Obviously Pinehurst No. 2 draws most of the attention from Ross historians wandering North Carolina, but it was not actually the first nine created by the iconic architect in the state. Although the front nine at Pinehurst was indeed Ross’s first design, he actually completed the full 18 at Southern Pines a year before completing the full route at No. 2.
Although that other Ross design has remained in the public view more often due to its hosting of the U.S. Open and other major events, Southern Pines has remained steady in its presentation throughout the past century-plus, playing at just 6,500 yards from the back tees.
The club was recently purchased by the same group that operated Mid Pines and Pine Needles, two other fine Donald Ross designs in the sand hills region. This acquisition will create one of the finer collections of Ross courses in the country, as well as an upgrade of course maintenance standards. Perhaps it may also mean a restoration of some of Ross’s original holes, which have been lost to time.
There are not enough adjectives in the golf course reviewer’s thesaurus to capture the masterpiece that is the restored Southern Pines Golf Club. While the layout was no doubt charming and stimulating before, the artistry of Kyle Franz and his team have brought new life to this marvelous golf property. It is an honor to post the first review here since its reopening in September of 2021.
The conditions for my round at Southern Pines could not have been more perfect. After a dry week, the dormant turf played firm and fast, accentuating the curvature of the topography. Southern Pines has always been lauded for having arguably the best terrain of any course in the Sandhills, but thanks to the elimination of long Bermuda rough, players must now consider how the ball interacts with the ground to avoid sandy waste areas. You can truly pay homage to the roots of the game at Southern Pines by considering all options of attack.
With such a diversity of challenges, it is difficult to generalize any common themes at Southern Pines. A few notable features that are prominent at this restored Donald Ross gem include its:
• Gorgeous, natural routing: The routing of Southern Pines has remained generally intact. Corridors hug the land and flow uphill, downhill, and sometimes both. Southern Pines is a delightful walk.
• Strategically mixed width fairways: On the card, Southern Pines is not long. Regardless, even bombers will likely hit every club in their bag. In so many places, sandscape pinches the landing zone, and sharp undulations will kick an overly aggressive tee shot into undesirable wiregrass and pine straw.
• Uncomfortable blind shots: Protruding bunkers pepper the landscape at Southern Pines. So frequently, the high-flashing faces of these traps obscure the landing area. Without a caddie or prior knowledge, it can be nearly impossible to tell how much room one might have beyond a hazard or onto a putting surface.
• Fascinating, knobby green entrances: While many of the greens are open in the front, playing the ball on the ground can be an adventure. So many of the putting surfaces at Southern Pines today are loaded with thumb prints and prongs that I can only describe as similar to the teeth of a gear. Landing a ball and running it up – or worse, landing it on one of these hollows – can lead to a completely unpredictable bounce in any possible direction.
There are so many holes at Southern Pines that capture the brilliance of Donald Ross’s understanding of golf strategy. From the up-and-down speedslots of the par five 2nd, to the terrifying, perched false front of the 4th, to the visual intimidation of the 17th, every hole is worthy of study.
However, the par four 11th is a hole that belongs on the list of contenders for Ross’s finest Carolinas creations. From the tee, the player faces a perpendicular “bite-off-as-much-as-you-care” shot over waste area and sand traps. While an aggressive player may consider trying to drive this green, the extremely tight landing zone near the approach and sharp runoffs to a lake will likely discourage this play. Most players will take a long iron or metal to the fairway that is sharply canted from left-to-right. Finding the short grass is only the first consideration, however. The putting surface is also tilted in the same direction as the fairway, and it features a menacing plateau on the back. If the pin is on the left, it is imperative for the player to use the contour of the land to work the ball to the right half of the fairway. The opposite is true to achieve the proper angle for a right pin placement. In both cases, the steep slope of the land will present a lie that promotes a push ball-flight; this outcome must be considered carefully with the lake lurking on the right. The 11th at Southern Pines encapsulates the essence of golf strategy: it is a hole that can defeat or be conquered by the player in an infinite number of ways.
As the Mid-Pines/Pine Needles resort continues to promote and enhance its third sister course, it would not be surprising to see Southern Pines surpass its neighbors in many rankings publications. Southern Pines is a golfer’s course and a consummate test of the player’s abilities. I cannot wait to make the trek back down to the Sandhills to experience it again, and I am excited to watch its rating grow rapidly on this website.
Southern Pines is one of the original Donald Ross courses and traces it’s roots back to 1907. Not a long course by today’s standards but it has withstood the test of time.
