I spent a fair amount of the 2016 summer in North Carolina and took advantage of the many great courses in the area. I have already done a review of Tobacco Road. I also played Dormie Club, Pinehurst No. 8, and Pine Needles (I forwent Pinehurst No. 2 because I was down there with no other golfers and wanted to save that one for when I could play with friends or family, especially since Pinehurst could be a long weekend trip from where I live in New York). Of these four North Carolina courses, Dormie is certainly my favorite. I would say that it is head and shoulders above the rest, but Tobacco Road is simply of a different kind and is not subject to comparison. However, when comparing Dormie with Pinehurst No. 8 or Pine Needles, all of which are the classic designs that you come to expect from the North Carolina sandhills region, Dormie is, in my opinion, far superior to the other two.
The course is designed by Coore & Crenshaw. Though this is the only Coore & Crenshaw course I have played, other courses designed by this duo are among those that hold the most allure to me--Cabot Cliffs, Bandon Trails, Friars Head, Kapalua, Barnbougle Dunes, Sand Hills, Streamsong, and Sand Valley (the new Mike Keiser course in Wisconsin). Based on Dormie, I have a feeling the others will not disappoint. Dormie was initially meant to be a private course, but, given it was established in 2010, I think it ran into some economic obstacles. However, you never know when they may reverse course and try to privatize it, so I would suggest playing there as soon as you can!
I had three lasting impressions of the course. First, it feels beautifully sculpted into the environment. Getting to the course requires you to go down a bunch of side roads to what feels like a desolate location. As opposed to Pinehurst where the various courses are scattered around the town of Pinehurst, thus making it feel less secluded. Because Dormie is so completely surrounded by the natural environment, you get the feeling that the course was simply discovered in the land, rather than created. The towering pine trees line the fairways with needles at their base, and the sand of the sandhills certainly plays a prominent role in the course. I have found that I thoroughly enjoy courses lined by pine trees because if you hit it into the woods, you will likely find your ball and still have a shot (albeit a risky one) through the trees. This is opposed to courses I grew up playing in New York with dense forest that was usually out of bounds. At Dormie, the woods were more of a hazard than something that was unplayable. Second, Dormie is a sprawling course (like Bethpage) where every hole feels big and remote (I will recollect better as I go through this review, but it is possible that there is not a single hole on the course where you can see another hole). This feature made it feel like a true championship course. Lastly, I tend to enjoy courses where it is fairly easy to shoot an average score (obviously what that score is depends on your skill level--for me I always think of high 80s as an average score), but difficult to shoot an exceptional score. Like Portmarnock, Dormie is such a course. The fairways are fairly wide and the greens are quite large. However, hit in on the wrong portion of these large greens and a three putt is quite likely, thus turning what should have been a par into a bogey. Or, on a drive, hit one of the many well-placed fairway bunkers and you may very will find yourself chipping out and hoping to make your bogey. This makes for an enjoyable round of golf on your average day, but also presents a challenge because, though easy to hit your handicap, the great design makes it difficult to have a truly memorable scoring day.
***On all of my reviews, you can now click on the first image to see a slideshow of all images on the page.
The first hole is a nice easy start--a 402 yard downhill par four to a wide fairway. The bunkers in the middle of the fairway are possibly reachable if the conditions are right (i.e. really dry) and you really get a hold of it, but, on a normal day, you should come up short. And, even if you do reach the bunkers, they are about 100-120 yards out from the enormous green, so it is not the most difficult fairway bunker shot.
The second is another fairly easy hole at 378 yards. It is a sweeping dogleg left with a bunker that makes you think twice before challenging the hole. You can certainly carry that bunker if you hit your drive well, but, if you do not, that is a nasty bunker to escape. If you are able to cut the corner, you will be left with a short iron. If the round has not progressed enough yet to give you confidence in your driver, then you can just leave your drive out to the right, avoid all the trouble, and have a longer shot to the green.
Approach to second green.
The third is a really fun and strategic hole--a 298 yard downhill par four. Unless you can really fly it nearly 300 yards, you are unlikely to hit the green because, though the hole is generally downhill, there is an uphill section leading to the green. So, you will get it down there 250 yards or so, but that does nothing except bring the fairway bunker into play (and good luck with a 50 yard fairway bunker shot) and, even if you don't hit the bunker, a 50 yard pitch is not an enviable shot. The smart play is to get it down there far enough to leave yourself a full wedge, but you really feel cheated when you play it safe like that. After the drive, the hole is completely different depending on where the pin is on this huge, undulating green. The middle tier is certainly the easiest because you can use a backstop. The upper tier is tough because the green narrows towards the back with greenside bunkers protecting that tight portion of the green. Also, if the pin is back there and you don't get it all the way there, then a three putt is likely.
The fourth--a 415 yard par three--is certainly among the most difficult holes. The fun part of the hole comes at the green where the topography slopes steeply from left to right with a lake on the right side of the green. The green complex reminds me of the eleventh at Augusta, but inversed--a large landing area to the left of the green that can lead to a delicate chip where a lake is staring you in the face with the land running towards the lake.
Approach to fourth green.
Fourth green complex. To see a comparison to the eleventh at Augusta--http://nolayingup.com/2014/03/31/masters-preview-part-ii-improving- augusta-national/
The fifth is the fourth easiest hole on the course despite being a 415 yard par four that requires your drive to carry a pond. Despite these features, it is ranked as a fairly easy hole because the main difficulty comes from mental fears, not reality. Your drive should have no problem carrying the water, the fairway is super wide, and there is one bunker near the green. Yes, it is 415 yards, but this course really runs, especially in the summer, so if you normally hit the ball 240, you can often expect an extra 20 yards or so. That means a 415 yard hole leaves less than 150 for an approach.
