By Richard Miller
Ripening into a second season in October, side-by-side Southern Pines and Pinehurst tender great sport, gracious people and the artful ease of the South. Longleaf pines, low-slung colonial-style buildings and a moderate clime embellish a life of elegantly played-down wealth pivoting around horses and the hunt, racing and steeplechasing and, of course, grand games of golf.
In the south central region of North Carolina, in what are known as the Carolina Sandhills, are the two small, nostalgic towns of Pinehurst and Southern Pines. They occupy no more than twenty-five square miles of land with a total population of less than 11,000, even during the season from October to late May. Combined the two towns possess one of the highest incomes per capita in the state; yet both towns intentionally remain beyond the loud chorus of commercialism.
This is an area that aspires to be nothing more than what it is, a place that quietly suggests a more placid time in America, before people began to take life on the run. Even the land rolls gently, like the sea rippled by a benign breeze. In spring, the morning sunlight filtered through the pines has an almost irridescent glow. The countryside serves up a profusion of blossoming white and pink dogwoods, azaleas and magnolia trees. The warm dry air, so healthy to breathe, so sensuous to the skin, is velvety soft. The tall trees and sandy soil carpeted with pine needles so muffle sound that at times the only noise is the peaceful whisper of pines in the breeze.
Although the Sandhills are seventy miles south of Raleigh and one hundred and twenty miles northwest of Wilmington, the terrain seems coastal. Millions of years ago, there was an inland sea here, not unlike California’s Salton Sea, which slowly receded and left the sandy soil. More than fifty years ago, several of the area’s oldest families- the Tufts from Boston, the W.O. Mosses from Savannah and Durham, and John Watson from Chicago- discovered the real wealth here was in a land fertile for their sporting passions.
The sports they brought here are their legacies. Those who share a passion for golf (the Sandhills have twenty-seven courses, with two truly championship courses), fox hunting, the breeding and training of hunters and jumpers, steeplechasing, flat racing and trotting have populated the area, and there has always been a friendly, healthy rivalry between the two sporting groups. “When I go to a party in Pinehurst, there are just a bunch of old Princetonians drinking and talking golf,” says one woman from Southern Pines.
Dick Taylor, editor of the locally published magazine Golf World, retorts, “The horse people have the only great land left on which to build golf courses.” Another golfer repeats the old saw about the fox hunting crowd: “They’re the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable.”
The people here have formed a society that’s as paradoxical as the terrain; while many come from the middle South, the society has inherited some of the proper Bostonian’s characteristics, instilled by Boston families like the Tuckermans, Loverings, Tufts and Sears, who came here seeking more moderate winter climate. They set the tone of cordial reserve, reverence for the past and strong sense of tradition. Many older residents’ voices contain a faint Boston accent, tinged with a slight southern drawl. They still refer to The Pinehurst Hotel by its orginal name of seventy years ago- The Carolina – but they pronounce it “The Cah-o-lina.” The village of Pinehurst, with its winding roads and lanes, the soaring steeple of the village chapel, the low-slung colonial-style buildings of red brick with white wooden trim, has all the charm of a New England town.
All is bathed in a quiet tranquility, suffused with the gentler rhythms of the past. Although there’s a train station in Southern Pines, the train only stops twice a day. There are buses, but no bus terminal; and although the Moore County Airport is nearby, flights to Raleigh are erratic. The residents of Pinehurst still must pick up their mail at the post office. Three years ago, the village got its first street signs – and it wasn’t until four years ago that you could finally buy a liquor drink.
Houses of unostentatious grace lie in pools of shade beneath the ubiquitous and regal longleaf pine trees, set back off the main roads behind the turned and tooled split rail fences. Just out past an area in Pinehurst called Millionaire’s Hill stands the ivy-covered, Georgian brick house of Betty Dumaine, better known as “Aunt Bee” and, at 82, a remarkable woman. Nonchalantly she tells of time years ago when she was fox hunting in Ireland, got thrown from her horse and broke twenty-one bones.
The Dumaines currently are the largest private shareholders (25 percent) of Fieldcrest Amoskeag, Inc. (Fieldcrest Mills, Fanny Farmer Candy and Karastan Carpets), but Betty Dumaine never willingly discusses the family business ventures. She prefers to talk about horses and hunting, her one-time boarding school friend from Boston, the current Princess Mother of Thailand (a frequent visitor), and her godson. On a Chippendale table in her living room, alongside English antiques, Boston ferns and leatherbound books, sits a framed picture of her godson with his family. The picture is inscribed “To Aunt Bee, with lots of love, Elliot Richardson.”
