The presence of golf’s most celebrated playing field, the Old Course at St. Andrews, enables the Scottish college town to credibly claim to be the game’s ancestral seat. The Old Course, and some of the town around it, has not changed much in nearly 600 years.
An organization called the St. Andrews Links Trust has the prickly job of maintaining the centuries-old charm of the town and golf courses (there are at least six notable ones there) while attracting the modern traveler. You need hotels that look seasoned, but offer 21st-century conveniences — spas, workout rooms, top restaurants, peerless concierge service, parking, etc. And this all has to be done without turning up the lights so that the place looks like Vegas or amping up the noise so that it sounds like midtown Manhattan.
Debates never simmer down completely between purists, who want St. Andrews to remain forever as it was about 1880, and the tourism industry, which competes fiercely worldwide for reservations from golfers, history buffs, and other holiday-makers. In a moment of very un-British exasperation, a source for a story I wrote on this topic said, “For goodness’ sake. We can’t put a bubble over the place.” He is right, of course. And the Links Trust, supported by other interested parties, has managed to keep St. Andrews in admirable balance. Golfers especially consider it one of the finest places on the planet for both golf and relaxation.
Its American counterpart is Pinehurst, North Carolina, a little village of confident charm that offers magnificent golf and an atmosphere that could relax an over-caffeinated commodities trader. And often does. But even though Pinehurst has been a Carolina Sandhills institution since 1895, it has never needed to be preserved under some sort of armored bubble that would turn away modernity like weak-flying arrows. Pinehurst’s chief strength is that like — no, as — an old friend, it says, “My goodness, tough world out there. And you’ve been working so hard. Welcome back, old friend. Come, play some golf, sit and chat. Let’s catch up.”
You need not wait for your second visit for this to happen. The effect takes hold as soon as you get here. That’s partially the doing of the staff at the Pinehurst Resort, all of whom have been trained to be genteel paragons of customer service. But even within the town, the atmosphere is easy, relaxed, and shared by a helpful, welcoming populace.
I have been to Pinehurst at least 10 times, often for my Golf Channel work and most lately, for my work with Miura Golf. I know the roads as well as those of my home town. No matter how my golf goes here, my life’s compass points itself in the right direction. It was an accident that my most recent visit came just after the week of the horrific events in Boston and West, Texas. Like the whole nation, my nerves were raw. Many had suffered more, of course — the victims, and their families and friends. I was merely among the millions of hand-wringers. Getting to Pinehurst for a couple days sure helped.
I suppose we all choose our own insulation. I need no place to hide from the world’s troubles, and I figure it’s pointless anyway. They’ll find me. What I crave — and what Pinehurst has always delivered — is a respite well spent, invigoration expertly mixed with relaxation. When you go there, you feel like you deserve what you’re getting. And of course, you can’t wait to come back.♦
© 2013 Adam Barr
Photos by Adam Barr