I remember being taken under the bridge on Beulah Hull Road by my dad for the first time, not knowing that seconds later my eyes would be exposed to nothing but golf holes. Of any golf moment, I think this was one that bonded me with Pinehurst forever. I’ve been back dozens of times for years, and so much has changed. And so much has stayed the same.
Since The Cradle’s opening in late September, its been a priority to get out to the sand-hills to see what Gil Hanse and team could do with a plot of land that held previously the first holes of courses 3 and 5. To those who haven’t been, it occupies the same space that was used as the driving range during the 2014 U.S. Opens.
I have never been a fan of course no. 5, as its been ruined by real estate which has suffocated the property. The land itself is excellent and I think likely it will be the next course worked on after Hanse and team finishes no. 4, post 2019 U.S Amateur and 2024 U.S. Open.
Pinehurst no. 3 has some of the best bones of any golf course in the area. Ross developed the land before his true fame was realized. Much like many courses there, the sandy paradise that is ever-so-present was choked by grass, closed by boring mowing lines, and ruined by white stakes. The restoration completely transformed the golf course with the addition of sandy areas, the removal of all rough, and an intention set on best returning it to it’s roots as once one of the best courses in Pinehurst. Despite the constraint of real estate on property, the end result was fantastic given the circumstances.
My connection between these two tracks and The Cradle is the piece of land that Hanse and team had to work with. The location is perfect.The first tee is a short walk from the clubhouse, and lays just beside the new Thistle Dhu putting course. Driving under the bridge on Beulah Hull Road is a much different experience than it was for me 7 years ago. Instead of grassy fields on either side of the road, the road is surrounded by a sandy, firm, weathered paradise. The contrast between weathered sand and native grasses, tight, firm looking short grass, and bold green complexes makes even a non-golfer turn their head in awe. The bunkering on The Cradle successfully captures the true slope and grade of the property. What was once two relatively lifeless golf holes could very well now be a contribution to the modern version of how the game is enjoyed.
I had a practice round at CCNC on Monday, but when I rolled into Pinehurst I drove under the bridge, taking a left on Morganton Road, parking in the maintenance parking lot. Coffee in hand, I set foot on The Cradle for the first time. I was amazed by the undulation of the place. I had played both first holes of no. 3 and no. 5, but when played as one track, it all flowed nicely.
There are a few massive pine trees on this property, and I think they add tremendous value to the short course. Much like Pinehurst no. 2, where shots are played without tree interference, long-leafs are still crucial to the feel of a round. Without these pines, The Cradle would feel much more like an artificial playground. A playground it is, but it comes off as genuine.
My time there in the morning was short. I met unexpectedly with a Pinehurst employee having a round at sunrise before the course opened. He raved about the place and showed be around the side furthest from the clubhouse before I explored a bit by myself. I didn’t have much time here, but I knew I had to make it back later in the week.
That afternoon I found myself there at closing. The starter was at the first tee as I approached him with my 58, 54, and putter. He let me out as long as I was okay with playing without pins, as he was about to close for the day, but he confirmed with a simple “Hell yeah man, go ahead”. But a pretty good sunset was developing, I was warm, and I knew where most of the pins were.
The definite highlight was the 60 yard punchbowl third, which I scaled to see where the hole was. I ran back down, eventually knocking one up there left of the middle-left hole location. When I reached the front of the green, there was no ball in sight. My first hole in one at The Cradle, with no witnesses and a killer sunset.
The remainder of the 789 yard course was excellent. But the best hole, my favorite hole, is the closing 9th. Hitting over a valley that feeds into the second, the angled 9th green is perched about 3 feet above the shortgrass below. Humps are placed along the front of this angled green to even further complicate things. I couldn’t think of anything better for a bet-settling finisher. The landing areas are only about 10×10 feet or so, missing the green is death if a pin is placed on the left, and a massive slope back right can allow for some possible hole in ones for a front right hole location. Just beware of the bunker lurking just behind it. If you hit it in there, you’re toast.
We’ll be back soon.