That afternoon, divided into foursomes, we headed out in a convoy of golf carts to play Pinehurst No. 3. Everybody else could hardly wait; I was looking for an excuse not to go. It's one thing to give a ball your best shot on a flat driving range; it's quite another to aim for a flag you can barely see that's hundreds of feet away, with hills, dales, water, trees, sand, and easily shattered condo windows between you and your goal. At this point in my fragile game, hitting the ball while 19 considerably better players watched seemed cruel. But the school has its reasons : it is extremely helpful to watch experienced players plan their game, seeing what's possible, what's not, and what is simply up to the gods.
By the end of the day I had mastered the golf cart, played honorably, earned a drink, and was adopting the language ("Hey, buddy..."). I even found an hour to look beyond the golf courses.
Pinehurst is a town (population 10,498) as well as a resort. Its early-20th-century cottages stand amid tall pines on gently curved streets. Its prosperous shops sell golf art, golf antiques, golf clothes, and golf real estate. Its liquor shop sells a lot of Jack Daniels. Pinehurst, the resort, includes the town's three biggest hotels: the Carolina, a grand old white clapboard building with a copper mansard roof; the Holly Inn, which has a Craftsman feeling; and the more casual Manor. All golf students are accommodated at the Carolina, the biggest and most luxurious of the three. In 2002 the resort added a vast and attractive spa with a gleaming copper mansard of its own. Golf students take quite a beating physically—a morning on the driving range is more arduous than a day at the Ashram—and a Golfer's Massage (50 minutes; $105) really does help.
Only eating gives golf any serious competition at Pinehurst. All meals are included in the school cost; there's a buffet breakfast (the good kind, with eggs made to order) and a buffet lunch at the clubhouse (less inspired, and usually eaten on the run). You can have dinner in your room or at any of the resort restaurants, from sports bar to heavy-duty candlelight. For a casual dinner, you won't do better than the Tavern at the Holly Inn, built around a 19th-century Scottish bar, with a light, modern sandwich menu and golf on the television at all times. When you want to wear that blue blazer, try the Carolina Dining Room, dressy and traditional in a way Southerners especially appreciate. There are a lot of men who look like Ashley Wilkes escorting women in long skirts, and a rather good combo that plays the standards consistently brings couples to the dance floor. Once a decade or so, I get tempted by baked oysters; they arrived—braised spinach, ham, caviar, and hollandaise, all packed into that itty-bitty shell—as everybody was getting up to take a spin to "Satin Doll." Next came a beefsteak tomato salad ("Speak low...") with a Gorgonzola vinaigrette ("...when you speak love..."). The entrées included the classics but also managed to keep up with the times: ancho-honey-glazed chicken breast (strike up the theme from Ice Castles) came with green tomato chowchow and cheddar-chive spoon bread, and it worked. As did a lemon-lime tart with orange sorbet, by which time everybody was dancing close, to the samba from Black Orpheus.
That night I dreamed about golf, and I didn't play well. I awoke early, filled with anxiety, fearing that day two would bring setbacks. But it did not. Day three went even better. I was leaving fewer divots in the grass and driving the ball, shall we say, less inconsistently. Chipping was tricky, but it started to come; pitching, I never did get the hang of; and I was always a little too eager to get to the putting clinic. Drill, drill, drill—the idea of the school is to pound good form into you, on the theory that muscle memory eventually partners with your natural style to produce your best game.
Now here's my favorite part: I have it all on tape. The first morning everybody is filmed driving a ball, then forced to watch it NFL-style, in slow motion, while an instructor analyzes your form and sets some goals. On the final morning you are filmed once again, to measure your progress. By that time everybody has had enough and has begun wandering away from their assigned clinics. I drew quite an audience, and by then I was well aware of all the hideous possibilities that sometimes result from the most well-intentioned swing. I drew back my club, said a little prayer, and drove the ball clean, long, and very straight. I had graduated.
And then I was informed that my film clip had been accidentally erased by the computer. So I got up, buddy, and did it again.
STEPHEN DRUCKER is a contributing writer for Architectural Digest.