Early Thoughts From a Too Early Visit to Pinehurst No. 10

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Getting to build golf in an area as celebrated as the North Carolina sandhills is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, you get to use the topography seemingly made for golf at your disposal. The sandy, rolling terrain, often ideally suited for firm and fast, year-round golf with interest, variety, and intrigue as long as the eye can see, is perfect for those who build golf to take advantage of, and has been that way for generations. From the get-go, before a single golf hole is built, the region’s new golf courses are off to a better start than almost anything else in the continent, minus maybe a sandy seaside site. What you have to deal with, though, is fighting comparisons to Pinehurst No. 2, the famed Donald Ross golf course that comfortably resides in the discussion for the United States’ best public golf course. Especially for those associated with Pinehurst Resort’s portfolio, as Gil Hanse’s Pinehurst No. 4 has found out in recent years even if they are quite different.

The par 5, 5th hole at Pinehurst Resort’s famed No. 2 course

That dilemma now rests on the shoulders of Tom Doak, currently building Pinehurst Resort’s tenth full-length golf course. He is not the first modern architect to build something in the shadows of Donald Ross’ magnum opus, nor will he be the last: Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw built Dormie Club nearby roughly a decade ago, and are rumoured to build Pinehurst No. 11 next door to Pinehurst X. Other modern architects like Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, and Rees Jones have contributed to the golfing area’s options. None of those gentlemen are Tom Doak, though; all of them, minus Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw, do not have the résumé to match Doak’s, who has built an impressive lineup of courses that includes Tari Iti, Pacific Dunes, Barnbougle, Ballyneal, Rock Creek Cattle Company, Cape Kidnappers, and more. Perhaps more than any region, this is the most difficult location to live up to expectations, especially in the eyes of the public. On paper, Tom Doak in Pinehurst’s sandy rolling hills should be a grand slam, and Doak has built golf in the shadows of Muirfield (Renaissance Club) and Shinnecock/National Golf Links of America (Sebonack). If anyone can handle it, it should be him.

In May 2023, I toured around the property with Bob Farren, Director of Golf Course Maintenance for the resort. For me, I have been lucky enough to tour around with architects and owners, but never a superintendent or someone from the agronomy side. Bob has been associated with the resort, in his words, “as long as he can remember,” but he can remember re-building No. 4 three separate times. He has seen a lot of golf come to the resort, and the watched the eras shift with time. That brings him to Doak, following previous efforts with Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw (No. 2 restoration), Gil Hanse, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones, and more.

The finishing tee shot on Pinehurst X

For me, part of the process is usually flying a drone before I even get to see the golf course on the ground. Lighting is best early in the morning and generally, tours or a wander around the property will not start until mid-morning at the earliest. I guess, in theory, this removes the “wow” factor of a golf course, almost like looking at Google Earth prior or a The Fried Egg video of a golf course you have yet to play. But still, the routing comes pretty easily even with little information about it. There is no hand-drawn plan on the internet or some sexy Golf Digest article featuring Tom Doak going through each hole; no routing on site or even a general idea for those who visit other than the spoken-words of the person who takes you around. Yet, the routing flows easily and becomes obvious fairly quickly. This is a huge plus in my eyes: if I can figure it out in the dirt, it will flow with grace with grass down and flags in. It does not return to the clubhouse after 9, but does loop back after three holes for a quick evening loop. There is a crossover at the 9th and 15th tees, but that is the only piece of the puzzle I had to think about. The only clunky part of the routing is the walk from 15 to 16, oddly forcing the golfer to walk back some 100+ yards to the tee. Other than that, it flows around the expansive, hilly property that is the most undulating property for golf I’ve seen in the area (closest might be Pine Needles). The routing manages the hills quite well, with the first eight holes—minus the 2nd—playing over on the high ground before the 9th-15th really tackles the meat of the movement. Eventually, the property rises out of the low point around the water with the uphill, dogleg left 18th after the newly-famous par 3, 17th. The 15th plays down against the water, while the 9th and 17th cross the same hazard. Other than that, water is sparse here: the main hazard is the pine trees and needles surrounding them, sand, and contour. Sound familiar?

The par 3, 17th, where any pin on the right is particularly difficult

With no routing plan or scorecard presented, I wasn’t given much indication on length or par. In fact, my sense is Tom Doak’s crew does not 100% know, either. That is not to say they do not have some sort of indication of what each hole might be, Bob certainly knew a general idea of length and par on the tour, but they just haven’t gotten down to the nitty-gritty of 473, 210, 135, 510, and so forth. For example, the general sense is it is a par 72, though some of these I could be wrong on, like the 9th and 18th. There is a general understanding of the parameters and actual makeup of the golf course, whilst keeping maximum flexibility in how they want to journey you through the property. The arbitrary scorecard numbers will come, the priority is the features.

  1. Par 4
  2. Par 3
  3. Par 5
  4. Par 4
  5. Par 4
  6. Par 4
  1. Par 3
  2. Par 4
  3. Par 4
  4. Par 5
  5. Par 4
  6. Par 4

Par 70

  1. Par 4
  2. Par 3
  3. Par 4
  4. Par 4
  5. Par 3
  6. Par 4

In general, I find it difficult to criticize or even overly praise holes in the dirt. I can be in love with the concept, of course, and see some things I like, but for my eye and where I am at as a golfer, I still need to see grass down, and after that, it still helps to have a putter in my hands messing around with the slopes or features. I’m a golfer first, and as such, I react and take in holes how a golfer would: by playing. Even so, the obvious highlights begin to stick out immediately.

