There are several places on the globe which could easily earn the distinction of "Golf capital of the world." The hallowed grounds of Augusta National, the rocky cliffs of Pebble Beach, and the wispy grass of St. Andrews - by their own decree "the home of golf" - all have a very compelling case for the title. Which is why it seemed a little strange when twice in a single day the phrase was used to describe Pinehurst, the historic resort in the sand hills of North Carolina.
I might have ignored these seemingly off-base proclamations were it not for the source. The first was my grandfather, a golf professional by trade who traveled to compete on the fairways of Pinehurst for many years. And the second was none other than Arnold Palmer, the game's elder statesman and perhaps its most beloved champion. I sensed there was something about Pinehurst which I couldn't fully understand until I saw it for myself, but for most of the drive leading to this supposed "capital" of the game, I had my doubts.
|Pinehurst's original hotel. The historic Holly Inn.|
The 200 mile stretch of I-95 through South Carolina did little to relieve my skepticism. Specifically, the 199 billboards for South of the Border, the abominable tourist trap which straddles North and South Carolina and is the perfect example of why the rest of the world hates us. The idea of the golf capital of the world being in such close proximity was simply unimaginable.
Pinehurst, we soon discovered, is located an hour outside the middle of nowhere, raising still more doubts on its status as the epicenter for the game of golf. Once off the interstate we soon found ourselves in a land where cotton and tobacco are king. Where fields with dilapidated barns outnumbered cars on the road, and what few we did see were often adorned with a Confederate flag.
|Downtown Rowland, North Carolina |
The two-lane country road led us through one rural community after another, each with their own downtown area, boarded up and left for dead. The years have been unkind to this part of the country; progress a decidedly absent notion. What's left is a vacuum of jobs and business, filled instead by an abundance of liquor stores, discount tobacco shops, and makeshift casinos - the vices which seem to disproportionately prey on the poor.
And yet for golfers, this road through nowhere may as well be paved with yellow bricks. For at the end lies our own Emerald City, a shining fortress accessible only by the few, and a nearly impossible dream for those lost in the surrounding Haunted Forest.
But is Pinehurst the "Golf capital of the world?"
The granters of such titles would have a hard time arguing against it. After all, no where else in the world will you find an entire city specifically built around the game of golf. They even have their own language, with phrases like "I'm on the 7 tomorrow" making sense nowhere else on the planet. At every turn, from the restaurants and pubs, to the halls of the Carolina Hotel and the fairways of famed #2, the history of Pinehurst isn't just displayed on the walls, but felt deep inside the bones of all that visit.
Some would say there's a mystique to Pinehurst that can't be found anywhere else in the world. I felt it, but soon came to realize that this aura wasn't coming from Pinehurst, but instead was the overriding spirit of the game of golf. That unseen, driving force, which has guided the principles of this great game for centuries. It's something that no person or place can ever claim ownership, but is carried by each and every player that tees it up in the morning, be it at their local muni or Pinehurst #2. For three days in the sand hills of North Carolina, Pinehurst was indeed my golf capital of the world, and there was an entire city that no doubt agreed with me.
Enjoy Your Stay
Special thanks to Pinehurst for hosting our visit. As always, all opinions - especially concerning South of the Border - are entirely my own.