The theme of this installment of the Ball Marks Collection will be for the entire Pinehurst resort, but most specifically my love for #2, and The Cradle. I have been lucky enough to play golf at some spectacular places in the United States like Bethpage Black, Torrey Pines, and the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, but Pinehurst #2 may be #1 in my heart. Although it didn’t beat out the Old Course at St.Andrews, because nothing will ever beat that, the experience I had at Pinehurst was unlike any other.
As soon as you pull into Pinehurst and drop your bags off, the southern hospitality is on full display. From the bag drop attendants, to Tom at The Cradle, who I will get to later, the entire staff was not only helpful, but a pleasure to deal with during our time on site. I mean, who could blame these workers for being so happy, seeing they are working in golf heaven.
After dropping off our bags, and working our way through the clubhouse, it took a little longer than planned, because we found ourselves surveying each and every piece of memorabilia that lined the walls of the hallway leading out to #2. From the 1936 PGA Championship, to the 2014 Mens and Womens U.S. Open, Pinehurst has been the home of some of the most elusive golf history in the country, which will continue with the 2019 US Am, and 2024 U.S. Open events that will take place at #2 in the near future.
While we weren’t playing for any trophies, which became pretty evident after I flubbed my opening tee shot, this round at #2 would create a history of its own, as one of the most enjoyable rounds of golf I have ever played. I am going to get ahead of the narrative early on, and admit that the caliber of play on this trip was sub par, which I know is contradictory when talking golf #LiveUnderPar, but there were times on this trip where I felt like I had never picked up a golf club before. Instead of getting discouraged and having it ruin the trip, I decided pretty early on (about 9 holes into Kiawah Island) that this trip would be more about the experience, than the score on a scorecard.
Our caddie Sam was damn near perfect for our group. As knowledgeable as he was about the course, it’s history, and how to best work your way around this amazing layout, he was just as encouraging, and entertaining. No one in our group was grinding to shoot the course record, rather we were just out there to enjoy what Pinehurst #2 has to offer. Now unfortunately, we caught the bad end of the aerated stick, and the greens had recently been punched, so we did not get the fiery greens as expected, but they were still running surprisingly true, and slick, to the point that I could not imagine what they are like in full force. So even though we did not get the “U.S. Open” effect of Pinehurst, it in no way ruined the beauty and nuance of the course.
One of the first questions my dad and I asked Sam was, what the signature hole on the course was, and even he had a tough time answering. This was early in the round, and we didn’t quite understand why a course of this stature didn’t have a “signature hole”. As we made our way through the third hole, with Donald Ross’ home in the pines up by the green, we started to realize why there isn’t one hole that will blow you away, because it is the course in its entirety that make it so signature. The tee shot on the long downhill 4th was my first “wow” moment, the course really started to take its shape, and so did our group. It wasn’t until the Par 5 5th, where I made my first par of the day, which resulted in the first of many drinks during the next 3.5 hours.
As we came up the 7th fairway, Sam really started to shine as a caddie, telling us “as New Yorkers you’ll get a kick out of this”, and points behind this mansion deep in the pines to the left. He told us to go walk into the backyard, and see what the owner of the home had paid $100,000 for, and it did not disappoint….
What an absolute power move to just have the old Yankee Stadium facade sitting in your backyard, of what can be assumed is their 3rd vacation home. There were other stories told about that man, that will be kept inside the pines of #2, but if you are lucky enough to play, be sure to ask your caddie about the man with a piece of Yankee Stadium just off the fairway on the 7th hole.
After grabbing drinks, we head to the Par 3 9th, which just so happens to be one of the more visually daunting holes on the course, and it played just as hard as it looked. With a tucked left pin, I of course tried to go right after it, which resulted in me trying to hit a flop shot from 10 yard behind the green, and at Pinehurst #2 if you are not perfect, you will be penalized. Think I walked away with a 5, but at this point, the actual golf is taking a back seat to the experience of walking this amazing course, and just enjoying the moment, and the company. That seems to be the theme of this entire #SouthernSwing trip, really hitting home the fact that golf is not just about what you made on the last hole, or if you are going to break 100, 90, or 80, rather it is about the journey through those 18 holes, and how it can lead to moments that don’t show up on a scorecard.
Our group decided to have a little match on the back, which made the round even more enjoyable, because who doesn’t love a little action. It just so happens that once the drinks start flowing, and the money is on the table, the entire group starts to play a little better. While still sticking with the same attitude of “enjoying the moment”, the scores, the match, and the $20, continued to take a back seat to the laughs, and banter throughout the group, caddies included.