Farther out in Southern Pines, on the highest ground in the area, is the house of Mrs. Ernest (Buffy) Ives, older sister of the late Adlai Stevenson. Her house, Paint Hill Farm, is an authentic log cabin, circa 1700s. Its low ceilings, small rooms and limited closet space once prompted sometime Pinehurst resident Livingston Biddle to ask, “But, Buffy where do you put your shoes?”
One of the most popular people with both the horsy set and the golfers is Raymond C. Firestone, former chairman of the board of Firestone Tire & Rubber Company. At 71, he’s a highly personable man with wavy black hair, sparkling blue eyes and a physique so slight he seems frail- about as frail as a steel wire. He’s Joint Master of the Moore County Hounds, and rides in over forty hunts a season. Asked if it’s dangerous, he says, “Hunting is no more dangerous than driving a car.” Raymond Firestone is a modest man. “You must remember,” says his attractive blond wife Jane, a woman in her fifties, “that Raymond was a five-goal polo player in 1930s.”
Raymond Firestone personifies one of the greatest traditions of the Sandhills society: one should take one’s sporting and cultural activities very seriously, but not oneself. When not hunting, Raymond Firestone may go hiking fifteen or twenty miles, and its not above mucking out a stall. He also plays golf at the Country Club of North Carolina: three years ago, when the club was putting in the final nine holes of its second eighteen, Firestone wrote to the course architect- his friend Robert Trent Jones – requesting that he design a par five of one hundred yards in which he could get on the green in two shots and three putt.
The residents are reticent about their wealth, as well. “If one isn’t frugal, on should at least display the appearance.” Says one native. Several years ago, one of the grande dames of Pinehurst purposely wore the same old corduroy skirt two days every week, to play down her enormous fortune. Most people’s clothes tend to have a well-lived-in look; says Kitty Ostrum, “I’ve been looking at men wearing plain old brown loafers or white buck shoe with red soles for over forty years. You might get into some Bally shoes, but never a pair of Guccis.”
To impress someone in Southern Pines, take him for lunch to the restaurant “Cheese’n Things” – or “Mannies,” as it is locally called – total cost of order: $15. This special blend of unpretentiousness is described in many ways. “People here don’t have a distorted view of themselves, and neither is there the ostentation you might find in other resorts,” says Richard D. Chapman Jr., a third-generation Pinehurster.
Another grand tradition lies in fox hunting. The Moore County Hounds – founded in 1914 by James Boyd, a period novelist who wrote Drums and Marching On – are the oldest private pack in the Deep South. (Boyd’s estate, now Weymouth Center, with its writers-in-residence program, has become the cultural center of the Sandhills.) Boyd was the M.F.H. until 1942, when he handed over the reins to Mr. W. Ozell Moss, whose wife Jenny was Joint Master with him until he died in 1976 and she became the M.F.H. At 71, not only is she the oldest woman to hold such an august position, but she has also served longest as Senior Master; her longevity of service being surpassed only by Wilbur R. Hubbard, who since 1931 has been the M.F.H. of the Kent County Hounds of Chestertown, Maryland.
Jenny Moss, or “Mother” Moss as some call her, usually dresses in old jeans, a faded blouse and boots. Her blonde hair is pulled back, fully exposing a pretty face gently creased with lines from hours in the sun. Her voice is marked by a heavy Savannah accent. As she walks about her modest home, which is surrounded by tall pines, she is usually followed by one of her three Welsh corgis. Her casual appearance is deceptive; she is one of the grande dames of the area, and largest individual landowner in Moore County, owning 11,000 acres, including her kennels, which are part of Mile-Away Farms. Jenny Moss lives for the hunt; when she is dressed in her scarlet coat, her stock perfectly tied, and yelling to one of her bitches, “You get over here, Petunia,” she is very much the M.F.H.
Since the Moore County Hounds are a private pack, the hunt is by invitation only. The season opens on Thanksgiving with the hunt’s only drag hunt. During the moderate winter season, hunts are held every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. An average field is sixty, and during the season there are between fifty and sixty hunts. In mid-March, there’s a hunt brunch, at which a drink called Jumping Power – half port wine and half brandy – is served, and the hunt season is officially ended.
Raymond Firestone explains why the hunt continues to gain popularity in Southern Pines. “The climate is perfect and the footing is wonderful for horses, since there are no rocks and no mud.” So sure is the footing that Mrs. Gardiner Fiske of the Boston Fiskes, whose husband founded American Airlines, rides every morning – sidesaddle, mind you – at age 84. Although the area doesn’t have the majestic, rich, rolling green land of Middleburg Virginia, or its excellent scenting conditions, Southern Pines has other advantages. Its winters are moderate, and there are no biting north winds that pierce through the heaviest hunting jacket. This is one of the biggest home country areas for hunting, for the farthest farm for which a hunt is fixed is no more than eight miles from the kennels, and there are fifteen different meets.
