Day Trip: Mid Pines a Sandhills Classic

 

 

The 18th at Mid Pines, with the Mid Pines Inn in the background, is one of the best finishing holes in the Sandhills. (Kevin Murray photo)

 

Designed in 1921, Mid Pines just might be the most underrated Donald Ross course in the N.C. Sandhills. Located across Midland Road from its more highly-regarded sister, Pine Needles, Mid Pines deserves every bit of praise it gets from golf insiders.

In 2013, the course underwent a head-to-toe restoration by architect Kyle Franz. Green complexes were brought back to their original dimensions and the entire look of the course was changed to re-introduce sandy native areas off fairways and near greens. Now, players can experience Mid Pines practically as it was when the course first opened.

Although the course only measures 6,723 yards from the back tees, it’s all the golf you want, even for the game’s best players. Most players will want to move up and play the white tees and even at that, you will probably use all the clubs in your bag.

First-time visitors will be amazed at the amount of elevation change at Mid Pines and golf purists will be pleased at the variety of hole designs. No two holes look the same and all play strategically different. Mid Pines is an intricate and complex mix of long par-3s, short par-4s, dogleg par-4s and reachable par-5s.

The first hole is 401 yards from the back tees and starts the round from an elevated tee. Golf Atlas says, “If this view from the first tee doesn’t make you itch to play golf, you need to find a different pursuit.”

From there, a good score will require some precise golf. Mid Pines is not long and brutal enough to beat you up. Instead, the difference between success and failure can be a razor’s edge.

As you make your way down the 18th, one of the best finishing holes in the Sandhills, with the Mid Pines Inn in view, you’ll get the feeling you’ve played at one of the best places for pure golf you’ll ever find. And you’ll immediately start planning your next trip.

Mid Pines Golf Club

1010 Midland Road

Southern Pines, NC

(910) 692-2114

www.pineneedles-midpines.com

 

 

Smaller is better for Ping G400

Ping’s G400 driver is 445 cc, smaller than most

At a time when most equipment manufacturers are stretching the limits as to how large a driver can be, the engineers at Ping went in the opposite direction – they went smaller.

Ping’s new G400 driver weighs in at 445 cc, slightly under the industry standard of 460 cc, the largest the USGA rules will allow. Ping says the smaller size improves the G400’s aerodynamics for faster clubhead speeds and greater moment of inertia (MOI), which is the club’s resistance to twisting on off-center hits.

That is paired with a forged, heat-treated face that increases flexing of the face at impact by 16 percent, compared with other Ping drivers. The combination results in a 2 mph increase in ball speed.

The driver’s tungsten weight is positioned lower and farther back, which the company says makes the G400 its most forgiving driver, based on dispersion testing.

The G400 comes with three clubhead options for most every type of player. The standard model fits most golfers. The Straight Flight (SFT) model helps correct a left-to-right flight (for right-handed golfers) by positioning the tungsten weight toward the heel and features a lower swing weight to help players square the face. The Low Spin (LST) has the tungsten weight positioned nearer the face to reduce spin around 300 rpm for a stronger ball flight.

The stock shaft for the G400 is the 55-gram Alta CB, which is counter-balanced. The Ping Tour 65 and 75 are available at an upcharge as are aftermarket shafts Mitsubishi Kuro Kage Silver Dual-Core TiNi 60, Project X HZRDUS Yellow 75 and Aldila X-Torsion Copper.

Bob Gillespie: 5 (and a bonus) best daily fee courses in Columbia, S.C.

Say “golf” and “South Carolina” to most players, and three locations come to mind: Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Hilton Head. No surprise, given the Grand Strand’s 90-plus courses and vacation-golf reputation; the Holy City’s Ocean Course, host to the 1991 Ryder Cup and 2012 (and 2021) PGA Championship; and Harbour Town Golf Links, S.C.’s annual host to the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing.

