorney who works out near the coast, but keeps an apartment in Pinehurst. It turned out that Lisa had two tickets to the Open, with clubhouse access, and I talked myself into frontrunner status for the second ticket. Unless she falls in love before the tournament. I hate to root against love, but this is the U.S. Open. In Pinehurst.

But the point is how strange it was to be thinking about going to the Open one moment, and just a few moments later be offered a ticket, at least potentially. Payne was looking out for me. Pinehurst was working its magic.

So I went back to the Pinecrest Inn the next night, sat under the smiling Payne, and made another wish – to find Lisa’s e-mail address, which I managed to lose within a few hours of receiving it. By the way, isn’t that a sign of the times, when it’s e-mail addresses, not phone numbers, that get scrawled on bar napkins? If I’d had my palm pilot with me, she could have just beamed her info over, then I wouldn’t be in this jam. But I digress.

Even if I don’t make it to the Open, Pinehurst is a place that allows golfers to dream, a place that stirs the blood and the imagination of those who are enamored with the game.

After a practice round and four days of tournament play, my friends went home. But the Bridgewater College golf team van came into the traffic circle the same day. I provide instruction for several of the players. Why don’t I hang out another day and watch them play in their tournament at Pine Needles, site of the 2001 and 2007 U.S. Women’s Open?

Maybe I can pull a few strings and get in a round at the Pinehurst resort before I leave. It’s snowing at home anyways, so it might not be safe to make the trip just yet. I’ve got a friend running a golf fitness program down here – maybe I should stop by. It would be cool to hang out at The Carolina, where the Golf Magazine Top 100 golf instructors are having a conference. Heck, one more night, and I’ll know all the bartenders at the Pinecrest by name.

But after two extra days, I headed out Route 211, then north toward Greensboro, and eventually made it home to the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. The Valley is a great place to live. The people are friendly, the mountains are scenic and reassuring. And it’s only five hours back to Pinehurst.



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