The local hound is considered one of the best breeds in the country. Known as the black-and-tan, it is a unique mix of American Foxhound, English Foxhound and Kerry Beagle from the Scarteen Hunt in Ireland, developed to overcome the inherent local obstacle of the sandy soil, which produces what is known as cold scenting country. But these days- when the sky is slightly overcast, the wind is still, the air is colder than the ground and the hounds scent the fox – are exhilarating. A pack of hounds in full cry becomes beautiful music.
Other horse people have found a home here, too. The Firestones, who have donated horses to three different U.S. Olympic Equestrian teams, find the area ideal for breeding and training hunters and jumpers, as do Mr. and Mrs. Richard Reynolds Jr., also top horse breeders. Three-day eventing has become very popular as well in the past few years.
If horsemen revere the Sandhills, golfers have found Pinehurst the closest thing Americans have to a spiritual home of the game. The World Golf Hall Of Fame is here, a white marble Romanesque-style building that sits behind the fifth tee of Pinehurst Course No. 2. All that is best about the game exists at Pinehurst. Here are two truly championship courses: Pinehurst No. 2, and the Dogwood eighteen at the Country Club of North Carolina. Here, too, is so strong a sense of the game’s traditions that even a non-golfer perceives it. For those who relish golfing history, the area sings the glories of the game.
The U.S. Amateur has been played twice in Pinehurst, in 1980 at the C.C.N.C and in 1962 over Pinehurst No. 2, a course that has also been the site of PGA championship, one Ryder Cup match, the World Team Championships, the North and South Amateur for men and the North and South Amateurs for women and seniors.
Even the destiny of golf in the United States has been shaped at Pinehurst, by two men: Donald J. Ross and Richard Tufts. Donald Ross, a Pinehurst resident for almost half a century, is considered America’s most ingenious golf course architect. He designed more then six hundred courses, over which forty-five national championships have been played. He was the supreme architectural strategist, believing that golf should be a pleasure and not a penance, and that the tee shot, being the longest shot, must be allowed the most room for error; thus his deceptively wide fairways compensate for his small greens. “A tee shot may be penalized either by narrowing the area in which a longer player is hitting,” Ross once wrote, “or by giving him an advantage for the second shot according to the placing of the tee shot.”
Until his death in 1980, the number-one resident of Pinehurst was Richard Tufts, whose family had owned Pinehurst from 1895 until 1971. Tufts was called simply “Mr. Golf.” He served on and headed more committees of the U.S.G.A. national championships, helping to start junior and senior U.S.G.A championships and being the leading architect of the U.S.G.A.’s handicap system.
When the U.S. Amateur finally was played over Pinehurst No. 2 in 1962, one sports writer wrote, “This is as appropriate a gesture to history as it would be to play the World Series at Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.”
But such was not the vision of the founder of Pinehurst, James Walker Tufts of Boston, whose family donated the land on which the Tufts University now stands. In the 1880s, he was amassing a sizeable fortune as one of the first men to successfully develop a commercially feasible method of silver-plating. In 1891, he consolidated his firm with the American soda Fountain Company, and four years later he retired. He was 56, and not in robust health. He felt the rejuvenating climate of the Sandhills would be ideal for him and other people of means who wanted to escape the harsh northwestern winters. Tufts initially bought 5,000 acres of cut-over timberland from the Page family, at $1 per acre. When Mary Page, sister of Walter Hines Page, found out about the transaction, she said, “As much as I dislike those Yankees, it’s inexcusable to have gouged them in this way.”
But with that unrelenting Yankee pride, Tufts was determined to make something of the area. On his very next visit, he brought with him plans for a town. They had been drawn by Fredrick Law Olmsted, designer of New York City’s Central Park and Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina.
Olmsted’s plan called for a village common, with a town hall at one end and a church at the other. The streets would wind around a village green, and shops would be clustered around the common. In 1896, when the Holly Inn was completed, Tufts sent out notices to Northern doctors, saying “Consumptives are welcome.” It was then believed that tuberculosis was hereditary. The next year, when it had become known that tuberculosis was contagious, Tufts sent out notices reading, “Consumptives excluded.” Until 1970, the deeds to houses sold to future Pinehurst residents specified that no one with tuberculosis could buy a house, making Pinehurst one of the few resorts in the world where discrimination was practiced on a basis of health.
