Golf Getaways on a Budget: An Inside Look at the Best the Sandhills Has to Offer
For the majority of golf enthusiasts out there, there is only one home of American golf and that is Pinehurst, NC. But Pinehurst is just one slice of the overall area that is known as the Sandhills. The Sandhills boasts over 40 championship golf courses, but it is also known for its quaint shops, beautiful parks and landscape, and southern charm night life. The area is easily accessible from Raleigh-Durham International Airport for those of you looking to come from abroad. If you are looking for that relaxing, golf-centric, put your feet up type of getaway, the Sandhills is the perfect place to spend your long weekend.
While golf can be played year round here for the most part, as March hits, temperatures start to climb and courses begin to green up from their winter slumber. On average, temperatures in the springtime generally hover in the low 60’s, but don’t be surprised to get that sun-splashed 70+ degree day where you get to break out your shorts and expose those pale winter-hibernated legs. To me, there’s nothing finer than golf in the Carolinas in the springtime! Beauty abounds.
What comes to mind when you hear Pinehurst? Most think of Pinehurst #2, the site of the 2014 Men’s and Women’s U.S. Open, right off the bat and the other numbered courses currently under the Pinehurst Resort umbrella. But, staying at the Resort and playing those courses may not be in your particular budget. As a PGA professional who has worked within a short hour’s drive of this golf epicenter for the past 8 years and played many of the courses you have heard about on television or read about online, I have created what I think is the ideal long weekend that won’t break the bank and will allow you to enjoy some of the best golf the area has to offer.
Let’s just get right at it and play what is likely to be the most unique golf course you will ever play in your golfing career: Tobacco Road. “The Road,” as it is often referred to, is a perennial Top 100 public golf course as rated by Golf Digest and gives us some of the most dramatic, thrill-seeking holes out there. Tobacco Road is located in Sanford, which is a short 20-30 minute drive north of the village of Pinehurst. Designed by the late Mike Strantz, who also gave us gems like True Blue and Caledonia in the Grand Strand of South Carolina, Tobacco Road was carved out of an old, uninhibited sand quarry and provides one of the sternest tests of shot-making and target golf I have ever faced. Last summer, they finished an overhaul of the greens surfaces in favor of Min-Verde Bermuda grass that has enriched the playing experience and elevated the overall shape of the golf course above and beyond its normal well-cared for reputation. Despite only totaling a shade over 6,500 yards from the tips, I can assure you it is not a course to scoff at even if you are a single-digit handicapper. There’s a reason why it has been rated as high as second in slope rating in the Carolinas, behind only the world famous Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. Before or after your round, be sure to check out their logoed merchandise selection inside the expansive farmhouse inspired clubhouse to take home a souvenir from your one-of-a-kind experience.
Rates: Generally in the $60-80 range depending on time of week (price includes green fee, cart fee & taxes).
After you’ve enjoyed your roller coaster ride the afternoon before, let’s move on to a more traditional designed course where everything is out in front of you: Country Club of Whispering Pines (Pines/East course). The Pines course is the more difficult of the two courses that occupy the property (the River/West course is also one to play), totaling almost 7,100 yards from the back tees. The white tees at 6,400 yards are more golfer-friendly but still everything you would want to handle over the course of 4 hours. The beauty of the Pines course is not just in the sprawling pinetree-lined fairways and expansive landing areas but also the delicate terrain changes as you meander along between the two nines. The club was designed by Ellis Maples, a Donald Ross prodigy, who took the natural surroundings full of native wire grass and pine straw and turned it into a shot-makers delight. My favorite hole on the golf course is the 11th, a gorgeous par-5 with an elevated tee that tests you each step of the way along to the green. A large water hazard spans the entire length of the hole on the left-hand side, requiring you to be precise off the tee, on your layup, and on your approach.
Rates: $40-$70 Monday through Sunday, special pricing available for tee time booked within five days.