The drive and pitch par 4, 4th

For one, the golf course begins relatively slower with the 1st and the 3rd, while the yet-to-be-realized 2nd is being labelled as a “best hole or worst hole” on the course (at the very least, controversial. I think this label is being said in jest). The land on the 2nd is far more dramatic than the opening seven holes, but provides a wonderful little tease for what is to come. After that, the most intriguing stretch on the golf course, in my eyes, is the 4th through 8th.

The 4th (above), a stunning drive and pitch hole with a green tucked left off the line of play, is from the Donald Ross playbook at No. 2, where he did the same on the 3rd, 11th, and 18th at the resort’s 2nd course. Rather than a direct homage or copy, it is simply inspired by. A small pot bunker up the right potentially causes issues for the long drive or a second-shot bail out, while the preferred angle is closest to the bunkers on the left. In truth, this strategy is present throughout the golf course. Ross was a master at making approach shots difficult by providing an uncomfortable visual angle for golfers. Pete Dye followed suit, potentially influenced by one of the few times they met (or not), but at No. 10, it feels like that homage, or that influence, flows through Doak as well.

Greens set on a different latitude from the line of play pop up on a few occasions at No. 10, including the 3rd

The 5th continues a good stretch of golf, but merely transports the golfer between the excellent 4th and the (in my opinion), show-stopping 6th, a long par 4 to a green tucked on the other side of a depression. The tee shot is relatively simple: a slight bend to the right, though a small pimple of sorts awaits balls down the centre, splitting the hole in two. The left route is bigger, the right is the lesser club in. The 6th is my favourite hole, and the image used at the top of the article.

Most of the golf course is still under construction, or, it was when I was there in Mid-May. No. 10 is the quickest build in recent memory, announced in January 2022, with construction wrapping up by the end of July with goals of having it open for play sometime in early 2023. Angela Moser, a longtime Doak associate, is running point on the project, while other collaborators like Brian Schneider, Blake Conant, and Brian Slawnik have all had their hands on the design in some way, shape, or form. To me, the influence is crowdsourced and as a result, conceptually, it feels like a “greatest hits” or a collaboration album (the ones you want to listen to, of course). On holes like the 4th and 7th, unique bunker shapes unlike anything else in Tom Doak’s career seems to be tied to Schneider and Conant’s Old Barnwell, at least in spirit (at worst, it’s a blood relative). Slawnik’s usual bunker-prowess is evident, balancing between small-scale pot bunkers and the usual larger-scale bunkers accustom to the era of architecture we are living in.

The par 3, 7th from the right, looking back down the 6th and 5th beyond

Even with so many talented hands on the project, Moser is still the final stop before Doak, and brings it together to form a singular vision that doesn’t feel eclectic or random. Whether or not it is her influence and own personal flair (I am inclined to lean towards it is), holes like the 8th and 17th are unlike anything else Doak has built in his roughly 30 year career. The former will likely be discussed—both positively and negatively—among architecture aficionados for years, while the latter is already the most photographed hole at Project X.

A shorter par 4, the 8th is somewhat of a hybrid Road hole-tee shot to a punchbowl/alps green, of sorts. Credit for the unique concept, according to Tom Doak’s Instagram, belongs to “the crew” lobbying to keep the massive man-made dune from the previous owner after The Pit, the old golf course on the property, closed. The fairway, best described as rumbled and rambunctious (and that’s being generous), is the most dynamic landform on the property when I visited. The hole is tantalizingly unique, fascinating, and perplexing. In a sense, it is true sensory overload, and one I suspect multiple plays is the only way to truly do the concept justice. Some like that, others prefer the subtle stuff. Either way, it will be talked about, and as Doak wrote on his Instagram, it will get its 15 minutes of fame.

As for the yet-to-be-grassed holes, the identity of each began to be apparent as I walked and drove around. The 12th is a long, loud par 5 atop a hillside tumbling down with views unlike anything else in Pinehurst, while the 14th is a sporty green surrounds with some very interesting mounding left. It begins to heave and thrust upon the landscape after the 9th, but the balance is there: it is not 18 holes of aggressive ups and downs, nor it is all subtle. You have your smash hits (8th and 17th), while you have your deep cuts (6th, 14th come to mind). There are the holes that become better with time, like the fall-away greens at the 1st and 3rd, and the more conventional (5th). It balances together in a way that reminds me of Streamsong Blue, which also has shades of other Tom Doak works like Pacific Dunes whilst balancing new concepts presented. When Doak’s body of work is remembered in 100 years from now—in the same light we discuss A.W. Tillinghast or Donald Ross—the variety in his style of golf courses will likely be his crowning achievement. At No. 10, that point continues to expand to a new territory; a new biome or story told, without anything else to conceptually or stylistically to compare it to. Sure, you might find hints of his other work sprinkled throughout the property, but butter chicken isn’t defined by cumin, and every dish with that spice doesn’t taste the same.

Where it ranks or falls in the grand scheme of golf will be determined raters and writers, even against some stiff competition. Even so, Pinehurst No. 10 brings a unique flavour to the area you can’t find anywhere else in the area. That, to me, is a win for golf’s best buddies trip destination.

Strategically, the 8th asks you to play up the right (over the large dune) to gain a semi-view of the hole. Bail up the left and face a more difficult approach shot


  • Andrew Harvie

    Based in Toronto, but having lived in Alberta, British Columbia, Montana, Arizona, and Texas, I have been lucky enough to see over 400 golf courses and counting!

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