C.C. of North Carolina takes center stage for U.S. Junior Amateur
The 18th hole at C.C. of North Carolina's Dogwood Course. (Kevin Murray)
PINEHURST, N.C. — To play the Dogwood Course at the C.C. of North Carolina as a bad golfer (like me) is a bit like being dropped halfway up Mount Everest as an out-of-shape desk jockey (like me). You are awestruck by the beauty, while simultaneously realizing that you are in very deep trouble.
Such was the experience playing the Dogwood two weeks ahead of the U.S. Junior Amateur, which starts today at CCNC and finishes with the 36-hole championship match on Saturday. The Dogwood Course and Cardinal Course host the stroke-play portion of the championship—the first since the USGA decided to expand the field from 156 to 264—while match play takes place on Dogwood. Suffice it to say, the world's best junior golfers will have their work cut out for them. As someone who can fight for the mid-80s on a good day at my local municipal course, but who until recently hasn't played steady golf for a few years, I set myself the seemingly modest goal of breaking 100. I gave it a fighting shot, too, but thick, gnarly rough and the prevalence of bunkers ready to punish any slightly errant approach took their toll. By my 16th hole it became clear that barring a miracle finish complete with birdies and perhaps an eagle, I'd fall a few shots short.
That miracle closing stretch did not transpire, but I took the time to appreciate the beauty amid the carnage. Like Pinehurst No. 2 down the road, the Dogwood Course is framed by tall pines from start to finish, immaculately maintained and worthy of the reputation it has gained despite being in the shadow of one of America's most famous courses.
This was the site of the 1980 U.S. Amateur, won by Hal Sutton, as well as the U.S. Girls' Junior in 2010 (won by Doris Chen), and countless Southern Amateurs. Founded in 1963, CCNC can claim to be one of the oldest golf communities in the Sandhills region, but age hasn't dimmed its vigor, as club leadership clearly has an appetite to showcase both of its championship courses. After this year's Junior Amateur, the first in the state of North Carolina, the course hosts the ACC Championship in 2023.
At a reception following the round on Patron’s Day, Sutton and Webb Simpson, a longtime club member and honorary chairman of the Junior Amateur, spoke about their careers and the impact of CNCC on them.
"It was a great week," Sutton said, remembering his 1980 victory as he returned to the course for the first time in 41 years. "It was a long week. The USGA makes it really hard to win. Somebody this week is going to set off their career."
"I love this place," said Simpson, who won the 2007 Southern Amateur at CCNC. "I started coming here when I was 3 or 4 years old … there couldn't be a better place for me to be part of not only a USGA championship but also merging with the Country Club of North Carolina, a place I call home."
Simpson's father, Sam, who passed away in 2017, often took the family to CCNC, where he owned property, and Simpson said he remembers his father relaxing and smiling more when he got here.
It's easy to understand. The landscape at CCNC certainly inspires reverence and a certain serenity. However, for this week's competitors, relaxation will be in short supply. The best young golfers in America will converge on an event where the winner earns a spot in next year’s U.S. Open at The Country Club. With the 2020 U.S. Junior canceled for COVID-19, the field has a surprising low number of players (14) who have previous experience in the championship. And the Dogwood Course will play at 7,301 yards to a par 71.
Many in the field will one day be household names in the landscape of professional golf. For now, they're aspirants, and as Sutton said, one of them will make his mark by the time the final putt drops on Saturday. Drama will be plentiful, and as the host, CCNC will be eager to showcase its championship courses. This is their stage, they're ready, and they have an appetite for more.