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The Pinehurst Principles

Tobacco Road Golf Club
442 Tobacco Road, Sanford; 877-284-3762. Yardage: 6,554. Par: 71. Slope: 150. Architect: Mike Strantz. Green fees: $48-$95.
T&L GOLF Rating: ****

Wow! Strantz has created an amusement park of a golfing experience, thirty minutes north of Pinehurst. And you are immediately notified that you've entered the golf twilight zone when you face the par-five first, which requires a drive and then a lay up through gaps in building-size love grass-covered mounds fattened on a steady diet of golf balls. The entire course has the second highest slope rating in the Carolinas (the first is Kiawah Island's Ocean Course), so don't let the short length fool you. Strantz's use of natural waste areas creates stunning contrasts, but if you're not careful, you'll be playing out of them all day and your appreciation may quickly turn to ire.

The Pit Golf Links
Highway 5, Pinehurst; 800-574-4653. Yardage: 6,600. Par: 71. Slope: 139. Architect: Dan Maples. Green fees: $54-$89.
T&L GOLF Rating: ****

The Pit gets its name from the land's former career as a sandpit for the Aberdeen Sand Company, and Maples, who has Pinehurst bloodlines dating to the earliest days, masterfully used the uncommon mounding and waste areas created by pushing earth in search of prime sand. The front nine is completely devoid of water, with flat, pine-lined holes like number five, which inspire a quintessential Sandhills golfing experience. At the eleventh you are faced with three successive lake holes, including an island-green on the par-three twelfth.

Plantation Golf Club
2130 Midland Road, Pinehurst; 910-695-3193. Yardage: 7,123. Par: 72. Slope: 140. Architects: Arnold Palmer, Ed Seay. Green fees: $80-$125.
T&L GOLF Rating: ***1/2

Since opening in 1993, Plantation has hosted, among other tournaments, five regional U.S. Open qualifiers and has quickly been recognized as one of the top courses in the area. Five lakes and more than eleven acres of bunkers create a challenging course, particularly from the 7,123-yard back tees. Numbers seven (420-yard par four), eight (430-yard par four) and nine (542-yard par five) are three of the toughest consecutive holes you'll encounter anywhere, ending the back nine with a downhill shot that must carry water to a green that slopes from back to front. Unfortunately, there have been problems finding funds to build the permanent clubhouse, leaving golfers with a temporary pro shop. But the golf course itself has not suffered.

Pinewild Magnolia Course
Highway 211 W., Pinehurst; 910-295-5145. Yardage: 7,276. Par: 72. Slope: 135. Architect: Gene Hamm. Green fees: $59-$125.
T&L GOLF Rating: ****1/2

The community of Pinewild boasts forty-five holes of golf, including a nine-hole par-three course, but the Magnolia is the place to play. If you aren't on your long game and can't get it up and down, you will be in for a very frustrating day; big hitters can really test their stuff here. The only quibble is the placement of dogwood trees in the middle of the fairway a wedge shot from the green on the tenth and sixteenth (there's no charm in that). But overall, Hamm has placed the trouble where it should be. Good luck on the 231-yard, par-three third, where an enormous bunker front right gobbles up failed carries.

Best Of The Rest

If you can get access, Forest Creek Golf Club and the Country Club of North Carolina are two of the finest courses in the state. As for the rest of the public-play tracks, try The Carolina ($39-$89; 888-725-6372), a Palmer-designed roller coaster with plenty of wetland trouble; Mid Pines Golf Club ($70-$160; 910-692-2114), a Donald Ross original with narrow fairways and tough greens; Pinewild Holly Course ($59-$115; 910-295-5145), a long Gary Player design featuring mounded greens; and Woodlake Maples Course ($29-$69; 910-245-7137), an old-school track showcasing Ellis Maples's mastery of the dogleg.

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