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Traveling - Carolina Golf History

Pinehurst #2
No wonder so many golf enthusiasts retire to the Carolinas. With more than a thousand courses from mountains to sea, you can polish your game on holes designed by the world’s greatest golfers, including Pinehurst #2, designed by Donald Ross.
Photo Credit: Bill Russ |

One leg of the foundation is found along the Atlantic Coast in Charleston. There the arrival of the first golf clubs and balls occurred in 1759, and soon after that the first golf club was formed. The South Carolina Golf Club was conceived in 1786 and its members played on park land known as Harleston’s Green.

The second leg is found at the opposite end of the Carolinas, in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The Country Club of Asheville was chartered in 1894 and was the first golf club in North Carolina. It remains in operation today, though with different facilities from its opening more than a century ago.

The Sandhills area of south-central North Carolina is home to the third leg of note. The Tufts family gave birth to the nation’s first true golf resort – Pinehurst’s first course opened in 1898 and the world-famous No. 2 course followed as 18 holes in 1907.

“There are no links in the South to be compared with those at Pinehurst, and they will prove the great magnet of attraction to lovers of the game,” the Pinehurst Outlook opined in 1898.

It’s been a great run for golf in the Carolinas ever since. The venues are unrivaled for their variety of beauty and topographical texture – from the crashing surf and century-old oaks of the coast to the majestic backdrops of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west. The urban areas of the mid-Carolinas offer the best of the classic architects (Donald Ross’s Charlotte Country Club and Hope Valley in Durham, for example), as well as the modern impresarios (Tom Fazio’s Thornblades outside Greenville, S.C., and Rees Jones’ Peninsula on Lake Norman, for example).

The Carolinas have been a hotbed of competitive golf for more than a century. Premier professional events on the PGA Tour today include the MCI Heritage of Golf at Sea Pines Plantation on Hilton Head Island, the Wachovia Championship at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, and the venerable Chrysler Classic of Greensboro at Forest Oaks. Amateurs set the North and South competitions at Pinehurst and Rice Planters Amateur in Mount Pleasant atop their schedules annually.

It’s been a perfect fit for more than 200 years – golf and the Carolinas. The history of golf in the Carolinas resonates from three prongs of significance.

The all-stars of golf have sprouted from the Carolinas in prolific numbers as well. Billy Joe Patton, Harvie Ward, Johnny Palmer, Raymond Floyd, Davis Love III, Betsy Rawls and Beth Daniel are just a few with Carolinas’ birthplaces.

“I’m lucky to have been around the Carolinas for so much of my life,” says Mr. Love, who was born in Charlotte, attended college at the University of North Carolina and has designed one course in Myrtle Beach, one near Chapel Hill and another near Fayetteville. “You can’t find better land for golf courses than in the Carolinas.”

Golf in the Carolinas began nearly 250 years ago. According to research by historian and author Charles Price, a Charleston merchant named Andrew Johnston returned from a trip to Glasgow, Scotland, in 1759 with an assortment of goods – including 12 golf clubs and some balls. Since he lived on a plantation, Mr. Price surmised, it’s plausible that Johnston used them at some point before his death five years later. Mr. Price and George C. Rogers, Jr., a professor of history at the University of South Carolina, collaborated on a history of lowcountry golf and documented the existence of South Carolina Golf Club, founded in Charleston in 1786. The club evolved into the Country Club of Charleston, which remains in existence today.

“You can’t find better land for golf courses than in the Carolinas.”

It would take another century for the game to take hold in the United States. According to USGA records, there would be approximately three dozen golf clubs (most of them in the Northeast) by the time 1892 arrived and saw the formation of the Carolinas’ second golf club, Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken, S.C. Two years later, the Country Club of Asheville was formed.

In 1895, a Boston industrialist named James W. Tufts headed south to find a site for a wintertime resort—far enough south to be warmer than New England in February but closer than a two-day train trip to Florida. He found 5,000 suitable acres near Southern Pines and began building his Pinehurst resort. Golf was an afterthought, but Mr. Tufts was quick to adjust to market conditions and saw a future in this curious Scottish game.

A Scottish golf pro named Donald Ross also saw a future in the game in America and immigrated to the United States in 1899. He made the acquaintance of Tufts and was invited in late 1900 to head the fledgling golf operation at Pinehurst. Mr. Ross’s skills were in green keeping, club making and teaching, but soon he developed an interest in golf-course design and by 1910 was devoting nearly all his energies to designing golf courses. He would build some 45 courses across the Carolinas, and visitors to Pinehurst fell in love with his six courses in Moore County and hired him to design courses in their home towns. He would be credited with some 400 golf courses across the United States, operating from his home in Pinehurst.

The Carolinas have been a hotbed of competitive golf for more than a century.

“He died there in 1948 after years of fruitful contribution to the game of golf in America,” wrote Richard Tufts of the founding Pinehurst family in The Scottish Invasion.

The eyes of the golf world will be on Pinehurst and Ross’s most esteemed creation in June, 2005, when the U.S. Open is contested on No. 2. It’s appropriate that the Carolinas remain front and center in the world of golf – given its heritage and remarkable offering of fascinating golf courses.

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