By comparison, Columbia doesn’t have the daily-fee quantity of any of its coastal cousins, but there’s enough solid public-access golf in the Capital City to fill up a weeklong tee sheet. The area’s top five (and a bonus) daily-fee courses:

Cobblestone Park Golf Club, Blythewood

Located along Interstate 77, Cobblestone started life as The University Course, a private layout affiliated with the University of South Carolina, and the school’s men’s and women’s teams maintain a clubhouse there. Now owned by home-builder DR Horton, the club has memberships but also high-end, daily-fee play.

P.B. (son of Pete) Dye and PGA Tour veteran Lee Janzen designed Cobblestone’s original 18 holes (Garnet and Black nines, a combined 6,788 yards) and its shorter third (Gold) nine, respectively. All 27 holes offer heavily rolling terrain, plenty of sand and water and smooth, subtly contoured greens, plus Columbia’s newest (and one of its largest) clubhouses, overlooking the signature, water-lined par-5 18th hole.

www.cobblestoneparkgolfclub.com

Golden Hills Golf & Country Club, Lexington

Like Cobblestone, Golden Hills (off U.S. 378 just east of Lexington) was planned as a membership-only facility but since has opened to outside play. Florida-based architect Ron Garl built the 6,476-yard, par-71 course over a hilly layout that drops significantly from the club entrance to a creek across the back of the property, and included enough bunkers and hummocks to give it a Scottish feel.

The par-4 10th is a hole that players either love or hate, sloping downhill to a lake and requiring a short- or mid-iron approach over water to a green tightly tucked into the hillside. Befitting its private origins, Golden Hills offers tennis and an Olympic pool, plus a rustic barn-style clubhouse.

www.goldenhillsgolf.com

Oak Hills Golf Club, Columbia

When former PGA Tour player and TV commentator Steve Melnyk hosted Oak Hills’ debut, he said his philosophy was to largely position hazards to the sides of the fairway, expediting play for mid- and high-handicappers. That doesn’t mean the course, developed from the start as a daily-fee operation, is a pushover, as streams and lakes guard several holes, notably the par-3 seventh and downhill par-5 ninth.

The 6,894-yard, par-72 course’s elevation changes come into play immediately, the green at the short par-4 first hole sitting atop a steep hill. One of Columbia’s best holes is the downhill, par-4 16th, demanding a big drive down the left side to a landing area, then a precise second shot to the shallow, elevated green sitting behind a creek.

www.oakhillsgolf.com

Timberlake Country Club, Chapin

Roughly 45 minutes from Columbia, this Willard Byrd design is the only course located on the banks of Lake Murray, with its waters in play on two holes: the par-3 fourth (played over an inlet) and the par-5 18th, which skirts the water but rewards an aggressive shortcut shot to the elevated green perched above the lake.

The once-private course was featured in the New York Times when, during financial troubles, members maintained the greens complexes themselves. Now well-maintained and boasting a new two-story clubhouse, Timberlake’s rolling 6,579-yard layout is well worth the drive from the city.

www.timberlakecountryclub.com

Windermere Club, Blythewood

The Spur at Northwoods, Columbia

These two courses were simultaneous late-1980s projects by famed architect Pete Dye and his son, P.B. Reputedly, Pete constructed the then-private, high-end Windermere while P.B. was building daily-fee Northwoods, but local knowledge has it that the Dyes took turns tweaking each other’s work.

A member-for-a-day offering, Windermere has Columbia’s only bent-grass greens and plenty of Dye features. The dogleg-left, par-4 16th hole demands a blind uphill tee shot, then a downhill approach into the deep-but-narrow green. Windermere’s signature hole is the par-5 18th, wrapping left around Lake Windermere before finishing at a scary-small green guarded by the lake and deep bunkers.