Approach to fifth green.
I found the sixth to be a tough hole--a 511 yard par five. The tee shot is blind over a sand/waste area, your layup is fairly easy, but the third shot, even with a wedge in the hand is hard because the green has steep faces on both the left and right sides and a bunker on the right side. Basically, the drive and layup should not be that hard, but hitting the green with a wedge is not super easy, and if you miss in the wrong spot, it will be hard to get up and down.
The seventh is a 206 yard par three with a huge green and deep bunkers guarding the front. For me, it is quite a tough hole because I do not have a great club for 206 yards. My three wood should go that far, but it is getting close to maxed out. Sometimes I will try to hit a half driver. When that works out you feel great about yourself....but more often than not it is disastrous.
I am of mixed minds when it comes to the eighth hole--a 472 yard par four, making it the hardest on the course. Mind you this yardage is not from the tips, but from the middle tees. The average person playing from those tees likely cannot hit that green in two. Even with a 250 yard drive you would still need a 220 yard fairway wood. However, the shot to the green is a bit downhill and you can certainly run the ball up to the green due to the lack of traps. But, I do really like the design of the hole--a sweeping dogleg left with a fairway that steeps strongly from right to left. And, for some reason despite pines trees on every hole, this hole felt perfectly framed by the trees.
The ninth is a fun little 147 yard par three with big bunkers in front. The trick is getting yardage right, but this is a nice reprieve after the hardest hole on the course.
The tenth is simply a monstrous hole at 632 yards. It is clearly a three shot hole, but, given its length, you will certainly be tempted to cut the dogleg left over a marsh type area. If you don't successfully cut the dogleg, you may very well be left with a 175 yard third shot into the green. But, be careful if you get aggressive because you will need a solid strike to clear the marsh that is precise enough to avoid the bunker waiting for balls that do clear the marsh.
Tenth fairway. The goal is to shorten the hole by going over the marsh that juts into the fairway while still avoiding the bunker that lies just over the marsh.
The eleventh is a 395 yard par four with bunkering that makes for a tough hole. First, there is a fairway bunker that sticks far out across the fairway such that a straight shot that goes to far will find it. The second is then a blind uphill shot to a narrow green with more bunkering directly right of the green. Both times I have played this hole I was unable to correctly line up my second shot and wound up in the bunker.
The twelfth is the easiest on the course at only 108 yards. It is a visually intimidating hole with the number of bunkers in your sight line between the tee and green. Nonetheless, with a wedge in your hand, it should not be a problem to hit the green. Once on, however, if you happen to be on the wrong tier, a three putt is more than likely.
The thirteenth is a 465 yard par four, but, even after looking at the pictures, I simply have no memory of this hole despite playing it twice this summer. Something real bad must have happened both times that is making me block it from my mind!
Got to love drivable par fours, which the fourteenth is at 296 yards. OK, maybe not quite drivable, but both times I played I had about 25 yards into the green because the sloping fairway helps kick the ball down there quite far. The only real obstacle is the bunker on the left side of the fairway.
The fifteenth is among my favorite on the course--a 360 yard par four. It is a sweeping dogleg right with nothing but carry over marsh to the fairway (I am not sure that it is actually marsh, but that is the term closest to describing the brush where you cannot enter and would never find your ball). The further right you aim, the more carry you need, but the easier the second shot becomes. It is always exciting when your aggressive drive is in the air and you don't know whether it will clear the hazard by a few yards or come up just short.
If you take an aggressive line and clear the marsh, you will have a wedge into a relatively unprotected green. The only trouble around the green is the hill sloping left to right. This will help any balls that hangs out left, but will make any ball that peels right miss the green and potentially kick into the woods.
The sixteenth is a strong, 178 yard par three surrounded by bunkers. Nothing terribly difficult about it other than having to hit your 178 yard club straight to avoid all the trouble.
The seventeenth is a 489 yard par five. Not a big fan of this hole. Though a 489 yard par five sounds like it would be something you think about hitting in two if you get a hold of a drive on a dry summer day, it is not the case here. The approach to the green has to carry an enormous waste area and is steeply uphill. So, not only does this make the hole longer, but if you find yourself in that waste area, you might be toast. The smart play is a normal drive and then whatever layup club that will leave you just before the waste area to have a 100 yard shot into the green. If you play the hole conservatively like that, there is not much cause for concern.
Seventeenth fairway with the waste area up there protecting the green.
The eighteenth is 410 yards and is the fourth hardest hole on the course. This hole simply did not suit my eye because it destroyed me both times I played here. It may be that the tee box is oddly situated such that you are inclined to aim left into weeds. From there, I was left hacking it out to a fairway surrounded by sand, which simply turned the hole from bad to worse. My own fault though--the hole is completely fair, beautiful, and a fitting way to close the round.
Eighteenth fairway with the very modest clubhouse in the background.
Dormie is one of my favorite golf courses. The sand and forest makes it picturesque and challenging. I also love how remote it is--you really feel like you are in the middle of nowhere North Carolina--and it is this remoteness that allows the course to make every hole feel isolated. According to Golf Digest, it is the 43rd ranked public course in the country. I suspect that by the time I am done with this quest I will disagree with that ranking and believe that it should be much higher. I think going forward North Carolina will be my winter golf reprieve from New York, and Dormie and Tobacco Road will always find their way into the lineup.