My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences

Dormie ate my lunch.  What can I say--putting isn't the strength of my game and Dormie exposed it.  However, this course was so well laid out that it was able to keep my interest throughout the round...even after a four-putt hit my scorecard!  In some ways, it's a shame that this course wasn't able to succeed through the recession as a private club, as it was intended.  However, the challenges that the club faced financially are a gift to the rest of us, who have the opportunity to experience the course as a result.  I don't know what the future holds for Dormie.  I know that there are some big names who have entertained the thought of buying it.  However, there are some permit/regulatory issues that evidently will make it very difficult for a sale to occur.  Will Dormie stay public for good, or will someone else give the private thing a try?  My guess is that it'll stay public, because it doesn't have the infrastructure, location, or amenities to attract a national membership, and isn't quite as good as a few other clubs that it would compete with for the same type of member who appreciates the all-golf, no-frills, club (like those at Sand Hills).  So, good for the rest of us, since we get to experience the club!  If you're in the Pinehurst area, you'd be missing the boat to not give Dormie a try.  If you're the type of golfer who wants green, lush, fairways plus cart girls, and grill rooms...just keep an open mind and I'm confident you'll enjoy Dormie a lot.

#18, Par 4, 410 Yards

I really liked the look of Dormie's finishing hole.  With all the unkempt area to clear off the tee, there was a lot of nice contrast in colors (albeit versions of brown!) that filled my brain.  The hole bends the slightest bit to the left and back to the clubhouse with trouble on both sides all the way.  Keep it on the grass and you have a good chance at finishing strong.

‚Äč#16, Par 3, 178 Yards

Right in front of you here.  Bunkers flank the green on both sides but a well-struck iron shot will be rewarded with a good chance at par.

#17, Par 5, 489 Yards

While the positioning of the hazard is different, I bet Coore and Crenshaw had the 7th at Pine Valley in mind when they built this hole.  After positioning yourself off the tee, the second shot makes the golfer make a decision about whether to try to clear Dormie's version of "Hell's Half Acre."  The hole isn't long for a par 5, but the second shot is straight uphill and all carry over this hazard, so it's very tempting to have a go at it.  Make a mistake though and a high score may await.

#15, Par 4, 360 Yards

I've heard some grumblings about this hole.  The fairway slopes so hard toward the hazard that I've heard of shots right down the middle rolling all the way into the hazard.  My playing partner and I didn't face this issue, though we can admit that it was darned close.  Ending up on the right edge of the fairway yields a view of the green (much like #11) and a relatively easy par.  However, end up elsewhere and double-par might be your score.

#14, Par 4, 296 Yards

The second short par 4 at Dormie and right after a 465 yard hole!  Again, C&C know how to create variety in their routings and keep you on your toes.  What makes this hole special is the greenside bunker that is carved to protect the right half of the green, and the slope of the hole from left to right.  There's loads of room out to the right off the tee, but you'll face an uphill pitch over the bunker to a putting surface you cannot see.  Or, take a more aggressive line down the left off the tee and get rewarded.  However, missing your line on the left is a risky option...see the second picture below.

#13, Par 4, 465 Yards

Straight and narrow on this one.  Another blind tee shot awaits, but right down the middle is just fine.  No bunkers or other true hazards on this hole--the length is the true hazard here.

#11, Par 4, 395 Yards

A clever hole here.  If you want to see the green on your second shot, you'll need to take on all the trouble on the right side.  It's a very small landing area where you'll be able to have a look into the hole.  You can just barely see the green just to the left of the pines on the right side of the fairway in the first picture below.  If you take the safe line down the middle of the fairway, the approach will be blind, as can be seen in the second picture.  With the slopes around the greens, a blind approach isn't the most comforting.  The green is seen in the third picture...err on the left.  Risk/Reward.  Great hole.

#12, Par 3, 108 Yards

Coore and Crenshaw are as good as any I've seen at creating variety in hole lengths.  The par 3's at Dormie measure 206 yards, 147 yards, 108 yards, and 178 yards form the blue tees.  All four holes go in four different directions as well, so you should face different winds in each.  The 12th looks and sounds so easy, but it's far from it.  The pin was front right on the day we played, and it's nothing more than a little pitch shot.  However, take into account all of the sand surrounding the green and the slopes of the green, and it's still not a simple par.  One interesting thing about this hole, which I attempted to capture in the second picture below (cameras do a horrible job in capturing three dimensions!) is that the tees were tiered backwards.  That is, the back tee was the lowest point, with the blue tee elevated a bit higher than it, and the white tee elevated higher than that.  Can't remember ever seeing such a thing.

