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Longleaf Golf & Country Club: Is it Pinehurst's most playable course?

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

PINEHURST, N.C. -- When you bill yourself as the "most playable" course in a golf destination like Pinehurst, you better be able to back it up. The Dan Maples-designed Longleaf Golf & Country Club has just the wide-open fairways, receptive greens, and lack of penal hazards to back up its claim.

Longleaf Golf & C.C. - 2nd hole
Like his father, Ellis, Longleaf designer Dan Maples has a knack for crafting playable courses.
Longleaf Golf & C.C. - 2nd holeLongleaf Golf & C.C. - 11th hole

Long Leaf opened back in 1988, when designers like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were churning out some jaw-dropping, hair pulling, round-wrecking layouts. Big name firms like Arnie's and the Bear's often found themselves in a race with legendary golf course architect Pete Dye to build the most difficult golf course know to humankind.

Maples made it clear with his design at Long Leaf that he wanted no part of this misguided chivalry. When it comes to the Sandhills, you'll find that Maples carries on in the vein of his father, Ellis, who designed some of the region's more playable golf courses.

In addition to Maple's player-friendly layout, the Longleaf Golf & Country Club maintenance staff typically keeps the rough cut short and the turf on the greens at a moderate height in order to get golfers out of trouble, and down in two putts.

"I can't say that there is a Dan Maples signature element out here, other than the fact that he just used the land as it was provided," Head Professional Rick Gilbert said. "He didn't really move any earth, which makes it easy for us to maintain the course at a high level."

Said "level" is just below what you would find at Pinehurst Resort or the semiprivate National Golf Club, but above what you'd get at one of the area's popular daily-fee courses. Long Leaf is conveniently located within the Village of Pinehurst, and often advertises itself as a warm-up course for some of the storied resort's tougher tracts.

"Our play is about 50 percent membership, and most of that membership is retired," Gilbert says. "Retired folks don't want to get beat up by a golf course. They play here every other day, and they want a course they can enjoy."

And you can enjoy it, too, at a price that is almost shocking for what you get for the dough. This may be "North" Carolina, but highs in the low-lying Pinehurst area can reach the low 60's in the dead of winter, and the sunny days out number the rainy ones almost two to one.

"In our offseason, tee times are readily available and even in season, playing in the afternoon can be really relaxing because there won't be that many people out here," Gilbert says. "The majority of play is between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m., so if you want to come out in the afternoon, you'll find the course wide open."

Wide open, however, is only a term that applies to the front nine at Long Leaf. The front side takes the property's trees out of the way, and it's hard to miss the fairways, which often span a couple of zip codes. The backside is more prototypical Sandhills, with tree-lined fairways, rolling hills and a smattering of elevated tee boxes and greens.

All 18 holes will give you a run for your money, figuratively speaking. Long Leaf was built on and over an old Thoroughbred training farm, and Maples and his crew kept the farm's watering troughs, white fences and closely cropped hedgerows. And if you are looking for the maintenance department, you'll find it in the original horse stables, all which add a nice touch to the overall theme.

"What players like about this course, aesthetically, is that it presents a theme," Gilbert says. "The holes retain that theme, and even the houses compliment the overall atmosphere."

Long Leaf plays to just 6600 yards from the tips, and a manageable 6073 yards from the member tees. However, Maples snuck in some moderate undulations on all 18 green, and a few penal bunkers here and there to keep good golfers from walking all over the course.

What golfers won't find at Long Leaf are waste areas stocked with native "love grasses." Only the seventh hole has a spot of this Sandhills trademark, a design technique that Maples uses to its fullest extent just down the road in Southern Pines at The Pit.

"The differences between this course and the Pit show you that Maples is hard to pin down, from a design standpoint," Gilbert says. "He is truly one of the architects that works with what he's got."

But just because Long Leaf is natural doesn't mean its not memorable. In Gilbert's mind, three holes stand above the rest in terms of difficulty and scenery.

The par-5 14th hole is a 524-yard double dogleg that is the no. 1 handicap hole on the course for both the men and women. The hole plays from a slightly elevated tee box, and out of a chute of Long Leaf Pines to fairway that slopes gently uphill. The 15th is an elegant, 171-yard par 3 that is all carry over a pristine little lake. And the par-5 17th may be Long Leaf's most visually stunning holes, as it sweeps gently to the left over a series of moderate elevation changes.

Long Leaf stays open year around, as do all courses in the Sandhills region. Most golfers are dreaming of teeing it up in Myrtle Beach or Florida during the winter months, but Gilbert says that for the money, quality, and pace of play, you can't beat the Pinehurst area.

"That is what is great about this area," Gilbert says. "Our offseason is really the time to play. If you don't mind gambling a little bit, you can get some outstanding weather in the 50's and 60's and sunny and no one is out here. If you were going to get an 11 a.m. tee time in the middle of January, you will be pretty comfortable weather-wise."

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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