“Innovate or die.” Think back to the hottest golf destinations of 30 years ago. How many are still considered top of the pack? Many of the popular destinations of the past failed to embrace that “innovate or die” theme, and in turn they’ve been left behind in an ever-evolving world.
Pinehurst Resort has managed to stay near the top of the pack for over a century and they’ve done it by never failing to innovate and improve.
The peak of Pinehurst’s modern day popularity came in 2014 when it hosted both the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens back-to-back on the famous No. 2 course. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw had just renovated the U.S. Open course and Pinehurst was the star of the show. At a point when it would have been easy – even natural – to sit back, rest, and bask in the glory, the Pinehurst leadership decided to innovate.
Since 2014, Pinehurst has purchased a local course (bringing their total to 9 layouts), renovated and re-routed No. 3, re-routed No. 5, re-grassed the greens on No. 2, built a new bar called The Deuce, built a par 3 course called The Cradle, built a massive putting course called Thistle Dhu, purchased a local building to create a Pinehurst brewery, and started a full redesign on No. 4 (to be completed in October, 2018). Catch all that?
It’s all exciting, but this review is all about The Cradle. The resort hired Gil Hanse and his partner Jim Wagner to create the nine-hole short course on a sandy hillside just outside of the clubhouse. The land was originally the first holes of courses No. 3 and No. 5, but both were re-routed to provide land for The Cradle.
The footprint of the short course is only 10-acres (nine par 3s sit where two par 4s once did). Two holes are shorter than 60 yards and the longest is only 127 yards – the entire course is just 789 yards. That length, along with a really tight routing, means that The Cradle is a quick walk. During my latest trip to The Cradle, we played as a fivesome behind an eightsome of golfers – the round only took 1 hour 20 minutes minutes.
Short length alone doesn’t explain what makes The Cradle an absolute blast to play. The scorecard has a quote underneath the logo from Donald Ross that says, “Golf should be a pleasure, not a penance.” Hanse designed the course with that quote in mind – it’s a very fun round of golf.
The whole course is visible from nearly every point during the round. You can imagine the fun games and cross-country golf that must take place when the course is empty. I was told about future plans for a match originating on the fourth tee (highest point on the course) where players have to hit all nine greens from that single point. Proximity to each hole will be measured and totaled to find a winner. How much fun would that be?!
On any given day there are large groups on the course with a wide variety of skill levels, ages, and backgrounds. There’s a perceptible buzz and excitement as groups cheer birdies, settle bets, and enjoy the camaraderie.
The Cradle also provides another reason for golfers in the area to visit Pinehurst Resort. My latest trip with a group of friends is a perfect example – we stayed at Mid Pines Inn / Pine Needles and planned to play all of our golf between those two courses. Last minute we decided to play an afternoon round at The Cradle on our arrival day. Afterward we had a couple of beers at The Deuce overlooking the 18th green on No. 2.
It was a perfect way to spend an evening and Pinehurst managed to capture some players who otherwise had no plans to visit the resort. Their investment is already paying off.
Hole #1 – 113 yards – The opening green is large and can host a variety of pins with varying difficulty.
Hole #2 – 85 yards – This hole has really grown on me. The sloping green is shaped beautifully on a low part of the property and as with the 1st hole, the pin position can make this a birdie opportunity or a really tough par.
Hole #3 – 66 yards – This is the hole everyone remembers. The green is a large Punchbowl, so anything long funnels back down toward the pin. I saw a hole-in-one here the first time I played the course – I imagine it will yield the most of any hole on the course!
Hole #4 – 127 yards – This hole plays downhill to a raised shallow green. Humps in front of the green mean anything short stays there and collection areas behind the green catch anything long. Distance control is key! Believe it or not, I also saw a hole-in-one here during my first round.
Hole #5 – 56 yards – This green slopes heavily back to front, so anything beyond the pin is a treacherous putt back to the hole.
Hole #6 – 58 yards – This hole is difficult in its simplicity. You just have to hit a good 58-yard wedge… how hard can that be?!
Hole #7 – 92 yards – The 7th is the first of three great finishers. This infinity green is intimidating from the tee, especially when you see that the left edge falls off down a large slope. A mound in the middle divides the green into left and right sections.
Hole #9 – 112 yards – The 9th is one of the best on the course. The green slopes from right to left and has two tiers. In order to use the slope to reach a left pin, players have to challenge the back bunker. The bailout is short or left, leaving a tough putt or up and down.
I commend Pinehurst Resort for building something like The Cradle. Par 3 courses have become a popular theme at resorts around the world and I’ve yet to meet someone who didn’t love the experience. That said, it would have been much easier for Pinehurst to just rest on its laurels. They wouldn’t have had to re-route two of their courses, for a start! Instead, they chose to invest and create a product in The Cradle that will benefit their business, be a favorite for the consumer, and also help the area.
The Cradle will be a staple evening activity on my future Pinehurst trips, regardless of whether I’m staying or playing at the resort.