The Southern Pines Golf Club has always been the Donald Ross course in the North Carolina Sandhills that was a great value play oozing with potential to be something more.
That potential is ready to be realized under its new owners. Kelly Miller, the president of the nearby Pine Needles Lodge and Mid Pines Inn, has had his eye on Southern Pines for more than 15 years. His patience and persistence paid offer earlier this month when he finalized the lease to manage and eventually purchase Southern Pines from the local Elks Club. Miller, an Elks member, said Architect Kyle Franz will restore the 6,268-yard, par-71 course to its original roots. The course dates to 1906 but has lost some of its Ross features over the last century.
Franz is a Ross restoration expert, giving rebirth to the original sandscapes at Mid Pines in 2013 and executing a greens rebuild and bunker renovation in 2016 at Pine Needles, which will host its fourth U.S. Women's Open in 2022. He also worked on the restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 under Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw.
"A number of the green complexes will have to be redone," Miller said. "They were redone in the early 1990s. Some were significantly altered to where there is not much of Ross left. We will redo those. A lot of the other greens were kind of left alone. So we’ll just work with those."
Miller said they haven't determined which grass they will use on the greens, but tree management will be a priority. "We also want to clear out a lot of trees that have grown through the years, raise the canopy up so you can see through the golf course. There will be some great vistas where you can look across - there’s a lake out there - (so) you can see several holes. I think it will be pretty spectacular when we are all finished."
Southern Pines has always been loved by locals and value seekers. Its star rating on Golf Advisor (3.9) tends to get dragged down by reviews that don't always take into account the club's historic roots. Local Golf Advisor DenisDotson gave Southern Pines four stars in a June review.
"Southern Pines isn't up there with the top tier of Pinehurst resort courses, Tobacco Road, or Pine Needles, but it's a solid Donald Ross track that's very affordable," the review reads. "We got a late afternoon tee time for only $40 on a summer Friday, and it was well worth the money. The course is classic Ross - fairly straightforward holes with undulating tricky greens. Conditions were pretty good, but with some patchy areas in the fairway. The greens rolled pretty true, but a bit on the slow side. Our group all agreed this is definitely worth a visit if you're on a budget in the Sandhills. Donald Ross left his mark on the region and Southern Pines was one of his first designs. It's not championship golf by any stretch, but it's got solid character."
Miller is excited to be the future steward of a local gem in the heart of downtown.
"We think it really fits in with our facilities here," he added. "I’ve actually been trying to get involved with it, whether that be a lease or a purchase, for 15 plus years because I think so highly of the golf course. I think it was Ross’ third course, although I haven’t verified that. It has great topography and a great set of par 3s."