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Pinehurst: The Cradle Rocks – A Truly Happy Golf Course

The Cradle Pinehurst short course
The Cradle, Pinehurst with the clubhouse beyond

I could’ve kept playing The Cradle until the men in white coats arrived to carry me away.

Pinehurst‘s enchanting short course had won me over and then some. And the only surprise was I hadn’t seen it coming, I hadn’t expected the whole experience to be so laid back and so, well, fun.

I finally dragged myself away with a cocktail in one hand, a putter in the other and a Sunday bag with three wedges draped over my shoulder, having long since lost track of time. I had to remind myself this really was Pinehurst, The Cradle of American golf, one of the world’s great golf meccas. Why? Well it’s reputation for history, tradition and significance is well documented, it’s a place you associate with the greats of the game and great championships – US Opens, PGAs, The Ryder Cup. And yet here I was struggling to remember having this much fun on a golf course.

The Cradle Pinehurst
Golfers can play The Cradle barefoot. Credit: Chris Auman

ENJOYMENT IN THE PINEHURST ETHOS

The two things are not, of course, mutually exclusive. In fact, at Pinehurst, fun has been right at the heart of what it’s all about for a long time. “Golf should be a pleasure, not a penance,” Donald Ross, famously said. Ross is, of course, the most significant figure in the history of Pinehurst, having designed the first four courses here, including his masterpiece Pinehurst No 2.

When the acclaimed architect Gil Hanse came to design The Cradle in 2017, it’s clear he did so with Ross’s words ringing in his ears. It’s hard to imagine he and Pinehurst carrying out Ross’s wishes more eloquently than they have with The Cradle – it’s truly wonderful. The fact Hanse himself has made a hole-in-one here feels like the very least he deserved.

It’s a place to hit shots you wouldn’t try anywhere else, where the dress code is as relaxed as the ambience and where music drifts across the course from hidden speakers buried in the native sand areas. Above all, though, it’s a place where anyone can come to learn to play and, inevitably, love the game.

The Cradle Crossing Pinehurst
The Cradle Crossing sums up the ambience of Pinehurst’s short course

INNOVATION AND IMPROVEMENT

Another cornerstone of the Pinehurst ethos is a commitment to innovation to ensure this place remains a celebrated, and above all, relevant place for golfers the world over. That was why Pinehurst asked Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to restore Pinehurst No 2 to its natural and historic character. At some clubs, that project might have been enough. Laurels would have been rested on, backs would have been slapped. Not at Pinehurst. In fact, No 2 was just the start.

The Cradle is further evidence of that drive to innovate. We played it twice on a sultry summer afternoon, it was to be our first experience of any Pinehurst golf course and not only was it the perfect introduction to what lay ahead, it was a highlight all on its own. Seven of us set out on the first loop, a few left their shoes and socks by the Adirondack chairs near the 1st tee and played barefoot. We played behind an eight-ball with a group of five in front of them. The Cradle is just that kind of place. And it is all the better for it.

The Cradle Pinehurst short course
The Cradle stays true for Donald’s Ross’s ethos for golf

The Hanse that rocked The Cradle

The 9 holes range from around 60 to 130 yards and the brilliance of Gil Hanse’s approach here is that he has been every bit as meticulous in his design, bunkering and the greens, as he was with his work at Pinehurst No 4. This is no afterthought. That much was clear when Pinehurst asked one of the world’s foremost golf architects to design it. But the way Hanse approached his work here was tireless. Speak to those who watched him and you’ll hear stories of Hanse driving his own bulldozer, shaping the land himself. They describe a man who would jump down from his JCB, walk to a spot somewhere in the distance, stop, remove his sunglasses, and look closely at the land. There would be a nod of his head, as if he had decided on something, a deliberate walk back to the bulldozer and then he would begin again.