A back and forth match throughout the back 9, and after a couple pars on both sides, I drained a 15 foot par putt (after an abysmal birdie opp) on the Par 3 15th, threw in a little fist pump in the air, and walked off the green 1-Up with 3 to play. Now, what happened the next couple holes was less than ideal play, and one really funky putt from Ball Marks Sr later (see IG), we stood on the 18th tee 1-Down. Now us Ball Marks boys don’t stand down from a challenge, or a bet, so we obviously press the 18th, and with after two pounded tee shots, we walked up the 18th fairway (and waste area), to see a rather raucous crowd at The Deuce, just steps off the 18th green.
As a golfer, you always dream of sinking that last putt in front of a huge crowd to win a major championship. Now I am not sure a couple drunk golfers betting on each group that passes through fits into that category, but there was sure as hell some pressure. This was as close as us amateurs will get to the glory of performing in front of a “crowd”, and as I sank my 6 foot par putt (after another abysmal birdie opp), it felt like I was Martin Kaymer in 2014. Now we may have still lost the match (pushed press), but at this point we were so far gone from caring about our scores, that it was one of the cooler moments I have ever had on a golf course.
After the round, we became the drunk golfers on the deck of the Deuce betting on golfers as they came through, and let me tell you, THAT is entertainment. Watching amatuer golfers, just like you and I, grinding over putts to try and impress the crowd, and win a couple bets, is pure entertainment, and I could sit there all day. The serenity I felt sitting with a drink in my hand at the Ryder Cup Bar in Kiawah, and the excitement I had sitting on the porch of the Deuce at Pinehurst were perfect places to finish a round that you won’t soon forget.
Going back to the initial question we asked our caddie Sam about signature holes, I have my answer, and it’s the whole damn course. Sure, the tee shot on 4, the Par 3 9th, and the experience on the 18th were all amazing in their own way, but I just could not pinpoint one specific hole that stands out from the rest, and that is the highest compliment you can give a golf course in my opinion. There is no doubt in my mind that I will play #2 again, but I cannot wait to check out the other courses that Pinehurst has to offer, and from what I have heard, #4, which is currently being restored by Gil Hanse, is going to be another crown jewel of the Pinehurst resort.
We would not have been doing Pinehurst justice if we did not play The Cradle, and thank god we did, because it turned out to be some of the most fun you can have on a golf course. A short 9 hole course that’s longest hole is only 120 yards (and plays shorter) could be played for hours and you still would want to keep playing. Even though we almost missed our tee time because we were closing down every bar in Pinehurst the night before, our good friend Tom, the starter of the Cradle, happily fit us in. A man that been retired for 20 somewhat years, which didn’t last very long seeing he has been working for Pinehurst all these years, was the epitome of everything Pinehurst. From his story telling, to his love of the game of golf, which he said he has played about $350,000 worth of golf during his time, Tom was a model employee. It wasn’t until he told us that he had NEVER won employee of the month, that I knew we needed to make that happen. A man that not only loves his job, and makes the experience of the Pinehurst customers that much more enjoyable, deserves to be honored with Employee of the Month.
After Tom so graciously sent us on our way, we soon realized that just because The Cradle “tips out” at 789 yards, that does not mean it is in anyway easy. With green complexes that would make Bryson DeChambeau go into anaphylactic shock without his protractor, The Cradle provided nearly infinite ways to play each hole. While we didn’t get the fiery greens at #2, the greens at The Cradle were playing so damn fast that I am almost thankful I didn’t have to putt on greens like those during my round the day before.
With music coming out of the rocks, and a drink trailer propped up at the peak of playing grounds, The Cradle gave off such a vibe that would attract golfers, and non golfers alike. Even though it was enjoyable with just Ball Marks Sr. and myself, I can only imagine how much fun it could be with a large group with action throughout. The possibilities are endless at The Cradle, and if you are lucky enough to make your way to Pinehurst, playing this short course is an absolute must.
The Pinehurst Resort provided some of the greatest memories I have had on and off the golf course, and there is no doubt in my mind that I will be making my way down there the next chance I get. Everything about Pinehurst is world class, between the golf and the staff, the community they have built inside the pines is nothing short of perfection.
Next Stop on the #SouthernSwing…The Golden Horseshoe