For the full Dye experience, also try The Spur, renovated in 2016 after being bought by Charleston attorney Joe Rice (owner of private Bulls Bay). The best Dye-style hole is the risk-reward par-4 14th, where a big drive over a corner of a lake on the right can reach the green (or not), while a “safe” tee shot to the fairway requires a blind approach over large mounds and a scattering of small bunkers.

www.windermereclubsc.com

www.northwoodsgolfsc.com

 

Raintree Country Club’s superintendent super with bentgrass

Brad Fellrath, greens superintendent at Raintree Country Club. (Photo by Mike Purkey)

Call him the Bentgrass Whisperer. At a time in which golf courses in the Carolinas are running as fast as they can toward hybrid Bermuda grass for their greens, Brad Fellrath is standing pat. Fellrath, the greens superintendent at Raintree Country Club in Charlotte, remains steadfast that he not only can grow bentgrass but it can thrive in this climate.

Bentgrass has long been the preferred putting surface in golf. But in this part of the country in the summer, the oppressive heat causes untold stress to the grass and leaves superintendents no choice but to keep the grass long and the surfaces wet to prevent bentgrass to die.

Subsequently, the majority of courses in the Charlotte area have converted their bentgrass greens to one of the hybrid Bermuda grasses, which thrive in the summer heat. Even Quail Hollow Club, host of next week’s PGA Championship, converted its greens to Bermuda.

You’d think that with Quail Hollow’s budget, they could grow bentgrass if anyone could. But with they PGA coming, Quail Hollow officials decided not to take the chance of losing the greens to the heat.

Fellrath is not surrendering. Raintree’s greens are among the best in Charlotte. Certainly, Raintree’s are not the only bentgrass greens in town but Fellrath gets the nod because he has to keep up with 36 holes on the club’s North and South courses. Even in the summer heat, Raintree’s greens don’t show much stress, they are fairly firm and ball marks don’t explode.

Fellrath gets the credit. He has been Raintree’s greens superintendent for 30 years and during that tenure, he believes he has developed a method to keep good putting surfaces all year.

“Nobody around here opens their greens up like I do,” said Fellrath, whose team aerates Raintree’s greens three times a year, moving twice as much material than what is considered normal. “Because of the two courses, we can work on one course and still have another course open. And by the time that course heals – usually in a week or so – you can work on the other one. That has helped me a lot.

“Early on, if you work hard at aeration, work hard in cleaning up behind you, you get a lot less static and the members become more and more supportive. Some of the new members will say something about aeration and the older members will say, ‘His process works. You’ll be surprised.’ And they buy in pretty quickly.”

Between the summer and fall aeration, Fellrath and his team use a gentle aeration with a tine that looks like a butter knife and topdresses the greens with a light sand. “It keeps them dry and helps them receive moisture, relieves heat,” he says.

In the winter, he applies a hydrojet, injecting water into the greens, hopefully to drive the grass’ roots farther into the soil.

The club also has large fans next to a few of the greens, which help with air flow. And, Fellrath says, the elimination of metal spikes on golf shoes has made a huge difference.

“I’ve been amazed how much they have helped,” he said. “I was skeptical at first.”

All of which allows him to mow the greens at the same height all year and not have to keep them long and wet in the summer.

As a result, it has prevented the club from following the herd and converting to Bermuda.

“We haven’t had to,” Fellrath said. “We haven’t lost greens for a very long time. I just don’t see the reason to change. (Bent is) still the preferred putting surface. The new Bermuda greens are incredible. But if you don’t have any reason to change, I wouldn’t change. I think our membership would rather have bent greens.”

And the members have Fellrath to thank.

 

5 Holes to watch at Quail Hollow, site of the PGA Championship

Quail Hollow Club, host of the PGA Championship, is perhaps best known for its three-hole finishing stretch, known as the Green Mile. To be sure, holes 16-18 will be pivotal in determining the PGA winner. But here are five holes at Quail Hollow that deserve watching, as well.

No. 1, par 4, 524 yards: The PGA Championship gets off to a brutal start with the first hole, which is a brand new hole and a par 5 for the Quail Hollow members. If players hit the fairway, it’s likely a long iron second shot. But if they find the thick Bermuda rough, getting to the green in two will be a real problem. Making a bogey – or worse – is a tough way to start your round, especially in the last few groups on Sunday.

