Courses & TravelFebruary 16, 2011

What's Next For Pinehurst And The Pit?

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On Monday, the Pinehurst Resort, which has eight golf courses under its umbrella, bought the shuttered Pit Golf Links in Aberdeen, about five miles South of the Carolina Hotel.

Why? Not necessarily to add a course and satisfy a surge in demand, but more likely, it's because the Pit was cheap, and it made sense given the layout of the Pinehurst property.

               To simplify the scenario: The resort owns a doughnut-shape chunk of land; the Pit was the doughnut hole Pinehurst didn't own. It was in the resort's best interest to control that piece of property, and the timing and the price were right. So Robert Dedman Jr. filled in the gap by purchasing the Pit, which gives his family 925 acres of uninterrupted land.

An article in The Pilot, the local paper, addressed speculation that this was a move toward a former resort plan to develop a golf village near Aberdeen. Based on the economy, the status of the golf industry and the amount of competition in the area, don't expect the Pit to reopen for play anytime soon. In fact, one source close to the situation that I spoke to didn't rule out the possibility that golf at the Pit is gone forever: "It's not exactly a great time to be opening golf courses."

Dedman released a statement Monday night: "Over the next several weeks we plan to evaluate the golf course, clubhouse and other facilities. Right now we're focused on reopening Pinehurst No. 2. Once that is behind us, we'll determine the next steps."

Pinehurst No. 2, the site of the 2014 Men's and Women's U.S. Opens, will reopen March 4, after a one-year restoration project by the design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.

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After a run of financial struggles and unfavorable course conditions, the Pit closed on Dec. 20 and was later purchased in a foreclosure sale by a North Carolina businessman for $1.08 million. The Pinehurst purchase price was not disclosed.

Before Dec. 20, you could've played the Pit for $49 on weekdays and $59 on weekends. In addition to being good value, the former sand quarry separated itself in an area loaded with great golf by being what has been described as a "tricky" layout.

Then along came Tobacco Road in 1998, a Mike Strantz design, which, as one local avid golfer put it, "outpitted the Pit." (Tobacco Road is bigger, better, harder and with more tricks to the layout than the Pit.)

Bill Fields, Senior Editor of Golf World, grew up in nearby Southern Pines. "There was a lot of excitement locally when the Pit was being built, because folks knew it wasn't located on typical Sandhills terrain," he says. "I wrote about the course and photographed it for Golf World shortly before it opened in 1985. Dan Maples created it in and around an abandoned commercial sand mine that had been dormant for a decade and was a haven for dirt bikers. Back in the day, the sand had gone a lot of places, including to the Blue Ridge Parkway when it was constructed in the 1930s. When I first drove around on the property,' Maples told me then, my mind was going crazy. I had never seen anything like it. It was so beautiful--a 200-acre hole in the ground. You couldn't create what I found here.'"

Adds Fields: "It was a cool landscape, and Maples did a nice job. It'll be too bad if it's closed for good, because a lot of golfers have had a lot of fun out there through the years. When I got married in 1988, a group of us played the Pit the day before the ceremony and Pinehurst No. 2 the morning of the wedding. Now No. 2's getting restored beautifully for more glory days, and the Pit's fate is uncertain."

Here's the harsh reality that we all know, but a lot of us avid golfers try to ignore: For the fifth straight year there have been more course closures than openings in the U.S. That trend will continue. Not every course is going to make it through these corrections in the economy, the game and the industry.

--Matty G.

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