April 10, 2015
This year’s Golf Writers Association of America Pre-Masters Tournament returned its competitors to some familiar courses. This group of avid golfers was perfectly fine with that.
I spent April Fools’ Day on a 400-mile drive to Southern Pines, N.C., home of the Pine Needles-Mid Pines Resort (910-692-2114). I pulled into the parking lot for Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club as the evening sun streamed through the trees and the adjacent golf course.
It was the perfect time of day for shooting those golf course photos that grace thousands of calendars. Considering the lousy weather we’d had in the Cape Region, the scene was also a welcome reintroduction to a beautiful Sandhills spring.
Our first round began the next day at Mid Pines, a Donald Ross par-72 design that underwent a serious renovation several years ago, with hundreds of trees removed from the course along with other improvements.
Astute observers of the recent documentary feature “The Short Game” will recognize Mid Pines as the location for some of the playing scenes, as well as the interviews of the kids playing in the U.S. Kids World Championship. The special tee placards for U.S. Kids tournaments remain on the course.
For seniors and other short hitters, the Mid Pines green tee boxes will provide plenty enough challenge, while avoiding a few forced carries that might otherwise literally dampen spirits. The other challenges of a Ross course remain, including convex greens that bounce shots off the putting surface onto the closely mown edges.
Pine Needles, the sister course across Midland Road, was our second-round host. Another Donald Ross classic, this layout has hosted three U.S. Women’s Open Championships, as well as several other significant tournaments.
Judging from the pin locations and the speedy, rounded greens, I had the impression that our hosts thought the GWAA bunch should experience the same kind of challenge. A few of my putts rolled off the green and past the fringe, and I was in good company. As one of my playing partners said, however, we were the problem with our play, and not the course.
The fine folks at Country Club of North Carolina hosted our third round, on the private club’s Cardinal Course. As we approached the first tee, I saw a helpful sign not often seen on the golf courses I usually play – a Stimpmeter announcement, telling the golfers the greens were running at a speedy 11.
Considering the dry conditions and the 20-knot winds that held steady throughout most of the round, I think that 11 reading was only accurate on the uphill putts. Otherwise, these perfectly manicured greens were running faster than most I’d ever experienced elsewhere.
Closely mown Bermuda rough presented the other significant challenge of the Cardinal course. Any shot that ran into those areas would keep running, into even more trouble.
My best bogey began with a tee shot that landed on an uphill fairway, bounced into the left rough 15 yards away, and then rolled downhill another 15 yards into a pond edged with red stakes. I could tell from the divots that I was not the only one to experience this hole this special way. A 6-foot putt saved the bogey, so it wasn’t a complete disaster.
The staff at Mid Pines and Pine Needles maintained their usual genteel, helpful manner, and the accommodations were fine. Pop’s Lounge, the bar adjacent to the Mid Pines pro shop, carried a lengthy list of Carolina microbrew offerings, which encouraged experimentation. The GWAA members were up to the task.
For most of us, from there it was on to Augusta National Golf Club for Masters Week.