By Dave Daubert

Years ago when we would take Amtrak to the Pinehurst area to stay and play, the train station was in the small village of Southern Pines. Typically, we would play the Elks Club first before checking in at the Pinehurst Resort.

The Elks Club’s course was actually the Donald Ross-designed Southern Pines Golf Club, dating back to the early 1900s, but it was owned by the city’s Elks Lodge. It was a fun track and a mere pittance to play, before laying out a bunch at the resort.

Well, after many years of neglect and an 18-month major improvement plan, Southern Pines is opening in September and will be the third Ross design owned and managed by the fine folks at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club and Mid Pines Resort.

The country’s preeminent golf course designer of the 20th century, Ross nurtured a love affair with the Sandhills area of North Carolina, that he called home for most of his adult life and was the golf professional at Pinehurst. He once said the area’s topography reminded him of his birthplace of Dornoch, Scotland where as a young man he studied at the side of Old Tom Morris.

His original work at Southern Pines offers as close to the traditional bump-and-run game as can be found this side of the British Isles. Ross laid out the first nine holes in 1906 and the second nine six years later. His unique creation weaved around a series of knolls and ridges and through tall longleaf pines and colorful azaleas. The 6,300-yard layout teed up some of the most dramatic terrain in the Sandhills area, accentuated by rolling topography and a world-class set of par 3s.

The two-part renovation project was overseen by up-and-coming architectural star Kyle Franz who has forged his reputation as a Ross specialist, having restored the original sandscapes at Mid Pines in 2013 and executing a greens rebuild and bunker renewal at Pine Needles in 2018, which will play host to its fourth U.S. Women’s Open in 2022. In addition to his recent work, Franz also assisted Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw on the restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 prior to back-to-back men’s and women’s 2014 U.S. Opens.

At Southern Pines, the first phase of the redo included the removal of 700 trees opening up the canopy and highlighting the magnitude of elevation change while allowing dramatic golf and lake views. The second phase included detailing work on the greens, cart paths and other areas that was begun in late spring.

The greens have been expanded 25 percent returning to the feel of the Ross originals. The fairways have been widened making them more inviting for duffers, but also allowing better golfers to strategize about their shots. More