Christmas Dreams Come True in Pinehurst

Carolina Hotel, Pinehurst, at Christmas (Image: Pinehurst Resort)

The Carolina Hotel at Pinehurst Resort in its Christmas finery. (Image: Pinehurst Resort)

(Last updated November 2022.)

As we wake up at Pinehurst Resort on Christmas morning, my wife and I joke that we hope Santa has brought us new golf swings.

An hour later, to the sound of church bells ringing in the distance, we optimistically tee off at the resort’s No. 2 course, hallowed ground for every golfer and the marquee attraction of a bucolic North Carolina village marketed as the “Home of American Golf.”

Set in rolling and sandy countryside 113 kilometres southwest of Raleigh, the state capital, Pinehurst during the holidays is a Norman Rockwell canvas come to life. Towering Carolina pines, dogwoods, hollies and azaleas frame colourfully lit and garlanded New England-style cottages on streets laid out in a wagon-wheel pattern by Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York’s Central Park. A fringed horse-drawn surrey filled with sightseers sedately passes by. In the village square, children gather beneath a sparkling Christmas tree to sing carols.

For more than a century, golfers and other vacationers have come to Pinehurst to enjoy the festive spirit and temperate climate (December highs average 12 Celsius) in a tightly knit community that has been stubbornly resisting change since sometime around the presidency of Calvin Coolidge.

The Carolina Hotel, Pinehurst, in gingerbread (Image: Pinehurst Resort)

Good enough to eat: the Pinehurst Resort gingerbread village. (Image: Pinehurst Resort)

Pinehurst’s holiday season officially begins with the lighting of the Christmas tree, carol singing and a visit from Santa in the village square. Other highlights include a Christmas parade in nearby Southern Pines, an almost equally picturesque town whose main street is divided lengthwise by the railway; and a candlelight tour of heritage homes.

But for golfers, the focus of every visit, no matter the time of year, is on historic Pinehurst Resort, North America’s largest golf resort, with nine 18-hole courses, including the iconic No. 2.

Built in the grand style in 1901 and lavishly renovated in recent years, the resort’s Carolina Hotel is decorated for the season with 25 themed Christmas trees, 400 poinsettias, 2,300 metres of ribbon and a giant gingerbread village in the elegant main lobby, complete with trains and lights.

Just as the North Pole is linked in the imagination with Santa, Pinehurst Resort is renowned as the longtime home of legendary golf architect Donald Ross, whose kindly, steel-spectacled likeness is given pride of place on the walls of the Carolina and at other inns and restaurants throughout the village.

After settling in Pinehurst in 1900, the Scottish-born Ross built the resort’s first three courses (Nos. 1, 2 and 3). The roster has since grown to include superb 18-hole designs by Gil Hanse (No. 4), Ellis Maples (No. 5), Tom and George Fazio (No. 6), Rees Jones (No. 7), Tom Fazio (No. 8), and Jack Nicklaus (No. 9). There’s also an acclaimed nine-hole short course, The Cradle, designed by Gil Hanse.

Pinehurst Resort, North Carolina (Image: Pinehurst Resort)

Beautiful any time of year, Pinehurst Resort is at its loveliest during Christmas. (Image: Pinehurst Resort)

Ross’s masterpiece, No. 2, a layout infamous for its diabolically difficult inverted-bowl greens, was brilliantly restored a few years ago by the acclaimed design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. (Read more about the restoration in our feature story, Pinehurst No. 2 Reborn.) No. 2, which has held the men’s U.S. Open three times, hosted both the men’s and women’s Opens in 2014.

All told, almost 40 courses are found either in Pinehurst or within easy reach. Noteworthy architects represented include Jack Nicklaus (National Golf Club), Arnold Palmer (The Carolina Club) and Mike Strantz (Tobacco Road Golf Club).

Between rounds, Pinehurst Resort offers guests the free use of bicycles for exploring a postcard-perfect community that lives and breathes the game. The gracefully colonnaded Given Memorial Library houses a collection of historic Pinehurst photos and artifacts, including original course drawings by Ross. Charmingly cluttered Burchfield’s Golf Gallery offers an outstanding selection of original golf paintings, limited-edition prints and golf memorabilia.

Ross himself often frequented the still popular Pinecrest Inn, taking a drink among friends in the heart of a village where every day is like Christmas for golfers — even if a new swing isn’t waiting on the first tee.