PINEHURST, N.C. – Not swinging a golf club on a trip to Pinehurst is like going to the beach and staying dry.
Some purists regard the tiny Southern village — roughly equidistant from Charlotte and Raleigh in rural central North Carolina — as the spiritual center of U.S. golf, where golf saturates life and life is lived on the links.
More than 40 courses blanket Moore County, the most famous being the vaunted Pinehurst No. 2, site of this year’s U.S. Open. Designers from Donald Ross to Jack Nicklaus have molded courses here, and champions from every generation since the 1930s have played their way through this out-of-the-way golfing mecca.
“The golf, almost from the beginning, has been a part of the culture of the town. I don’t think it’s separate,” said Audrey Moriarty, director of the Tufts Archives, a collection that traces the history of Pinehurst. “It all grew up together. It was all symbiotic.”
So, even though the flagship course, No. 2, will shut down for about a month around the U.S. Open on June 16-19, the thousands of visitors coming in to watch one of golf’s four major tournaments undoubtedly will look for a place to tee off, with plenty of opportunities to play topflight courses.
And for those who somehow end up in Pinehurst without a bag of clubs or who tire of marching along the manicured emerald fairways, the region offers more than just golf. Instead of a good walk spoiled, a walk through downtown Pinehurst and the adjacent resort may entertain for an afternoon.
Boston soda fountain magnate James W. Tufts founded the village in 1895 as a health resort among the longleaf pine forests of North Carolina’s Sandhills. Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York City’s Central Park, drew the blueprint for the adjoining village and the bones of it haven’t changed much since then.
Locally owned specialty shops and restaurants fill the storefronts. Lush lawns, azaleas and dogwoods line the winding roads.
To an outsider, the lines that demarcate Pinehurst Resort and the village of Pinehurst can seem blurry. The resort owns several hotels in town and the edge of downtown butts against the formal entrance to the resort clubhouse and the main lodge.
The lodge has the sort of luxurious rusticity that juxtaposes wooden rocking chairs on the front porch with Rolex wall clocks inside. A photo tribute to the 1999 U.S. Open tournament — also played at Pinehurst — fills one wall, with a center photograph of winner Payne Stewart hugging the championship trophy.
Photos from other championships and old trophies and plaques line the hallways.
“I get choked up when I go by some of those musty old pictures,” said Tom Stewart, a former golf pro who moved to Pinehurst eight years ago and operates the Old Sport Gallery, a sports memorabilia shop. “It’s like being a part of history every day.”
The Tufts Archives also offers a taste of golf history, with records and about 100,000 photos that trace Pinehurst from the early days when the Tufts family owned everything in town, including the power plant and department store, to the struggles of the 1970s, when the club was bought by a land developer and the resort temporarily went out of business. Pinehurst was revived following its purchase two decades ago by Dallas-based ClubCorp.
The archives also include about 300 original course designs and drawings by Ross, famed designer of No. 2 and many of the nation’s other top courses. Ross lived in Pinehurst during the last years of his life, when he tinkered with the layout many regard as his masterpiece.
Off the courses, small horse farms cover much of the sandy soil of Moore County. The soil and the mild climate make the area ideal for raising horses and Pinehurst village even operates a public harness-horse training center. Carolina Horse Park in nearby Raeford hosts an annual steeplechase, the American Eventing Championships and other equestrian competitions.
Pottery is another local specialty; a community of professional potters has roots in the area that go back more than 200 years, and more than 90 potters ply their trade in a 15-mile radius around nearby Seagrove. Many can be observed at work in their shops, and their products range from traditional pots and jugs to contemporary art.
The North Carolina Pottery Center in Seagrove details the history and tradition of pottery in the state through permanent and visiting exhibits.
The Weymouth Center for Arts and Humanities in Southern Pines also offers a glimpse of the arts in North Carolina. The center is home to The North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, which includes O. Henry, Thomas Wolfe and John Hope Franklin. The center is part of the former 1,200-acre estate of James Boyd, a steel and railroad magnate from Pennsylvania who moved to the area around the turn of the century.
The center also has hosted more than 600 writers for two-week residencies, with many finding inspiration in the tranquil, varied gardens that surround Boyd’s former home.
If a visit makes you decide you just might want to relocate to the area, don’t be surprised if you aren’t welcomed with open arms. Moore County has a population of only about 75,000 — and locals want to keep it that way.
Pinehurst Mayor Steven Smith, who himself retired to the town from a Pittsburgh suburb about 15 years ago, knows that part of his job is to discourage more people like him from coming to what he describes as a quaint New England town in the sandhills of North Carolina.
“We’re not interested in increasing real-estate sales by 200 percent,” Smith said. “Our notion isn’t to promote the town as much as it is to share with people what a great place this is.”
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