What better way to start off your weekend than to play a true Donald Ross masterpiece, the historic Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club. Opened in 1921, Mid Pines is a staple within the Pinehurst community and to this day, remains intact to the way it was cut and shaped within its native surroundings. Every hole over the 6,723 yards takes you on a wonderful and entertaining journey through the tall Carolina pines using the area’s natural elevation changes to sculpt two nines that provide suitable challenges for both members and guests alike. A few years ago, Mid Pines underwent a restoration to bring back the original luster of what Donald Ross intended over 90 years ago but to also bring the course up to modern standards with new mini-verde Bermuda greens. The end result is a beautiful facelift that includes a couple of new tee boxes, natural waste areas, and greens that can withstand the frequent traffic of newcomers and members. You’re really not getting the essence of Pinehurst golf unless you spend a few hours traversing this celebrated land. And when your round is complete, make sure you sit down, put your legs up, and enjoy a wonderful lunch and 19th hole experience at Pop’s Lounge (try the Club Sandwich, hands down the best), adjacent to the Pro Shop. Then, take your drink outside to the expansive deck terrace and watch your fellow golfers complete their rounds at the famous 18th hole that provides a stunning backdrop of Mid Pines Inn.
Rates: $125-175 Monday-Wednesday (March through May 2015), $145-$195 Thursday-Sunday, rates include green fees, cart, and range balls.
By the time Sunday rolls around, you may be screaming for mercy. However, I have saved my favorite course in the pallet for last, the Golf Digest 4.5-star Nicklaus-Design Legacy Golf Links. This course is sure to leave you with an appetite for more. Legacy is located just a short 15-minute drive south of the Village of Pinehurst in Aberdeen and was recently rated the 2014 National Golf Course Owners Association Course of the Year and voted a Top 50 Public course by GolfWorld. From the tips, Legacy totals over 7,000 yards and is a daunting challenge for even the most skilled players, but with five total sets of tees and relatively large putting surfaces accepting approach shots, golfers of any skill level can make their way around and find it very playable. Much like Mid Pines, Legacy is a wonderfully sculpted golf course with natural elevation changes, native grasses and trees, and sprawling views of the scenic Carolina landscape. If the course wasn’t already difficult enough, in 2011, it underwent a greens renovation with new mini-verde Bermuda grass that has only elevated the course’s stature within the local public. The new surfaces are firm, fast, and true and require the proper club selection on your approach shots. Without it, you are staring a three-putt right in the face. The finishing hole at Legacy, your 72nd hole of the trip, is where you can quickly win or lose that bet you have had going all weekend with your buddies (trust me, I’ve been there). In my opinion, the 18th is the toughest test for a final hole in the entire Pinehurst area. “The Bear,” as it was come to be known, has been rated the best finishing hole in Moore County by Pinehurst Magazine.
Rates: $59-$89 Monday – Thursday (March – May), $59-$99 Friday – Sunday (March – May), special afternoon late-play rates after 1 or 2 pm from $39-$69.
Interested in Planning Your Golf Trip?
There are numerous Sandhills golf trip planners out there that you can use to book your stay. Each of them offers wonderful rates, a diverse selection of courses, and comfortable accommodations for anything from you and your buddy guy’s weekend to a group of 12 or 16’s reunion. Below are you my suggestions:
- Tobacco Road Travel – My #1 Choice
- Legacy Golf Packages
- Talamore Golf & Travel
- Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club/Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club
Other Notable Courses to Consider Adding:
- Pinehurst No. 9 (formerly National Golf Club)
- Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club
- Seven Lakes Country Club
- Dormie Club
- Carolina Trace Country Club
- Southern Pines Golf Club
- Homewood Suites by Hilton – My #1 Choice and Favorite
- Comfort Inn
- Springhill Suites by Marriott
- Hampton Inn & Suites
- Residence Inn by Marriott
- Talamore Golf Villas
- Mellow Mushroom
- Squire’s Pub
- Mulligan’s on 18
- The Sly Fox
- Casa Mexicana
Looking for additional golf trips? Check out our Guide to the Best Golf, Food, and Fun South Florida Has to Offer, A Golfer’s Guide to the Best Golf on the Strip, and A Golfer’s Guide to Navigating Palm Beach Florida.