Review: Southern Pines Golf Club

Course Name: Southern Pines Golf Club

Designer: James McNab/J. N. Peacock (1906, 9 holes), Unknown (1912, 9 holes), Donald Ross (1914, Redesign, 1924, 9 holes, 1929, 9 holes), John LaFoy (1990s, Green Redesigns), Kyle Franz (2021, Renovation)

Location: Southern Pines, North Carolina

History: In an effort to lure Northern tourists and compete with nearby Pinehurst, Southern Pines was the second golf course built in the village of Southern Pines. The initial 9-hole course was built by James McNab and J. N. Peacock (two Ross associates) in 1906. In 1912, another 9 holes was added but it is unclear who designed it. By all accounts, this initial course was primitive and nothing like the present day one. Today’s current layout is the work of Donald Ross, who completely redesigned and upgraded the course in 1914. Ross continued working and added two additional nines in 1924 and 1929. While there were plans for a fifth nine, the Depression squashed any chances of that and the fourth nine closed after only a few years. Southern Pines operated as a 27-hole facility for many decades with the third nine closing in the early 2000s. Remnants of these holes can still be seen on the east side of the course.

Long known as the local muni of Southern Pines, the course was owned by the Elks Club for many years before being sold to the owners of nearby Mid-Pines and Pine Needles in 2020. In 2021, Kyle Franz completed an extensive renovation and the resultant course opened to extremely positive reviews. I expect Southern Pines to garner some significant awards in the coming years but for now just owns the following:

  • #39 Best Course in North Carolina – Top100golfcourses.com (2020)
  • #15 Best Public Course in North Carolina – Golfweek (2022)

Conditions: 8/10, Conditions at Southern Pines are strong, but not quite as good as nearby Mid-Pines and Pine Needles. The greens roll true but are on the slower side while the fairways, bunkers, and teeboxes are generally in good shape. I want to give the course a year or two post-renovation before fully evaluating conditions.

Value: 10/10, Soon after the renovation, we paid $85 to ride on a busy weekend. I highly doubt the course remains this cheap for long, but for that price this is one of the best deals in America.

Scorecard:

Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Blue                           71            6354             70.2              129

White                       71            6126             68.9             126

Gold                         71            5724             67.4             121

Red                          74            5318             71.1              125

Baby Blue                74           4015             60.5             105

Hole Descriptions: I had always heard good things about Southern Pines over the years, but the description of the course was often something along the lines of “the bones are great but it is the course for locals and not in the best condition.” For this reason, tourists often skipped it in favor of the many highly-rated, excellent courses in the Pinehurst area. This all changed in 2020 when the owners of Mid-Pines and Pine Needles purchased it and enlisted the help of Kyle Franz to renovate the course and bring it back to Ross’ vision. We played soon after the renovation and came into the round with few preconceived notions and lots of excitement.

While playing Southern Pines, our group was in continual awe at how fantastic the course was. Many in the group actually preferred it to Mid-Pines and I have heard from several people that the new Southern Pines might be the second best course in the area behind Pinehurst No. 2. Pretty strong praise! What sets Southern Pines apart is its undulating terrain which is somewhat unique for the area. Ross took full advantage of this and routed a wonderful layout with easy transitions between holes and a sense of cohesion. Franz’s tree removal enhances these elements and brings many holes into view from a single hole. There are no bad holes here and very few “just good” holes. When writing this review, I used GolfClubAtlas’s (excellent site by the way) review of Southern Pines in 2008 to compare the old course to Franz’s renovation. I was surprised to find the holes are virtually identical, but much enhanced today, especially aesthetically and strategically with new bunkering and tree removal. While many other Pinehurst courses feel refined and polished, Southern Pines feels rugged and minimalist with a fascinating set of greens.

At just under 6354 yards from the Blue Tees, Southern Pines is not a long course but is tougher than the yardage due to many elevation changes and tricky greenside surroundings. This is an extremely fun course where golfers of all ability will be able to enjoy it. After playing Southern Pines, I fully expect it to rise in the rankings in the coming years and would not be surprised if it makes the Top 100 Public list soon.

The opening hole at Southern Pines is a gentle and fun opener as a straightaway, downhill 372 yard par 4. Featuring a wide fairway flanked by wastleland bunkers down the right and trees left, the golfer will invariably be left an awkward stance on their approach. This large green slopes back-to-front defended by bunkers short on either side.