No. 7, par 5, 546 yards: This will likely be the easiest hole on the course. Just about everyone in the field should be able to get to this par-5 in two shots from the fairway. However, there’s a creek on the right of the fairway and a pond on the right that needs to be dealt with. And missing the fairway will necessitate a layup. But it’s an exciting hole to watch.

No. 11, par 4, 462 yards: About 40 yards was added to this hole in the recent course renovations. And the changes make this a much tougher hole. Not only is the tee shot more difficult but the sloping green makes it imperative that you leave your second shot below the hole. After a birdie on the par-5 11th, you need a par at the 11th to keep the momentum going.

No. 13, par 3, 208 yards: The green complex at the 13th is one of the most difficult on the course. Players will come into this green with a mid-iron to a long iron and most players will be happy to get their tee shot into the middle of this green. If not, you will pay a penalty. If you want to watch players practice their short games, park at this hole for a while.

No. 14, par 4, 344 yards: This short par 4 will entice the player to do something he might not normally attempt. It’s downhill and right to left and most certainly, this hole will be set up at least one day to encourage players to drive the green. But with firm greens and water on the left, a tough decision will have to be made, particularly among those who chase the leaders on Sunday.

Mike Purkey: Is Spieth ready to be compared to Nicklaus, Woods?

Jordan Spieth of the United States smiles during a news conference after winning the British Open last week at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)

The comparisons have been fast and inevitable. Now that Jordan Spieth has won three majors before age 24, he has been included among golf new Big Three – Spieth, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

Spieth is the second youngest to win three of golf’s four major championships and will attempt to complete the career Grand Slam at the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow. Nicklaus was the youngest and completed the Grand Slam in 1966 at age 26. Woods was 24 years and six months when he collected his Grand Slam major in 2000.

“I’ve answered this question a few times a couple years ago, so I’ll be careful with my answer,” Spieth told the media at the Open Championship. “It’s amazing. I feel blessed to be able to play the game I love, but I don’t think that comparisons are … I don’t compare myself. And I don’t think that they’re appropriate or necessary. So to be in that company, no doubt is absolutely incredible. And I certainly appreciate it. And we work really hard to have that, with that being the goal. Therefore, I enjoy moments like you saying that.

“But I’m very careful as to what that means going forward because what those guys have done has transcended the sport. And in no way, shape or form do I think I’m anywhere near that, whatsoever. So it’s a good start, but there is a long way to go.”

In a very big way, to compare Spieth with Nicklaus and Woods is blatantly unfair, particularly to create similarities with Woods, who dominated the game so completely and set a standard that could be unreachable for this generation of players.

Physically, Spieth and Woods could not be any more different. Woods overpowered the game with his strength and length. Spieth is not the shortest off the tee but he’s not nearly the longest, either.

But they do share traits. Both are outstanding iron players and it’s a toss-up as to who has the best short game. And as great a putter as Spieth is, Tiger was probably a hair’s breadth better. But no more than that.

Woods and Nicklaus had the best minds in the game, by far. But Spieth isn’t far behind. In fact, Spieth is mentally the strongest player of this generation. He is the most dogged and determined of any player in today’s game.

You hear it all the time from coaches in team sports: They want their players to compete on every play. Spieth does that. No matter the odds or the situation he’s facing, he’s completely invested in every single shot.

That’s how he won the Open Championship. After falling almost completely off the rails, he made a bogey at the 13th at Royal Birkdale when he should have easily made a 6 or a 7. He then produced one of the most remarkable stretches in major championship golf, going 5 under over the next four holes to eventually win the title by three strokes.

When Spieth arrives at Quail Hollow, he will find a long, physically demanding course. If he is to win and complete the career Grand Slam, he must improve his driving. At the Open Championship, he hit only 24 of 56 fairways and that won’t lead him to the Wanamaker Trophy at the PGA.

Brutal, thick Bermuda rough will penalize those who are wayward off the tee and that includes Spieth, no matter how good his short game and putting are. He must find a way to get the ball in the short grass if he is to have a chance.

But if the Open Championship proves anything, we are to never underestimate Spieth, no matter where he stands on the leaderboard. He never gives up or gives in. Ever.