#10, Par 5, 632 Yards

While the opening nine starts out with a relatively soft hole, the inward nine starts out with a bear.  It is 632 yards of dogleg left with trouble on the left much of the way.  With a good drive, the player must then navigate a brilliantly placed centerline fairway bunker right in the landing area for the second shot.  Avoid that, and it's probably still a full shot to get to the green in regulation.  Keeping it down the right side off the tee is the safest line, but will make this hole even longer than 632 yards, so do so at your own peril.  As mentioned before, C&C use the land as they see fit.  So, the 9th doesn't always have to go back to the clubhouse to have the best routing.  This is an example.  The 10th green is the farthest point away from the clubhouse, making the 10th tee very far away as well.

#9, Par 3, 147 Yards

The last hole on the opening nine is a short-to-medium-length par 3.  However, the pin that cut on this one made this into a par 4 in my opinion.  The pin was all the way back, and on a very small back tier with a bunker just long of the green.  Really really difficult to get anything anywhere near the hole, and if you miss, really really difficult to chip anything near the hole without running the risk of hitting into a bunker of missing the tier and rolling elsewhere.  There was a small landing area back left that would have made the pin somewhat approachable, but I didn't learn that until after playing it.  Just a bear with that pin.  After taking on that hole, it's time to check out the Dormie Canteen.  While I can't confirm whether it's the case every day, it was un-staffed when we arrived, with a small birdhouse-type box asking to leave money on your honor.  Such a cool concept that really added to the private feel of the club even though it's now open to the public.  Kudos!

#8, Par 4, 472 Yards

There's a bit more bark than bite on this one.  472 yards sounds nasty, but once you clear the hill in front of you, it's a long downhill roll with a slope that will help you bend it around the corner to the left  It definitely plays shorter than the yardage on the card.  Plenty of room right of the hole of bail if you're coming in with a long club and don't have the confidence to take on the hole.  I sure didn't from the line you'll see in the second picture below.

#7, Par 3, 206 Yards

A relatively long shot into this par 3, but plenty of space to bail on the left side and avoid the scrubby area short and right.  This would come in handy for me!

#6, Par 5, 511 Yards

The average designer would probably force the issue and move dirt to avoid five straight par 4's to open a golf course.  Moreover, after those 5 holes, the average router would probably insert a par 3 as a bit of a rest.  However, Coore and Crenshaw take what the land gives them, and if that means the first 6 holes play to a par of 25, then so be it!  With that said, #6 is the first par 5 on the course.  The landing area is extremely wide, though blind, creating a bit of an uneasy feeling for the player.  Upon reaching the top of the hill and getting a view of the hole, it's a vast expanse of land all the way to the hole, with bunkers here and there down the left side, making the player think to avoid them when trying to play to the prefered left side of the fairway.

#5, Par 4, 414 Yards

One yard shorter than its predecessor, the fifth presents the first forced carry at Dormie.  The right half of the fairway is the longest carry, with a shot down the left needing to fly less of the water.  With the left-to-right slope of the land on this hole, you're rewarded for coming in from the more demanding right side of the fairway.  The good thing is that the natural flow of the land will help you get to the right side off the tee, so you don't have to take as aggressive a line as you'd first think to end up in the desired spot.  Coore and Crenshaw understand strategic design as well and any, and this is a good example.

#4, Par 4, 415 Yards

This one bends to the left.  The slope around the green goes hard from left to right, toward a lake.  So, for the best angle into the green, it seems like the right half of the fairway is the best line.  However, the fairway slopes to the left off the tee, so not an easy thing to do.

#3, Par 4, 298 Yards

If you're going to have five straight par 4's on a routing, you had better provide some variety and Coore/Crenshaw did just that, especially when they built the third.  Bunkers-a-plenty around the green, and the massive green makes pin position a critical piece of information when deciding on strategy.  When we played, it was all the way back, which seemed to be the hardest location, by far.  However, to even out the hard pin position, C&C designed the angle of the green such that the best angle into the hardest pin is from the easiest side of the fairway to hit.  That is, away from the fairway bunkers that jut out from the right.  Very fair and clever strategic design.

From the fairway, looking back at the 2nd tee.

#2, 378 Yards, Par 4

The first five holes at Dormie are all par 4's.  Though the third is the shortest, I thought this one might have been the least I played it the best of the five.  Hugging the left side fairway bunker presents the best and shortest line into the hole, though with the contour of the fairway sloping from right to left, you can get a bit of help in the form of a ground hook.  The bunker around the green is plenty short of the putting surface and to the right.  It will potentially get in the way of a ground run-up if you're on the right half of the fairway, hence the need to hug the bunker off the tee.  Ample area is left of the green.

