PINEHURST, N.C. -- All great things start somewhere. At the Pinehurst Resort, it began humbly in 1898 with the beginnings of Pinehurst No. 1 .
Originally established in 1895 as a health retreat, golf came to Pinehurst (accidentally, actually) in 1897 when resort guests were spotted hitting white balls into the cow pasture. Founder James Walker Tufts asked a local doctor, Leroy Culver, to plot out the resort's first official holes for this emerging pastime.
When Donald Ross arrived in 1900 from Scotland, it was transformed into a proper 18-hole course.
Today, despite the boundless improvements to technology, the course's modest 6,093 yards and traditional design qualities remain a pleasant challenge. With minimal bunkering (often just to coral off-line shots from rolling off the golf course) plus smaller, flat greens, there isn't much that pops out at you on No. 1.
The opening tee shot is a welcoming one, playing from an elevated tee and calling for a gentle draw, or your ball could end up in the resort's equestrian club to the right across the street. The land has some pleasantly rolling, forested spots on them, some places even more picturesque than on Pinehurst No. 2 , and fairways are never dead flat.
"That's the beauty of some of Donald Ross' courses," said Chad Campbell, director of golf at the Pinehurst Resort. "You don't need the man-made embellishments to make it great."
The green complexes, seeded with similar Penn G-2 bentgrass as Pinehurst No. 2, have the occasional run-off area, but they're generally more benign than No. 2. Also adding to the traditionalist vibe, there are virtually no water hazards to speak of, unless you top your drive on the par-3 11th hole -- a 220-plus-yard brute.
If you've never eagled a par 5 before, the two here are about as good a chance as you'll ever have. The fourth hole is 466 yards, downhill, while the 17th is just 426 yards, but uphill. While the par 5s are short, there are plenty of long par 4s to muscle through. Five holes play 390 yards or longer, and it will be up to you to decide whether you can fit a driver into play.
If you need any more evidence this course was built in another era, the 18th hole is a mild 152-yard par 3.
Who says golf courses should always end with a brute? Not Ross, and he knows best.
Pinehurst No. 1: The verdict
Pinehurst No. 1 is an old gem in a new world of golf course technology. It's certainly been passed up by a century of newer, bigger golf courses.
But the best golf course at less than 6,100 yards? Pinehurst No. 1 could certainly throw its hat in the ring. Unlike some other courses that date back to the early part of the 20th century, No. 1 never really feels all that cramped to the modern golfer. Playing corridors, while framed by Carolina pines, are still wide enough to at least toss the idea out there to hit the big stick.
This is also a great option for a leisurely afternoon round. Course officials say less than four hours is usually the norm and 4 hours, 20 minutes is about as long as it gets.
"It works well for golfers looking to play that emergency nine holes," Campbell said. "Or darkness is looming and they want to get in as many holes as they can."
Of Pinehurst's eight courses, No. 1 is most similar in length to Pinehurst No. 3. No. 1 is a more enjoyable play considering it's more fun off the tee and there much less real estate presence.
Stay and play at Pinehurst Resort
You don't have to stay at the Pinehurst Resort to play No. 1, but it's a good idea to do both. Often times, the resort offers unlimited golf package deals, and a short course like No. 1 or No. 3 is ideal for 36-hole days.
By staying at the Carolina Hotel or Holly Inn, you can walk to the old walking village of Pinehurst, home to a handful of golf memorabilia shops, restaurants and pubs. The Carolina Hotel recently expanded the Ryder Cup Lounge, which features an impressive tap beer collection, plus pub grub and proper entrees.