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The Pinehurst Principles

Pinehurst No. 8
Pinehurst Resort; 800-487-4653. Yardage: 7,092. Par: 72. Slope: 135. Architect: Tom Fazio. Green fees: $205 (same restrictions).
T&L GOLF Rating: ****1/2

This Fazio design opened in 1996 to celebrate the one-hundredth year of the Pinehurst Resort and to pay homage to famed No. 2. Fazio masterfully blended Ross's signature green features--dips and swales, false fronts and heavy breaks--with his own feel for long, sweeping playable holes on a piece of land that features marshes, an old sand pit and more elevation change than the older area courses. There is no out-of-bounds, but you're sure to find plenty of beautifully packaged trouble, particularly on the 604-yard, uphill, par-five sixth, which looks much shorter than it plays. The back nine is just a spectacular collection of holes, with a couple of drives over water and some nasty hidden bunkers. Keep your yardage book handy!

Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club
1005 Midland Road, Southern Pines; 800-747-7272. Yardage: 6,708. Par: 71. Slope: 131. Architect: Donald Ross. Green fees: $70-$160.
T&L GOLF Rating: ****1/2

Pine Needles, the host of the 1996 and 2001 U.S. Women's Open, is the essence of Sandhills golf. Walking these holes, which were cut through the towering pines in the 1920s, feels like falling in love with golf all over again. Nothing is tricked up. The course just seems to wind on and sweep you along with it. But as with all Ross designs, you must hit good shots to the right places to score well, and with six par fours of more than 420 yards, you do need power. Yet all the par fives are reachable in two--the longest is the 498-yard first hole--so you always have a fun, strategic choice that doesn't involve a driver from the fairway. Here you feel you've stepped back in time and have, for a few hours at least, communed with the golf gods.

Pinehurst No. 7
Pinehurst Resort; 800-487-4653. Yardage: 7,125. Par: 72. Slope: 140. Architect: Rees Jones. Green fees: $195 (same restrictions).
T&L GOLF Rating: ****1/2

Opened in 1986 as the second of the "off campus" courses, No. 7 garners the highest slope rating of the Resort's tracks. It is also one of the most unique, utilizing swamps and lakes to create a diverse test of golf. With holes named Devil's Gut and Embattlement, you'd think you'd be in for a day of heavy lifting, but the course is playable for all skill levels, with a one-thousand-yard difference between the gold and white tees. Numbers six through nine are a particularly marvelous string of holes that includes a 453-yard par four, a 530-yard par five and a long par three, requiring an uphill carry over water. And look out for the ghosts of Pinehurst past, as this was the site of the old nine-hole employee course; bunkers still remain around the fourth tee box.

National Golf Club
1 Royal Troon Drive, Pinehurst; 910-295-4300. Yardage: 7,122. Par: 72. Slope: 137. Architect: Jack Nicklaus. Green fees: $100-$210.
T&L GOLF Rating: ****

There are plans to take the area's only Jack Nicklaus design private in the future, but in the meantime this course still relies heavily on the public dime and you should stop by. The greens are the heavily undulated, often two-tiered variety characteristic of Nicklaus designs of the late eighties, and water comes into play on six holes. The eighteenth is a 460-yard par four (thankfully downhill) that wraps around a lake and requires a killer shot to a bunkered green that slopes from back left to front right with water guarding the left. If the wind is up and in your face, then you feel as if you can hear the Bear chuckling as your fade stays straight and drops into the dark water.

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