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The par 4 1st
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The approach at 1 in the long shadows

At 491 yards, the par 5 2nd is another shorter hole but plays longer as an uphill dogleg right. This fairway features two well-placed and penal bunkers with one down the left at only about 160 yards and another down the right at around 220 yards. Golfers looking to cut the corner will need to carry this bunker and avoid the thick forest that lines the entire right side. From the end of this bunker, the hole turns slightly right and then uphill on the approach. A diagonal line of wastebunkers crosses the fairway about 150 yards short of the green and forces the shorter golfer to think on their lay-up. This approach plays at least one club uphill to a difficult, back-to-front sloped green defended by a deep bunker left.

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The ideal line at 2 is splitting the bunkers
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The beautiful approach at 2

The par threes are a real strength at Southern Pines with the 198 yard 3rd as your first example. Running slightly downhill, this hole is gorgeously framed by the pines and features a narrow, back-to-front sloped green defended by giant bunkers on either side. This is a difficult green to hit and a tough par.

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The par 3 3rd

While Southern Pines is not a long course, the stretch of 3-6 is the toughest on the course featuring three of the five toughest holes. The par 4 4th hole is officially 392 yards but plays much longer uphill. Featuring a drive that strikes fear in slicers, this hole contains a narrower fairway lined by tall trees down the left and bunkers and OB right. This approach plays at least one club uphill to a severely back-to-front sloped green on a pedestal defended by bunkers short and right. It’s worth mentioning Franz discovered a “lost hole” just left of the 4th green playing as a par 3 towards the 15th teebox with a sand green. While not open when we played, this is an awesome feature and allows for 9-hole loops.

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The tough par 4 4th

At 542 yards, the par 5 5th hole is the longest hole at Southern Pines but runs well downhill for most of the way. Featuring another semi-blind teeshot, this fairway is wide but lined by tall pines on either side and numerous bunkers down the left. Longer hitters will catch a speed slot and have a good shot at reaching this green in two. This approach plays straight downhill over another diagonal set of bunkers and a giant wastebunker short right. This green is small and difficult, sloping right-to-left with numerous plateaus for pin placements.

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Trust that there’s a wide fairway out there at 5
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The downhill approach at 5

The 6th hole is the longest par 4 at Southern Pines at 423 yards. The number 1 handicap for good reason, this a strong dogleg right featuring a semi-blind teeshot with an immediate 120 yard forced carry over water. A well-placed bunker down the left forces you to either hit a fade or get aggressive and carry the trees down the right. With a left-to-right sloping fairway, golfers will face a difficult and lengthy approach to a wide, back-to-front sloped green defended by beautiful bunkering long and an additional bunker short right.

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Apologies for the lighting here – we played early!

The 168 yard 7th hole is another great par 3 and a hole that’s been dramatically improved with the renovation. Sitting on the edge of the property, I love the rugged feel of this hole playing slightly uphill over a sandy and fescue-filled valley. Featuring another severely back-to-front sloped green, those who go long will have difficulty keeping a chip on the green. Three bunkers guard long with another deep bunker short.

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The wonderful par 3 7th

I also really enjoy the 8th, a downhill 375 yard par 4 with the look and feel of a course like Calusa Pines. Another hole that’s been dramatically improved with tree removal, this hole now prominently features a lake down the right the entire way. A dogleg right lined by trees down the left, this hole features a sandy wasteland down the right that slopes off severely towards to the water. It’s imperative to hit the fairway here to have a fair shot towards a vexing green featuring a left swale and defended by a bunker left.

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The sleek par 4 8th
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The 8th is now one of the prettiest holes at Southern Pines

The 9th hole is the third par 3 on the front and another excellent one-shotter at 185 yards. Again beautifully framed by its surroundings, this strong hole plays over water to a large, back-to-front sloped green defended by bunkers long, left, and right and a significant false front short.

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The par 3 9th

Southern Pines is an incredibly fun course, with its back nine featuring three reachable par fours including consecutive ones at 10 and 11. At 335 yards, the 10th hole plays straightaway and slightly uphill to a fairway that slopes left-to-right. Sandy wastebunkers line the left the entire way while tall pines line the right. This green slopes both left-to-right and back-to-front with another severe false front and deep bunker right.