In 1898, Tufts noticed some people hitting golf balls over a few makeshift golf holes. He ordered a nine-hole course built, and a year later, another nine. Three years passed, and Tufts realized what he had. He brought in Donald Ross to be the resort’s pro. Ross, a transplanted Scot, had studied golf under the famed Old Tom Morris at St. Andrews, and had been the pro and greenskeeper at Royal Dornoch Links In Northern Scotland.
During the next seventeen years, Ross designed three more courses at the Pinehurst Country Club, making it a golfer’s mecca. (The club now has six courses.) But it was Pinehurst No. 2, opened 1901, that was to be Ross’s favorite. He changed it four times, the last time in 1934 when he converted the sand greens to grass, and declared it his masterpiece. A sublime chipping course without equal in the United States, its small dome-shaped greens, and grass bunkers guarding the greens with an inglorious security, call for great planning and precision with each shot. No two holes are at all alike, and because the fairways are shielded from one another by tall pines, each hole takes on a lonely character of its own. Dick Taylor sums it up: “If there’s a template for a fair championship course, it’s Pinehurst No. 2.”
Even by modern-day standards, Dogwood is a big course. It measures 7,140 yards from the championship tees. From the regular members’ tees, it measures 6, 567 yards, twenty yards longer Merion, site of last year’s U.S. Open. Dogwood is a trial by water, sand and huge undulating greens. Water comes into play on ten holes, and there are seventy-five very strategically placed bunkers. Every hole demands an all-out effort, a test of skill and nerve. The course is built on a beautiful piece of heavily rolling land, rising up from a body of water known as Watson’s Lake. With longleaf pines and dogwoods lining the fairways, many holes have the majestic beauty of Augusta National Golf Club.
But unlike Augusta National, which had been a nursery before being converted into a great golf course, this land was unspeakably wild. Since the early 1920s, most of it had belonged to an eccentric man named John Watson, who invented the automobile shock-absorber, and whose avocations were golf and nature study. He bought 900 acres of rolling land which was called “Sunny Sands” and dammed it three streams that now form part of Watson’s Lake. When he died in 1962, the land was put up for sale. The executor of Watson’s will, Livingston Biddle, believed he had a promising buyer in Richard A. Urquhart, then managing partner of the Raleigh office of the accounting firm Peat, Marvick, Mitchell and Company. Biddle, Urquhart, and Hargrove (Skipper) Bowles Jr., chairman of the North Carolina Board of Conservation and Development, made a date to see the land on February 16, as a sleet storm roared through the area. Urquhart, later admitted, “Not a nickel’s worth of sense among us.” A charter membership was formed and the land was purchased for $525,000. An additional 300 acres were also bought. In February, 1963, the club was officially formed, and since it was within 100 miles of four-fifths of the state’s population, it was called the Country Club of North Carolina.
The founding members took a valuable lesson from Samuel Morse, who developed Pebble Beach, and left the most spectacular land for the golf course, and the land around it for housing development. As a result, C.C.N.C is one of the most beautifully planned and developed country clubs in America. Only members may buy land. As with so many first-rate clubs, it has had only one president, Richard Urquhart, who rules the club with a whim of iron from the discreet distance of Raleigh.
In 1971, club member Malcolm McLean’s company, Diamondhead Corporation (since renamed Purcell Company), purchased Pinehurst. The deal included The Carolina Hotel, Holly Inn, Pinehurst Country Club and 8,000 acres, for $9.2 million. Diamondhead immediately changed the name of The Carolina Hotel to The Pinehurst Hotel, and over the decade continued to refurbish it.
On the golf course, Diamondhead double bogeyed. They put up condominiums on the No. 5 course so close to the fairways that the character of the course was altered. Then they began to tinker with the No. 2 course, especially after several pros began shooting eight and nine under par scores in the Hall of Fame Tournament. So drastic were the changes that in 1979, this grande dame of golf slipped from the first to the second ten in Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses in the United States. Now the course is slowly be returned to the original Ross concept.
This year, the Purcell Company, with vast real estate holdings in the Southeast, was unable to repay sizable loans. Pinehurst, Inc. with assets conservatively valued at $31 million was taken over by a consortium of eight banks led by Chase Manhattan and Citibank. The direction and development of Pinehurst under the banks remains a question mark. The one certainty was stated more than three quarters of a century ago, when Donald Ross told James Walker Tufts, “Golf and sand go together.” This is the unchangeable magic of Pinehurst, and holds its promise for the future.”
Richard Miller, Town & Country, 1982