#1, Par 4, 402 Yards

I really liked the opening hole at Dormie Club.  The drive goes downhill and the landing zone is extremely wide, which takes away some of the first tee jitters.  The two bunkers in the fairway are really not for anything more than aiming and provide some perspective for the angles you'd like to take.  The left side of the fairway is the better half to approach the first of 18 large greens you'll face today.

When I made a trip to the Pinehurst area in 2014, I knew that I couldn't leave with my head held high unless I had experienced Dormie Club.  The hype that this club has gotten in the golf community made it a must-see, and contrary to the developer's goals, access wasn't a problem.

I'll take a step back.  Dormie Club was the dream of Bob Hansen, a developer from Philadelphia, who wanted to construct an exclusive private club in the Sand Hills of North Carolina.  After going through years of site selection, permit approvals, and finally construction, the course opened in 2010.  The design was completed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, two of the most en vogue designers of the 21st century.  This would be the first time the C&C team put their stake in the ground in the State of North Carolina, and their selection to build Dormie was a perfect fit for Hansen, in that their minimalist approach would match the vision that Hansen had for the Club.  Hansen was quoted in Richard Mandell's "The Legendary Evolution of Pinehurst: The Home of American Golf" as saying "The goal of the club was to provide a sanctuary where members could get away, play golf, and enjoy the camaraderie -- a place where nothing could go wrong."  So, what was built at Dormie is 100% about golf.  The clubhouse is very spartan, the halfway house is on the honor system, the logo is a celebration of the flagsticks at Dormie with nothing more than a blank red flag, and the golf itself practices the utmost in 21st century minimalism.  That is to say, if you're looking for lush green grass and soft receptive greens, you're in the wrong place.  While Hansen and his development partners bought over 1,000 acres to build Dormie (obviously the course itself is far smaller than that) there are only 78 acres of grass that is maintained, leaving the rest of the land as it naturally exists....sand, pine needles, wire grass, weeds, trees, and more.  Moreover, the 78 acres that are maintained, are intended to play firm and fast.  With that in mind, when I visited in March, the only green grass on the course was on the greens and the tees of the par 3's.  Otherwise, the remainder was dormant, running very firm and fast.

So, besides the firm and fast playing conditions, what else is interesting about Dormie?  Well, as Mr. Hansen said, it is a "rolling, curving, twisting piece of land" with very interesting contouring.  The course was designed with the ground game in mind, and most greens allow for a shot that rolls onto the surface.  Plus, rolling it onto the surface may be the best play in many instances, as the greens are severely sloped in spots and a shot landed on the wrong section of the green may roll 30+ feet away from where it landed, and in many cases all the way off the greens.  While the greens were very interesting, the day I played it, I had a suspicion that the pin positions were a little extreme, which when coupled with the fastest greens we faced that week, made a few of the holes of questionable fairness.  However, my guess is that if I had played the course before, and had more local knowledge regarding approach angles from the wide fairways that I would have had a different opinion, and would likely have found the greens to be more reasonable.  I'll chalk it up to my first round on the course and making many rookie mistakes.

While Dormie was originally intended to be private and exclusive, the economy hit the club just like it hit many around the country and the private concept didn't take off.  The club started to quietly let the public play, perhaps as a recruiting tactic to get the word out, but then began to promote to the public more recently.  At this point, I was told there are 20-30 members, but otherwise the club is fully public.  With no on-site housing or other amenities, and with the club being a bit off the beaten path from the Pinehurst / Midland Road area, I could see how it might be difficult to attract attention, were it not for the great golf course they created.

Dormie has four sets of tees, with the tips stretching to 6,883 yards.  We played from the Blue tees, which were one set up from the back, and played from 6,576 yards with a rating / slope of 72.3 / 130 and a par of 71.  More than enough when it was mid March and the temperature at our 7:45 start time was about 40 degrees.  The sun was out though, and even though the golf was marginal, this was about to be a really fun day.

Dormie Club

West End, North Carolina

Checked off the Bucket List March 15, 2014

Golf Magazine:

#96, Top 100 Courses You Can Play (2012)

#5, Best Public Golf Courses in North Carolina (2012)

Golf Digest:

#30, America's 100 Greatest Public Courses (2013-2014)

#8, Best in the State of North Carolina (2013-2014)