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The par 4 10th
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The elevated green at 10 is a difficult target even with a short approach

The 11th hole is another favorite of mine as a 315 yard dogleg right Cape hole. Featuring an exhilarating downhill teeshot, you must hit your drive at least 170 yards to carry the water. I love how this hole offers the golfer numerous option from laying up with iron to going aggressively at the green with driver. A pair of large bunkers down the right are well-placed and a new bunker on the other side of the dogleg around 260 yards prevents the golfer from hitting driver without fear. This approach plays slightly downhill to a giant, left-to-right sloped green on the water.

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The 11th teeshot is as fun as it gets
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The 11th green lies in a breathtaking setting

The 12th hole is a more difficult par 4 playing straightaway at 419 yards. There’s not much to this teeshot to a wide, tree-lined fairway besides a bunker down the left mainly in play for longer hitters. Another diagonal line of bunkers runs across this fairway on the approach but should be easily carried after a decent drive. This relatively flat green is slightly elevated and defended by a bunker right. While a good hole, my partners and I agree this is the most mundane hole at Southern Pines.

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The par 4 12th
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The approach at 12

The 13th hole is another straightaway par 4 at 400 yards. While this tree-lined teeshot is again somewhat non-descript, this hole features a speed slot once you cross the bunker down the right around 240 yards. This approach is fantastic, running at least one club less to a wide, front-to-back sloped green surrounded by mounds. I particular like the mound just short which makes the golfer think twice about a ground approach.

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The par 4 13th
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A closer look at the excellent 13th green

The only par 3 on the back, the 14th is a pretty 175 yard one-shotter playing downhill over water. Deep bunkers guard either side of a large, back-to-front sloped green.

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The par 3 14th

At 481 yards, the 15th hole is the shortest and also final par 5 at Southern Pines. Readily reachable in two, this visually attractive hole plays from an elevated teebox to a generous fairway lined by a bunker down the right and tall pines on either side. With an uphill approach reminiscent of nearby Dormie Club’s 17th, this hole features a “Great Hazard” bunker running through the fairway about 80 yards short of a back-to-front sloped green.

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The par 5 15th
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The uphill approach at 15

The 16th hole is yet another very short par 4 and a fun one at 316 yards. Playing from an elevated teebox, this straightaway reachable hole features a progressively narrowed fairway lined by tall pines. Most of the danger here surrounds this green with a large bunker short left and serious collection area to the right. Putting here will not be easy with both back-to-front and left-to-right slopes to contend with.

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The par 4 16th

Southern Pines closes with two strong par fours with the first being the 418 yard 17th. Playing straightaway and long, this solid par 4 features a tighter, right-to-left sloped fairway lined by crossbunkers on either side in the landing area. This approach is gorgeous to a large, relatively flat green guarded by three giant bunkers left and long. Par is a great score here.

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The par 4 17th
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A closer look at the 17th green framed wonderfully by bunkers

The routing at Southern Pines is tremendous and this is fully evident on the 18th teebox, which acts as a great “meeting area.” Sandwiched between the 2nd teebox, 1st green, and 17th green, you have a lot to take in here and may have to take turns teeing off with another group. While only 350 yards on the scorecard, the closing par 4 is a good one and plays longer as an uphill dogleg left. With tall trees lining either side and bunkers well-placed at either corner of the dogleg, it’s imperative to find the fairway here. This approach then plays at least one club uphill to an elevated, back-to-front sloped green defended by deep bunkers on either side and a steep slope long.

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The view from the busy 18th teebox
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The approach at 18 with a perfect post-round gambling patio behind

General Comments: With a rudimentary, modest clubhouse and tiny range and practice green, Southern Pines maintains its laid back, municipal feel. It’s clear the major priority of the renovation was the course and that is appreciated. Southern Pines is wonderfully routed and an easy walk despite the hilly terrain. We played very early in the morning, but the course was packed all day.

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The iconic sign by the 1st hole

Verdict: Always home to a lovely routing on wonderful terrain, Kyle Franz’s stellar renovation now makes Southern Pines one of the best courses in Pinehurst and an absolute must play for anyone in the area. I expect this course to shoot up in the rankings in coming years and cannot recommend it highly enough.


2 thoughts on “Review: Southern Pines Golf Club

  1. I just wanted to fill you in with some more info of up coming projects. Working as the golf course superintendent during the renavation. Our next project that should be bringing after the new year will be an expanave putting green and putting course witch will sit we’re the old elks building was located. We also have 9 more championship tees to build witch will stretch the course to over 7000 yars. There is also some talk about maybe doing something with the old 9 holes.

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