U.S. Open 2024: The Village of Pinehurst is the quaintest place in America outside of a TV show

June 15, 2024

Photo Courtesy of The Pilot

PINEHURST, N.C. — On the shelf running the length of the western wall at Agora Bakery and Cafe in the Village of Pinehurst, while you wait in line to order breakfast, you can peruse or even buy catch purses, stationery, china, bottles of honey or gourmet coffee. Yet my gaze settled on a postcard of a woman in golf attire, poised fetchingly above the words "In my Pinehurst era."

I, too, was in my Pinehurst era on Saturday morning, at least for the hours before my miraculous parking spot on the corner of Market and Dogwood expired. As if by magic, a tray of free sample macarons popped up above a display—the lavender was excellent—and then I ordered the breakfast sandwich (egg, bacon, cheese, impossibly light sourdough) and the hair-of-the-dog flight of champagne that had been recommended (pomegranate, classic orange, apple-pear). We had not yet hit 11 a.m., but outside it was already creeping up to 90 degrees, so I chose a compromise table between the cool interior and the outdoor patio—a small area, covered but full of light, brick floors, flowers on each tabletop.

Nothing about the Village of Pinehurst feels exactly real, especially during U.S. Open week. You tell yourself not to use the word "quaint" in describing it, but it's unavoidable—this is a town seemingly designed by an obsessive director of a film set in 1950s America, before the fall, except he dressed everyone in golf clothes and gave them phones. Some buildings are low structures, and others have a hint of the antebellum; even the ReMax office has a sprawling verandah with white columns and white rocking chairs. Walking the streets, your steps unconsciously slow, a willowy woman with an acoustic guitar appears, white dress, brown boots, singing about the smell of wine and cheap perfume, smiling at you as you pass. It's dream-like, especially with a little heat and a little champagne.

The course we're all here for, No. 2., is a short walk away, but the most immediate patch of manicured grass is at the village green, James W. Tufts Memorial Park. Tufts was a soda-fountain magnate who bought all this land in 1895 and had very little idea what to do with it until golf sprang to mind. Now his park is a market bedecked with various tents, and in the middle of them all a big screen displaying the Peacock feed with the early action at the U.S. Open. In this oval you can find plenty of blueberries, oyster mushrooms, handmade soaps, raw honey, carrots, radishes, flowers, trellises, "hemp products," enough baked bread to fill a grain silo, peaches, pottery, magnets, woven dish cloths, kettle corn, and wax candles. There's a rusted Ford truck that must be from the 1920s, and a indoor golf simulator. At the entrance is a black truck advertising Jon Rahm's tequila, Maestro Dobel, and if you're not careful they'll give you a black towel and a black Volvik golf ball.

This is only a few blocks of land. If you consider Pinehurst second place on the list of most romanticized golf destinations outside Augusta, it distinguishes itself from the green jackets by how thoroughly integrated the town is with the resort. You get the sense that Augusta National could exist separate from the city of Augusta, but at Pinehurst, the two have a more clearly defined symbiotic relationship. Of course, that's easy when your village is populated by the kind of people who were drawn here by the golf, and who mostly buy into the paradisiacal branding of the resort.

But it is lovely. Outside Agora, you see the fans dining at the outdoor tables by the Village Deli, chatting about the tournament, and you want to shout at them to just stay there all day, drinking and watching on the screen, rather than subjecting themselves to the brutal heat of No. 2. There is a cupcake shop. There is a jewelry store. There are art galleries. There's an indoor shopping mall called "The Theatre." There are charming hotels, and restaurants like Lisi Italian where I keep hearing about the chicken parm, and a pub called Dugan's with a celtic-knot logo, and a pub called Drum & Quill named after the golf writer Bob Drum where they make a whiskey sour with egg white. There is a sign advertising free parking for golf carts. The sidewalks are clean, the people nod. The streets have names like Cherokee, and Chinquapin and Linden. There are trees, but not just the pines; magnolias, palmettos, maples. A man pushing a stroller with a tattoo of Jesus and his crown of thorns on his calf leads you to the "Roast Office," a tiny cafe and a bookstore that used to be the town post office. People hold doors for you. At Agora, I watched a muscular man with a Coast Guard T-shirt stand up to open the door for a busboy. Pinehurst makes you do these things.

At the bookstore, I bought a mystery by Jo Nesbo and a book about mermaids for my daughter. I walk back to my car past the village green, and a statue of Donald Ross, and the Jon Rahm truck. It was good for an escape, and one you can recommend happily. There are no walls to confine you, but the towering pines of the Sandhills give some separation from the world at large, and allow you to convince yourself that you're living out some kind of nostalgic fantasy.

Of course, it's getting hot, and you can't stay. But as a last silent courtesy from the village, when you can't remember where you parked your car, it appears before you after a few steps, still on the corner of Market and Dogwood. I was afraid the spot might have been too good to be true, but there is no parking ticket stuck beneath a windshield wiper, and I feel almost cynical for looking.