If you thought Pinehurst was just for golfers, think again. Steeped in history and swaddled in pine-scented air, it is still the ultimate golfer's getaway, but it's no longer just for them. Pinehurst's first lure was as a wellness retreat, created as an escape from the Northern winters to the Carolina Sandhills amid towering long-leaf pines, peach blossoms, and mild Southern breezes. So here I am, doing just that and discovering the legacy of attraction to this iconic American resort.
A Little History
The Cradle of American Golf, as Pinehurst Resort & Country Club is widely known, was established in 1895 in the Sandhills of North Carolina. Founded by Boston soda fountain magnate James Walker Tufts, who purchased about 5,000 acres of sand and towering pines at $1 an acre. Tufts vision, was to create a health retreat for those living in the cities and suffering from respiratory ailments caused by polluted industrial air, believing that the "pine ozone," found only in this North Carolina region could be a cure. He hired famed landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted who created New York's Central Park, to draw up the blueprints for the Village of Pinehurst. The designs were intended to encourage people to walk along bucolic pathways that meandered through a quaint New England-style village full of shops, galleries, and wide front verandas where people could sit and sip afternoon tea.
Pinehurst is now a 2,200-acre property featuring nine golf courses, The Cradle nine-hole par-3 short course, 75,000 square-foot putting course (Thistle Dhu), and 16 clay tennis courts. Pinehurst has hosted more single golf championships – including the U.S. Open, U.S. Women's Open, PGA Championship, the Ryder Cup, and PGA Tour Championship – than any other golfing site in North America. The golf courses have been designed by golfing greats like Donald Ross, Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, Gil Hanse, Jack Nicklaus, Rees Jones, Tom Fazio, and Ellis Maples.
The celebrities and famous folk who have made Pinehurst a regular retreat or graced the fairways and stages and sipped mint juleps in rocking chairs read like a veritable who's-who. The village theater's grand stage was once graced by Will Rogers, John Philip Sousa, Bing Crosby, Helen Hayes, Margaret Truman, and Marlene Dietrich. Amelia Earhart once landed her plane on a nearby airstrip. Annie Oakley operated a shooting gallery here for years. And everyone from the Rockefellers to Oprah Winfrey, Teddy Roosevelt to Gerald Ford, and Harry Vardon to Tiger Woods have played and stayed.
A 122-Year-Old Grand Dame
Steeped in equal parts charm, history, and elegance, the Carolina Hotel comes with all the grandeur and graciousness you would expect from a hotel over a century old. On arrival, you're greeted by the perfectly manicured boxwood hedge that spells PINEHURST in front of the stately Colonial Revival-style building. The four-storied, all-white façade, with sweeping verandas circling the hotel, red-tiled roof, and signature copper cupola, is goosebump-inducing - they just don't build them quite like this anymore. A long, carpeted, columned, and chandelier-hung hall bisects the hotel's main floor. Lavish and sumptuous, but at the same time, there is an air of lightness about it, thanks to a recent multi-million dollar renovation. The walls throughout the hotel are covered with artworks and display cases documenting the hotel's legacy. Be sure to book one of the newly renovated Carolina suites. The large, 900-square-foot bright rooms have a distinctive New England feel in pale bleu & white color palettes, custom whitewashed furniture, and botanical motif plush linens. The bathroom is a floor to ceiling white marble oasis, with a walk-in rain shower. I get quite giddy with excitement over the tiny bottles of Forest Calm shampoo & body lotion, and the signature scent of Pinehurst Spice French milled soap, made exclusively for the resort, keeps me in the bathroom way longer than necessary.
The Carolina Hotel has been renovating its 230 rooms, which will be completed in June 2023. The remainder of the hotel renovations will be finished ahead of the 2024 U.S.
Sweet Potato Biscuits will Keep Me Coming Back
It's a peaceful, idyllic stroll down the pathway, flanked by blooming azaleas and blossoming peach trees from The Carolina through to the quaint village of Pinehurst, just a block away. Leave early, before dinner reservations, and stop at The Village Wine Shop. Take a moment to step inside and peruse the well-curated selection of wines. And from what I can gather, they are mostly from small family vineyards. Order a glass of Prosecco, grab a table outside, and simply watch happy hour unfold and the parade of elegant, sportily dressed people dog-walking their golden retrievers. Next, take a short walk to Holly Inn, Pinehurst's first hotel, built in 1895 in the heart of the village.
Dinner at 1895 Grille is an intimate, elegant space that feels like you might have just walked into your posh great old English uncle's private club. Wood paneled walls, red leather upholstered booths, handblocked wallpaper, thick brocade fabrics from Italy, and bespoke solid wooden pierced back chairs with tulip poplar motif (after a prevalent North Carolina species) have all been inspired by English architect Charles Voysey. The restaurant prides itself on its farm-to-table experience, and Executive Chef Thierry Debailleul pays homage to Southern food inspired by North Carolina farmers & producers. The sweet potato (Thomas Jefferson) biscuits are an institution here, and if you get chatting with front-of-house manager Al, he will share the recipe with you. I've eaten my fair share of She Crab soup, but the 1895 Grille version might just be the finest I have had; with chunks of jumbo lump crab and a splash of dry-aged sherry, it is faultless. The Brasstown Beef short rib is served with pimento cheddar grits, caramelized onions, balsamic glazed roasted brussels sprouts, roasted mushrooms, cornbread, and herb pesto gremolata. The beef paired perfectly with a Twenty Rows Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. End with the triple chocolate souffle, while decadently rich, it is worth ordering if only to witness the impressive pouring of creme anglaise.
As it Was Intended
The Pinehurst Spa checks every box of what the resort was initially established for: a retreat for sick people to come and be well. A team of spa experts, botanists, and chemists were gathered to help the spa reflect the essence of Pinehurst inspired by the natural landscape. Give yourself time before and after to enjoy the many menu options that read like an exotic cocktail menu like Carolina peach scrub, mint julep wraps, holly berry, magnolia, and sweet avocado facials. From the moment you arrive at the 31,000-square-foot conservatory-styled spa, located adjacent to the east wing of the stately Carolina hotel, there is attentiveness from the spa staff. Guided through to the wooden-clad locker rooms and changing area and handed a fluffy gown and slippers, you're led to the sanctuary of the pool area. Forget about golf. This is where I want to spend my day. The pristine saline lap pool is the impressive centerpiece of the spa, and the surrounding lounge area is a tranquil haven to sip on a mango smoothie and simply escape from real life for a while. If you only have time for one treatment (there are 50 to choose from), spoil yourself with a seasonal Pinehurst massage, a Swedish that focuses on restoring hydration with yellow shea butter and quincyberry body oil and ending with a foot massage with honey heel glaze.
Don't Leave Without Breakfast
Under Venetian glass chandelier and the tinkling of a piano player is an opulent way to enjoy the first meal of the day. The Carolina Dining Room is famed for its Southern-style breakfast buffet and lives up to its excellent reputation. Silver-domed offerings from hickory smoked bacon and buttermilk biscuits to made-to-order Belgian waffles and steaming cheesy grits, it is a breakfast lover's dream buffet. Take time to look at the art program on the dining room's walls. It tells the story of Pinehurst in photography and a collection of period menus, which feature holiday feasts and depression-era pricing, and once again reminding guests of the extraordinary history of Pinehurst.
As Henry Austin Dobson reminds us with the inscription above the door at the Holly Inn, "Time goes by, you say? Ah, no! Alas, time stays. We go." My time here has left me feeling pampered and rejuvenated. I breathed in the "pine ozone" and I can confirm its curative abilities. And I did it all without setting foot on the greens.