PINEHURST, N.C. - One of the most iconic sights of Pinehurst doesn't even have anything to do with golf, it's the Pinehurst members playing croquet dressed in white from head-to-toe or lawn bowling on the field below - all at the main clubhouse within a few steps of the course's five first tee boxes.
No, you won't see any croquet or lawn bowling going on at Pinehurst No. 8 , and that's because unlike the other seven semi-private courses at the resort, No. 8 doesn't afford members playing privileges here, even though it served as the site of the former Pinehurst Gun Club, where sharp-shooter Annie Oakley would hold demonstrations during her time here.
These days, golfers scour the grounds hunting for their own birdies. Built for the centennial of Pinehurst and opened in 1996, No. 8 is set on 450 acres of forest and wetlands and, most importantly, no residential development. No. 8 is the only course you're virtually guaranteed of not finding one of your drives in a backyard.
Pinehurst No. 8: Exclusive play
The golf course was the first in North Carolina to achieve Audubon Certified Signature Sanctuary, and along with rare side-by-side fairways, it all makes for Pinehurst's most exclusive play.
"The goal is to give everyone who plays No. 8 that 'member-for-the-day' experience," said Jim Lynn, head golf professional at Pinehurst No. 8. "We're there to greet every group and see them off when they leave, we get to know everyone who comes to play here."
Because there are no member tee times at No. 8, only about 30,000-35,000 are played annually, and most fairways do not play parallel or close to one another, so the course really feels like it's yours for the day in most spots.
While this is the third course with Tom Fazio's name attached to it, he renovated his uncle George Fazio's design, Pinehurst No. 6 , and he also redesigned Donald Ross' Pinehurst No. 4 course in 1999.
Give Fazio 450 scenic, wooded and marshy acres on the site that was the former Pinehurst Gun Club with no residential development attached (unlike No. 6 and Pinehurst No. 7 ), and anyone in the golf business knows he's going to deliver a knockout. Certain holes here look like they're built on Carolina coastline, most notably the corner at No. 13 and No. 14 that play around marshland or the pretty little one-shotter, a 149-yard fifth that plays next to a small lake. Across the lake are the only houses you're going to see all round.
The golf course plays 7,092 yards from the championship tees, including a 604-yard par 5 and 447-yard, uphill, par-4 finishing hole towards the clubhouse. Also considered the signature hole - if not simply the most photogenic - is the 237-yard eighth, playing from an elevated tee over a valley to a small green well protected by bunkers.
But Fazio likes giving golfers a few chances to score as well. No. 1 is a gentle opening hole, just 367 yards downhill to a green that will make a good wedge player take dead aim, and prior to the brutal finishing hole, No. 17 is just a 500-yard par 5 that plays downhill with a gentle dogleg prime.
Pinehurst No. 8: The verdict
Where Pinehurst No. 8 stands among its seven siblings will be up to the discerning tastes of each individual golfer, though it generally rates as the second most popular course at Pinehurst. Pinehurst No. 2 , 4 and 8 are used most often when hosting tournaments throughout the summer. Among the events in 2010, No. 8 will host the Pinehurst Intercollegiate and CGA Amateur and North and South Senior Championships.
Despite playing on a larger amount of acreage compared to the rest of the Pinehurst golf courses , No. 8 was designed for walker play. You can reserve caddies and forecaddies for No. 8 as with the other seven courses at Pinehurst.
The course has its own clubhouse and practice facilities, all available to guests the day of their play. Shuttles are available from the Pinehurst hotels to the course, plan about 5-10 minutes of commute time. But arrive early to use the facilities as the clubhouse is better than No. 6 and 7s, and more relaxing than the bustling main clubhouse.
The Spa at Pinehurst and the Pinehurst Perfecta package
This year, Pinehurst announced its Pinehurst Perfecta package, which is aimed at giving golfers what they believe to be the best Pinehurst experience possible. No. 8 is one of the three courses offered along with No. 2 and 4. Along with daily breakfast and dinner, the package also includes a Tranquility Pass to use the facilities at the Spa at Pinehurst, which opened in 2002 next to the Carolina Hotel.
The spa is 31,000 square feet and features a three-lane lap pool, salon and various treatment rooms from singles to suites. Each locker room also has men's and women's-only relaxation areas with a steam room, sauna and whirlpool. Pinehurst Resort guests have free access to the fitness center, located at the spa.