SI Vault
Fraser Smith
October 29, 1973
A former Pinehurst resident reminisces about the old golfing resort, its traditions and gracious living, and ponders what its purchase by a land developing corporation will to do it
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October 29, 1973

A Diamondhead In The Rough

A former Pinehurst resident reminisces about the old golfing resort, its traditions and gracious living, and ponders what its purchase by a land developing corporation will to do it

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My father had a Chamber of Commerce-type license plate on the back, of his old Packard that said PINEHURST, N.C., GOLF CAPITAL OF THE WORLD. The thought of living in a world's capital puffed me up considerably, so I was surprised and a little miffed later to find that outside our carefully guarded precincts the title struck few sparks of recognition.

The reasons are clearer to me now. The title was not really meant for large audiences outside the town. It would have been misleading in any case. Just as important as golf was the preservation of the land and the right of the privileged to live quietly without intrusion by alien people and customs. "Golf Capital of the World" was a bit of self-congratulation not necessarily designed to maximize images or profits.

Nowadays you work at images. You put up $500,000 in prize money and name your tournament The 1973 World Open Championship, which is what is scheduled for Pinehurst next month. Eight days, 144 holes, $100,000 to the winner.

The former owners of Pinehurst thought productions of this sort over-shadowed their town and made the game secondary to the tournament. One served golf, they thought, not with the traveling circus of the tournament and its superstars but by their absence. The old Pinehurst approach was not an attempt to bring true altruism into resort management. It was the result of traditions that dictated certain rules: you made your money first and then you came to Pinehurst where gracious living was the primary occupation. Hard driving for bucks would have been seen as crass and disruptive, particularly if the owners of the town had done it.

The Tufts family, owners of Pinehurst for three generations, represented that era, in American and golf history in which the professional was thought of as a hustler with no credentials for entering the front door of a clubhouse. Beyond this—and, more important—professionals and their tournaments got in the way of Pinehurst's reason for being, the care and pampering of its guests. The Tufts family considered guests in their hotels as house guests. And they had more to offer than golf. Their Pinehurst stood for congeniality, exclusivity and immunity from all but the most benign forms of commercialism and politics. It was a tolerable system for a company town with benevolent owners who thought their reign would endure forever.

Some Pinehurst guests did not even play golf. Which was fine, though they added less to the flow of revenue than did the players. They came for the hotel life or to watch trotting horses train or for hunting and field trials. If they went to the Pinehurst Country Club, they often rode in Happy's bus, an antique with a hand throttle. Happy resisted attempts to buy a newer model, preferring the one he was used to and suspecting his passengers did, too.

Happy's route took him through the village, past the theater with its occasional once-a-week movies, and past the Village Chapel, the church of the wealthy retired, with its white New England spire pointing up through stately longleaf pines that are clustered around it. Happy's regulars went to the country club to play cards or for luncheon or, perhaps, simply to sit on the wide verandas like passengers on an ocean liner. At the appointed time Happy would drive them back to their hotels.

Happy's constituency got smaller and older along with him, and there was no strong move to replace it with the increasing numbers of younger men and women who could afford a vacation in a place like Pinehurst. Even among the old regulars, however, there appeared indications that the accommodations were not what they might have been. The honored tradition of second-guessing the Tuftses was celebrated with renewed intensity during the last declining years. How Pinehurst could be run better had always been a predominant subject of conversation in the town.

Through it all the family clung to their thing. It was their party, and they thought it grand. Even if they were a bit uneasy with the old formula, the uncertainties of the future—not to mention the certainties—were worse. They seemed content to let a whole generation of affluent tourists bypass them for new developments such as Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head and Sea Island.

To another way of thinking those tourists proved they did not deserve Pinehurst. Maybe the accommodations were better elsewhere, but the golf could not compare. No one else had the No. 2 championship course, the town's pride.

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