An essential play: Donald Ross' historic Southern Pines Golf Club in the Sandhills of North Carolina

The history of Southern Pines Golf Club is similar to reading about the birthplace of golf in the Sandhills region. The course was the third ever design by Donald Ross with the first nine holes originally opening in 1906. Ross came back a few years later, re-routing a couple of holes while adding nine more to create a prize of a golf course that he considered one of his more remarkable designs.

Southern Pines Golf Club
Southern Pines Golf Club was the third ever design by Donald Ross.
Southern Pines Golf ClubSouthern Pines G.C.
If you go

Southern Pines Golf Club is in beautiful shape for this time of year, and although the rough is still dormant, the greens, fairways and tees are in pristine condition. The bunkers are in great shape and the aprons around the green are vast and meticulously cut to compete with the smoothness of the greens themselves.

The golf course's layout is easily distinguishable by the tall pine trees that line the fairways. It was easy to tell from the start that Southern Pines was going to demand some well placed shots. The scorecard reads that it is only 6,354 from the back tees, but in reality, it plays longer than that. The long, elevated greens can make the par 4s difficult to reach at times, and along with the positioning demanded off of the tee, even some of the shortest par 4s presented a challenge.

While the condition of the course got my attention first, it was the greens that held my attention throughout the round. When I think about standard Donald Ross greens, I think of small targets and false fronts. There are some subtleties here that are uncommon in typical Donald Ross designs. Southern Pines Golf Club's greens are larger, two-tiered and elevated. They have a lot of character, and depending on where the hole is located, they could be friendly or harsh. By not selecting the right club for your distance, it could mean the difference between a 10-foot putt and a 60-foot putt.

The raised greens and the long, wide aprons -- as well as the fine condition of the grass -- were perfect conditions to execute my bump and run shots. There are strategically placed greenside bunkers, but at the same time, the bailout areas are fair and available for the golfer able to reasonably place his or her shots.

The bentgrass greens were running what I would estimate to be at an 8 (most likely because of rain) in the summer, and in the fall they are known to exceed a 10. Long putts were anything but boring because of the rolling terrain and double tiers. Hitting the ball to the same tier as the hole was definitely an advantage.

The par-4 sixth was one of the toughest holes on the course and is the no. 1 handicap hole from the back tees. If your tee shot is accurate enough to get through the tree-lined area leading to the fairway, you are left with a pretty lengthy second shot, especially if the hole is located in the back of the two-tiered green. At 423 yards, it's a good test even for better players. While the par 5s were not long, they needed to be played with a tactical approach. The course is a par 71, and therefore there were only two par 5s. They both required approach shots that reached the green in the air or else they would roll down the sides.

There are three par 3s with the shortest being 168 yards. They are well bunkered and have relatively long greens. Club selection is the primary concern, and when you are hitting a middle iron (or perhaps even a hybrid on the lengthier 185-yard no. 9) the par 3s seem even more intimidating.

I was able to devour a home-made chicken salad sandwich at the turn -- which, by the way, was delicious. The course doesn't come back in after no. 9, therefore I was happy to see the halfway house and even happier that there were some friendly people with good food to offer. This course was a bit of a throwback when it came to the total experience, and even though the golf shop is dated, it is clean and neat and the employees were sociable.

The overall playability of Southern Pines Golf Course was excellent in my opinion. It's not long, especially from tee to green, but the 129 slope from the blue tees indicates Southern Pines Golf Club is anything but easy. The rough is long enough to let you know you're in the rough but not long enough to make your ball disappear. The lies off of the fairway are tremendous, and even though the most challenging aspect of the course is the elevated and elongated greens, there is plenty of room to run the ball up to the hole if you miss the green.

Southern Pines Golf Club is a fair test, a great experience and should be essential to your list of courses to play in the Southern Pines area. I will be playing there again.

-- Contributed by Vici J. Pate Flesher, a PGA of America Member and a Certified PGA Instructor. She is the Women's Golf Coach at High Point University in North Carolina, and was a three-year co-captain on the Illinois State golf team and a first-team All-Conference honoree.

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