Which Pinehurst Course Is The Best

No American golf resort boasts more individual courses than Pinehurst. And while quality and quantity are seldom correlated, the 130-year-old bastion of Southern hospitality and sand-based golf offers tremendous variety with several first-rate golf courses, one of which is simply one of the finest collections of 18 holes America has.

Pinehurst is far from a one-hit wonder, and has invested aggressively in bringing several of its existing courses into the 21st century and shrinking the gulf between its best and the rest. The spring of 2024 saw the opening of the resort’s first brand-new “big” course since 2000, bringing its complement to 10 strong.

Now that Pinehurst has attained double-digit golf courses, and now that I have played them all, here is my ranking, from best to “worst.”

The least controversial pick of this list is one of the world’s most complete tests of golf. Refined for years by Donald Ross and restored in 2010 by Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw, No. 2 is an exemplary golf course that asks stern questions of everyone who steps on its broad, genteel first tee.

The course embodies the advice to “play the hole backwards,” contemplating the route by starting from the green and working back to the tee. Raised, tilted and angled putting surfaces exhort players to calibrate tee shots correctly in order to set up the friendliest possible approach angle. Especially greenside, errant golfers have choices of recovery shots, and can often elect to play to their strengths (e.g. 2014 U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer putting from off the greens en route to his dominant victory). Ross wrung everything out of a mild piece of land, sending the course through pleasant rooms lined by pines. Fingers of the routing stick out: 4 & 5 and 13 & 14 are highlight stretches where the openness of the restored course brings all the joys of golf as a social experience.

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I was blown away by the elegance of this 5,200-yard par-68 dynamo. Everything you want in a full-on golf course is here; it just loads more of the challenge towards short iron and wedge play. The smallish, often turtlebacked greens do remind of No. 2, but calling it No. 2’s little brother actually shortchanges it, because it tackles significantly more hilly terrain than Pinehurst’s championship masterpiece. No. 3’s soulful brevity makes the walk manageable and reduces rounds by an hour or more relative to the “big” courses. Despite the short length, there is tremendous variety of holes and individual shots, including two of the toughest long par 3s on property. In my round, every club but one got dirty.

Pinehurst No.3 poses the strongest challenge to the notion of the par-72, 7,000-yard standard of any golf course I have encountered. In an age where land and time are at a premium, I think the world could benefit from a thousand courses like it.

You can read my longer-form thoughts on Tom Doak’s original here, but in short, No. 10 is a just-big-enough step outside of Pinehurst’s typical lane to signal an exciting future for the resort. No. 10 is far grander in scale than any of its predecessors. It’s intense but not overwhelming, fun but rigorous and comfortably Pinehurst but also something new. It will only get better as it matures.

No. 4 walked so No. 10 could run. Gil Hanse’s total redesign here added some broad-shouldered bravado to a tree-lined, pot-bunkered Tom Fazio redo of the original Donald Ross course that sat on the property. As such, it feels slightly disjointed at times, but its best holes – the long par-3 6th, the snug par-5 17th – are among the resort’s best. Some golfers swear No. 4 is as good or better than No. 2. I cannot get on board with this take. No. 4 is a very, very good golf course, but No. 2 is one of the GOATs, and an all-time top-10 in my book.

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Genuine affinity for Tom Fazio’s golf courses can cause derision from the snobbier corners of golf architecture discourse these days, but I don’t care. No. 8 is some of his better work and serves as a window into a time when different design values prevailed. That alone makes it worth playing. A recent renovation sought to bridge some of the taste gap by cleaning up corridors and rethinking some of the bunkering. The result is an enjoyable test on a rolling, secluded property unto itself.

If Tom Fazio golf courses are out of fashion, Jack Nicklaus’ 1980s courses are way out of fashion. The routing through a housing development is what it is; originally called The National Golf Club of Pinehurst, it didn’t become part of the resort until 2012. The greens, some of Nicklaus’ most adventurous creations, border on the bizarre at times, but that adds a level of tightrope-walking excitement to the course that improves the experience. Of Pinehurst’s three modern real estate courses, it’s my favorite by a comfortable margin.

The original course, which dates to pre-1900, is a pleasant arrival- or departure-day option. It’s a sporty 6,000-yarder with some interesting greens like that of the par-3 7th hole, which slopes steeply away from the player and requires some shotmaking to hold from the elevated tee. The long par-3 11th is the resort’s most underrated single hole. With some imaginative renovation work that honors the course’s Victorian-era beginnings, it could gain several spots in this ranking.

My favorite aspect of No. 6 is that its setting manages to be almost bucolic despite the course winding through a housing development. Homes sit well back from play, thankfully, with decades of tree maturation hiding them well. The George and Tom Fazio design is mild-mannered, sometimes to the point where a handful of front-nine holes are tough to remember. Some work has been done to infuse Pinehurst’s sand and wire grass aesthetic around the periphery of some holes here. Continuing that work will add some welcome visual stimulation. As the birthplace of the U.S. Adaptive Open, it holds an honored place at Pinehurst no matter what.

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Of the handful of Rees Jones courses I’ve played, I tend to like his less bombastic earlier designs better than the more intensively sculpted 1990s and 2000s work. No. 7 opened in 1986 and is at its best when it is a bit more restrained. The two par 5s on the front – 1 and 8 – are fun holes and the closing stretch, culminating in another cracking three-shotter, sends golfers off on a strong note. The course suffers somewhat because of the piece of land that it’s on; several steep uphill approaches tax higher handicappers and shorter hitters considerably. Still, it can be an interesting counterpoint to the resort’s classic fare.

Like No. 1, No. 5 could be considerably better with some creative renovations. The mostly-Ellis-Maples design is competent, especially the holes that grace tilted terrain, but has a few pedestrian pockets where I think there could be a bit more strategic interest. Calling No. 5 Pinehurst’s “worst” course is somewhat unfair because it is still enjoyable. More fully realized, it could easily leapfrog No. 7 and No. 6 in this list.

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