There are certain places across the country that I should have been visiting at this point in my life. I think we are all like that, and when we think about them it seems a little strange that we haven’t paid them a visit yet. For some reason we know we will enjoy the experience, but usually it just comes down to the time and opportunity. Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina was such a place for me, but luckily I recently had the chance to finally spend a long weekend exploring this historic and remarkable part of the region.
I was in North Carolina as a guest at the resort and Historic Hotels of America, which include Pinehurst. Historic hotels have always been a personal favorite, thanks not only to the incredible stories they have to tell, but also to the incredible levels of luxury and service that are usually found in them. They listen to another time and it’s hard not to feel like a celebrity the first time you walk into their lobbies. Historic Hotels of America is the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s official program to recognize and celebrate the best of historic hotels. Today, Historic Hotels of America has more than 300 historic hotels. These historic hotels have faithfully maintained all of their authenticity, sense of place, and architectural integrity in the United States of America, including 44 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, and I always strive to create one patronize if i can.
In 1895, Boston soda fountain magnate and philanthropist James Walker Tufts had an idea. He sold his thriving business for multiple purposes, including the seed of an idea that eventually led to Pinehurst. Wanting to set up a health resort, as it was popular at the time, he identified 5,800 acres of devastated woodland in the Sandhills region of central North Carolina. Of course, everyone thought the great businessman had finally made a mistake, but Tufts had the remarkable ability to see things that might instead be what they were.
Although health retreats were common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they were places generally reserved for the wealthy and elite members of society. From the start, Tufts wanted something different, he wanted a refuge where middle-class Americans could escape and enjoy the healing powers of a health resort. It was widely believed that regions like North Carolina could help cure several illnesses of the time, and Tufts didn’t believe the benefits should only be for the wealthy.
Tufts wasted no time either, within a year the foundations of Pinehurst Village took shape and the Holly Inn opened in late 1895. In 1901, the remarkable and luxurious Carolina Hotel followed, which housed my own Pinehurst. The story begins.
The Carolina Hotel
If you were to design a great old luxury hotel with a southern flair, the Carolina Hotel would be the result every time. When it was completed in 1901, the hotel was the largest in North Carolina and remains one of the most luxurious in the country to this day. The hotel has also been at the heart of Pinehurst life since 1901, thanks to the innate feelings of hospitality and cosiness.
It is proof for the builders and architects that even after a century of service, the Carolina still looks as impressive and even modern as it did in 1901. Its characteristic copper dome and spacious verandas make you feel like you are on a journey through time. Dubbed the “Queen of the South” and now has 230 Four Diamond guest rooms, including suites, it is the perfect home away from home.
Of course, 2020 is unlike any other year in the hotel’s history, but even with the COVID restrictions added to the mix, the hotel continues to thrive. I have stayed at several hotels since the strict quarantine was lifted earlier this year and in all honesty the Carolina has done the best I have seen so far to ensure the health and safety of its valued guests.
As with the rest of the state, Carolina currently has a mask policy, and the staff have many free to use in case you left yours in your room or car. Hand sanitizer abounds, there are direction arrows for the fast food cafe, and restaurants have adapted to current North Carolina rules. Yes, it’s different, but it’s not a nuisance and in fact the precautions were incredibly comforting.
I had a simple destination for my long weekend to just relax and the Carolina quickly and easily became my personal haven during my time in the area. The common areas are great without being stuffy or pretentious. There are plenty of rocking chairs on the expansive verandas for guests to enjoy. Inside, the rooms mimicked that gentle hospitality with all the comforts of home and the relaxing attitude. Southern hospitality can be a challenging term at times, but from now on I will simply point out the Carolina Hotel as the epitome of this favorite luxury trip.
Home of golf
Most of all, Pinehurst is best known as one of America’s great golf houses, an accolade it had almost from the start.
While Tufts was working with famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (famous for Central Park) to design Pinehurst Village, work was also being done on the resort’s first golf course. Pinehurst No. 1 opened in 1898, but it was Pinehurst No. 2 that defined not only the resort but also American golf for generations.
Opened in 1907, No. 2 was designed by Donald Ross and to this day is one of the top rated golf courses in the world. Ross later redesigned Pinehurst No. 1 and No. 3 and No. 4 for the Tufts Family. He was credited with designing or redesigning more than 400 golf courses across North America, but Pinehurst became his home.
What makes # 2 so special? Well, it’s considered one of the game’s great architectural masterpieces for many reasons, not least because of its crowned, undulating greens, which are some of the most complex and highly acclaimed in the world, and all of which were recently restored by Ross. original concepts.
However, Pinehurst is about much more than just a place. There are nine courses on site as well as other golf options for people like me. You see, while I love golf and have vacationed in many fantastic golf resorts around the world, I wouldn’t consider myself a golfer. I sure wasn’t happy with trying # 2, so instead I enjoyed two more low-key options on-site, Thistle Dhu and The Cradle.
The first miniature golf course in America, Thistle Dhu is reminiscent of the legendary Himalayan course on the Old Course in St. Andrews and features 18 lightning-fast, punishing, yet incredibly fun greens. The course is perfect for all ages and all family members and is free for resort guests. I enjoyed the course a couple of times during my stay and each time I saw a fun mix of families, scratch golfers and everyone in between.
Aside from Thistle Dhu, there is another course that was the highlight of my time there, The Cradle. This short course (or par 3 course) has nine holes that welcome all golfers. If you’ve never played a par-3 before, this really is the perfect introduction to the game of golf and builds the much-needed confidence that is of course key to golf. The cradle includes holes between 56 and 127 meters and fits perfectly into the hilly landscape. I did really well on The Cradle and had a lot of fun doing it. Isn’t that what a great getaway is all about?
Food, activities and overall impressions
Of course, food is at the heart of any resort experience, and while I was in Pinehurst my only culinary problem was overeating. The morning is the highlight for many of the Carolina’s guests, knowing they quickly became me when the famous breakfast buffet took center stage. This is the first such buffet I’ve seen in a hotel since the COVID restrictions began and I was not only delighted with the food but also happy with the precautions that were taken. As I walked into the hotel’s large dining room, I heard the pianist floating in the air playing Christmas carols to celebrate the season. At the same time, my nose perked up when the smell of a great but calming Mediterranean breakfast alarmed all my senses. The Carolina’s breakfast buffet is legendary and cannot be missed. It offers a standard selection of breakfast dishes that change daily. However, there are other elements like the omelette station where people talk about the experience throughout the day. Trust me this is not your average hotel buffet.
The dining room later transforms into an upscale restaurant for dinner, which I enjoyed too. The menu is mainly a steakhouse in the great tradition and also offers other local delicacies. Together the experience is better than ever. For a more casual evening, the hotel’s Ryder Cup Lounge is perfect and I’ve been here more than once. The menu is a classic brewery kitchen with regional classics that go in and out every day. For a real brewery, check out the nearby Pinehurst Brewing Company, known for their incredible Carolina-style grilling in addition to their beer selection. But you can also explore the neighboring community. There is a lot to love and it’s always nice to patronize a small business, especially these days.
Simply put, my visit to Pinehurst was the getaway that I didn’t know I needed. Yes, I’ve been on a couple of trips since May and for the most part they have been nice. But they’ve also been strangely stressful which is the norm in 2020 as we are all worried about the pandemic. However, Pinehurst was the first time I felt really comfortable. It’s the first time I’ve been able to completely relax, forget my worries for a while and just enjoy myself. I don’t think this is a 2020 phenomenon. I feel like they have been doing this for countless others for over a century, and that’s why I know for sure that Pinehurst is now one of my go-to places for a quick, easy, and luxurious getaway.