The first hole is a downhill straightway inviting par 4. The second is a reachable par five. Relatively straight, but the green is perched on a hill between two deep bunkers. The first par three is mid-yardage, albeit downhill. I would suggest playing a club less and keep the ball below the hole. The 4th tilts left and plays longer as it is uphill. The 5th is an interesting par five. It tilts left and has a downslope if you can catch it may set you up to get home in two. The 6th is the longest par 4 and is the number one handicap hole. The 7th is the shortest hole on the course and has a redan green. The 8th is a dogleg right with a ridge that can kick balls left and right. Finding the fairway is important. The 9th is a mid-distance par 3 over a water hazard that should only come into play for really bad shots.
The back starts off with two good birdie oppties. On ten drive down the left side if you want to have a chance of keeping your ball in the fairway. The hole, while straight, slopes hard left to right. If you are in the fairway you should have a flip wedge to the green. The 11th is a short dogleg right, a high fade will give you another flip wedge. The 12th is a long par four that bends left. The approach is uphill with a well protected green. The 13th rune the opposite direction from the 12th. The 14th is a mid-length classic par 3 over water with a deep front right bunker. The 15th is a reachable par 5. Favor the left side off the tee for the uphill approach. The 16th is another short par 4 with a valley between the tee and green. As tempting as it may be to let the big dog fly, play smart and set up for a wedge. The 17th is a long par four with a right to left fairway slope. Aim down the right side. On your approach favor the right as the large bunker left caused me multiple challenges. The 18th is a short finishing par four. The hole leans left to an elevated green with bunkers left and right.
Not as heralded as others in the local area, but worth a play if you're a golf aficionado. It is not pristine and like your author perhaps a wee bit tired, but I suspect that it may be in comparable shape, other than the greens, as when it was first laid out.
Not very long, so keep it in the fairway. Ross greens can be tricky.
There is very little I can add to the thorough reviews below that would contribute value to the description of Southern Pines Golf Club. During the summer that I lived in the Sandhills as a USGA intern, I was fortunate to have access to many prestigious courses, yet I constantly found myself returning to Southern Pines to practice and squeeze in that rare ‘quick afternoon 9’.
There are any number of compelling reasons to experience SPGC. If you are visiting the Sandhills, the land is probably better for golf than virtually any of the other more ‘notable’ courses, and the sylvan setting lacking houses is refreshing. The history of the property is deep, and stories you can learn about holes gained/lost are truly mesmerizing. If you are a Ross lover, you can witness some of the best routing of the world’s best router. As if this were all not enough, some very notable names in the world golf architecture community call SPGC home, a very strong mark of praise.
For the purist, SPGC is a must stop the next time you find yourself in North Carolina!
I played this course on a recent trip with my wife to the Pinehurst area. This is a classic Ross design set in some gentle rolling hills just outside the town of Southern Pines. This is a great routing that uses the slope of the land almost to perfection. There is nary a flat hole on the course but none of the slopes are contrived or excessive. The greens are pretty standard Ross designs but none of the slopes or run offs are very severe. I would give the course itself a solid 5 ball rating. Unfortunately the course upkeep and conditioning leave much to be desired. Upon entering the grounds the first site you see is the dilapidated Elks Club, and unfortunately the course conditions match the run down status of the building. The greens were decent, but otherwise conditioning was poor throughout. With some TLC this could be a fantastic course, but it’s current state it leaves much to be desired. Several buyers are interested in the property and the right owner could do some magic here and restore this great course to it’s rightful glory.
Read my full story: The Sandhills – high-class designs outside Pinehurst
Southern Pines is the YMCA of the sand hills of the greater Pinehurst resort area. Of course the locals will say it’s actually in Southern Pines but I’m going to refer to everything in the area as Pinehurst to make it easy.
This review is super biased as I was playing with a local and member of this lovely course who is completely in love with it and believes it’s the perfect course to sneak off and play 9 holes every evening. Honestly though, it’s hard to argue with that.
First of all, it’s totally empty in the afternoons; you can walk fast and play fast. It’s a beautiful property with some serious elevation changes and giant tree-lined fairways. The conditioning is that of your typical YMCA, which is slightly under-loved, and run down. If you can get past that what you find is wonderful architectural bones and great holes with interesting greens and no two holes alike. If this beauty ever gets the love and restoration that it deserves you will see it jump to the top echelon of courses in the Pinehurst area. My host would no doubt argue it’s already there. Maybe he’s right. Perhaps the best part of the current set up is that a round might cost you 30-50 USD making it by a mile the best value in the greater Pinehurst area without the 5-hour round.
I’m not sure he would be too happy with me letting the secret out but heed my warning. If it’s a perfectly manicured fairway you want then you need not show up here or you will be annoyed at me for sending you and you’d better go and pay 350 USD to play at Pinehurst Resort.
This is simply an excellent course that will be loved by the purist. One day it will be bought, loved a little and regain all its glory, then the days of the 30-50 USD green fees will be a long lost memory.
Until then, add this to your list of must visits in the area.