What he created is pure unadulterated joy. Laughter reverberates around The Cradle and the camaraderie is palpable at every turn. I came agonisingly close to a hole-in-one on a couple of occasions, but so did many others. Every single tee box at The Cradle now has a camera recording your shots just in case your ball does find the bottom of the cup. What a wonderful innovation that is – leave your phone in your bag, Pinehurst has your back. Replay rounds are free, as is anyone under the age of 18 playing with an adult. And The Cradle Crossing bar, which sits behind the 3rd green is just a brilliant place to take it all in, whether you are playing or not. There are Adirondack chairs, fire pits and beautiful bar. Golf heaven.

A visit to this 10-acre slice of wonder, 798 yards from first tee to last green, is truly unmissable on any visit to Pinehurst. It will take you a little more than an hour to play, but I promise the experience will stay with you forever. Make the most of it.

The Cradle Pinehurst: the facts

Address: Pinehurst Resort
1 Carolina Vista,
Pinehurst, NC 28374

Telephone: +1-(855)-235-8507

Number of holes: 9
Total yardage: 789
Course record: 18
Most hole-in-ones in a round: 2 (William Holcomb)
Most consecutive hole-in-ones: 2 (William Holcomb)
Fastest Round: 8 mins, 45 secs (Matt Barksdale, Robbie Zalzneck)
Most Holes Played in One Day:293 (Robbie Zalzneck)

The Cradle Pinehurst scorecard

Pinehurst The Cradle scorecard

The Cradle Pinehurst: Course Map
The Cradle Pinehurst Course Map

The Cradle Pinehurst: FAQs

How much does it cost to play The Cradle Pinehurst?

When we played, it was $50 for an adult and free for anyone 17 or under. That included as many repeat rounds as you wanted to play, as long as the starter could fit you into groups yet to tee off. Great value. For the latest pricing, visit Pinehurst.com

How many rounds are played at The Cradle each year?

It varies from year to year but around 65,000 rounds are played annually at The Cradle.

Do I need to be a resort guest to play The Cradle Pinehurst?

No, you don’t need to be staying at The Pinehurst Resort to play The Cradle. For more information visit Pinehurst.com

What is the secret to playing The Cradle well?

To play The Cradle well, you need to know your yardages, be able to hit them and understand how to use the slopes on the greens to get your ball close to the hole. The 3rd is a great example; go beyond the flag and use the slope behind to give yourself a chance for a hole-in-one. Good luck.

Who designed The Cradle Pinehurst?

The Cradle was designed by architect Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner, who were tasked with turning what was a sandy hillside just outside of the clubhouse, once the opening holes of Pinehurst No 3 and No 5, into the world’s best short course.

How long does it take to play a round at The Cradle Pinehurst?

Depending on how busy the course is, it should take around 1 hr and 20 minutes. But there are no limits (within reason) to how many people can play together. So if you’re playing behind a group of 8 golfers, it might take a little longer.

How long is the longest hole at The Cradle Pinehurst?

At the time of writing, the downhill 4th hole measures 129 yards, with a train line not far behind the green, which features sharp run-offs at the front and back, and a large bunker short right of the green. The shortest hole at The Cradle is the 5th, which measures just 56 yards but features a devilishly difficult green.

What makes the Pinehurst par 3 course so good?

Lots of things. The Gil Hanse design is sublime, the greens are wonderfully quick and devilishly difficult to read. The bunkering is challenging, and chilled music is piped across the layout from hidden speakers. Oh and there’s a bar too. What’s not to like?

What is the name of the bar at The Cradle Pinehurst?

The Cradle Crossing is an open-air bar, complete with several areas of great seating, some fire pits, restrooms, and bags of personality. It serves The Pinehurst signature cocktail, The Transfusion (highly recommend), and plenty more besides.

The Cradle Pinehurst Course Map

The Cradle Pinehurst Course Map

The founder of The Wandering Golfers, Ben grew up on the links of Scotland learning the game from his beloved Grandpa. Previously a writer and broadcaster for The Times and BBC

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