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Former U.S. Open Champs provide Sandhills area some of their finest design efforts.

by Brad King

Anyone for whom golf runs through the soul must make a pilgrimage to the Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen area in the famed Sandhills of North Carolina. Among other things, the area provides residents and visitors the artistic design genius of history’s most renowned golf course architects, a pantheon of names that starts and finishes with Donald Ross, naturally, but which reads like a virtual Who’s Who.

Also represented with works of art in the region are renowned, modern-day architects like Tom Fazio, the late Mike Strantz and “The U.S. Open Doctor,” Rees Jones, and even a few golf course designers who chose to call the Sandhills area home, including Ellis Maples and his son, Dan Maples.

Of course, there is also a trio of renowned former U.S. Open champions who have all done some of their best golf course design work in and around Pinehurst: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, three legends who not only chalked up quite a few Masters tournament victories between them, but also possess plenty of groundbreaking ideas about golf courses. Their design creativity is on full display around the Sandhills.

If you want to get in the heads of these legends when you come through the Sandhills, The Carolina, Legacy Golf Links, Mid South Club, National Golf Club, Pinewild Country Club and Woodlake Resort & Country Club are all strong representative works. While a green jacket may not be waiting for you at the clubhouse, knowing you’ve seen golf through the vision of some of the masters will add to your own history of the game.

During a recent appearance at Sandhills Community College, Nicklaus thrilled a packed Owens Auditorium on campus discussing numerous topics including golf in and around Pinehurst — and, of course, Arnold Palmer. Earlier, Nicklaus had been in Washington as Palmer was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor awarded a citizen by Congress.

The two old rivals still remain close friends. Nicklaus said he and wife, Barbara, engaged in numerous bridge matches while taking jet trips through the years with Palmer and his late wife, Winnie. “But when we played on the golf course, [Palmer] wanted to kill me and I wanted to kill him,” Nicklaus said.

Nicklaus came to the Pinehurst area as part of the Pauley Lecture Series at the request of Dr. William E. Smith, who had once been pastor at Nicklaus’ church in Columbus, Ohio, and fielded questions from local resident Jaime Diaz, senior writer for Golf Digest and Golf World. Nicklaus, who designed National Golf Club in 1989, also mentioned he may soon be involved in another Pinehurst project.

“I’d love to come back to Pinehurst and do something else,” Nicklaus said.

At National Golf Club, Nicklaus constructed a masterpiece set amidst the longleaf pines of Southern Pines with a commitment to provide the finest in recreational amenities, including the area’s only Nicklaus Signature golf course, an 18-hole championship layout features classic Nicklaus architecture: wide fairways, lush course conditions, and undulating putting surfaces that test a golfer’s mind and ability. National has blended golf’s two greatest legends — Nicklaus and the Sandhills — into a secure, gated residential community of superior quality with a relaxed and easy lifestyle including diverse amenities and member activities.

Not to be outdone by his famous father, Jack Nicklaus II put his name on Legacy Golf Links in 1991, one of only three courses in the Sandhills that has played host to a USGA National Championship. A design featuring just over 7,000 yards of golf from the longest tees and a par of 72, Legacy Golf Links features four of the finest par-3s in the area and a challenging variety of holes, wide fairways and wise use of water hazards.

As for the Golden Bear’s favorite rival, that fella they call The King? Palmer and his renowned golf architecture associate, the late Ed Seay, designed the popular Mid South Club & Lodge (formerly known as Pinehurst Plantation), which opened in 1993 and features 6,577 yards of golf from the longest tees for a par of 72.

Meanwhile, Woodlake Resort offers 54 holes of golf designed by Palmer and Ellis Maples. Both the Woodlake-Maples and Woodlake-Palmer courses play around the largest privately owned man-made lake in North Carolina and a full-service clubhouse, The Historic Oates House. The Carolina-Palmer course, proclaimed by many as one of Arnie’s best designs is just minutes away, near the historic village of Pinehurst, NC. Woodlake truly provides the perfect setting for the ultimate golf experience and all three golf courses are on the “Must Play” list when visiting the area.

As for that other former U.S. Open champion, the great South African, Gary Player? Well, Player’s name in Pinehurst is attached to Pinewild Country Club, which he helped open in 1996. One Player design, The Magnolia, has undergone a comprehensive renovation and is a more “traditional masterpiece” meandering through the longleaf pines. Player also designed Holly, which is a more of a classic, “risk-reward” layout. Both are complimented by beautifully wooded terrain, rolling hills, ponds and streams. Pinewild has hosted the PGA’s Tour School Qualifying, the LPGA’s Pinewild Championship, and continues to play host to various USGA Qualifying Events.