Pinehurst’s The Cradle, Arguably the Most Fun 789 Yards in Golf
30 Mar 2021
by Andrew Stilwell of AmateurGolf.com

When walking down the hallways of Pinehurst Resort’s clubhouse, you’ll notice countless artifacts that amplify the Resort’s 125-years of rich golf tradition. From the photos of Donald Ross and Payne Stewart’s iconic “One Moment in Time” from the 1999 U.S. Open, to each North & South Amateur Championship winner’s engraved name on plaques located up and down the hall, Pinehurst isn’t afraid to lean on their history.

With nine 18-hole courses across its sprawling property, Pinehurst features more than enough golf for one trip. However, it’s their newest course, a nine-hole short course located just a short walk from the front door of the historic clubhouse, that is breathing a new life into Pinehurst Resort as it begins its next 125 years.

Unveiled in 2017, The Cradle, designed by Gil Hanse ahead of his redesign of Pinehurst No. 4, is 789 yards of golf that can best be described simply as “fun.” The Cradle followed another non-traditional golf experience, the Thistle Dhu putting course, which opened in its original iteration in 2012. Originally located near the 18th green of Pinehurst No. 4, Thistle Dhu’s popularity was the catalyst for creating Pinehurst’s first-ever short course.

“Thistle Dhu was hugely popular as kind of a social engagement opportunity after golf,” said Bob Farren, Pinehurst’s Vice President of Golf Course Maintenance. “We realized two things. First, people loved it. They were really looking for outlets for more non-traditional golf and Thistle Dhu was perfect for that. The second thing we realized was it was too far from the clubhouse. Our owner, Bob Dedman, always had a desire to build a short course, especially after we saw the popularity of Thistle Dhu. We just wanted it to be closer to the clubhouse.”

Thistle Dhu would later be “relocated” to the Resort’s main putting green and became three times the size of the original. The Cradle was then be built on a tract of land, adjacent to the “new” Thistle Dhu, that formerly housed the first holes for Pinehurst’s No. 3 and No. 5 courses. What was formerly two side-by-side Par 4 holes would later become nine Hanse-designed holes that crisscrossed the repurposed land, ranging in yardage from 56 to 127 yards. In total, the 9-hole course features a total of 789 yards on the scorecard, give or take a few yards on any given day, as yardages are lasered each morning prior to the start of play.

The final result? A non-traditional experience unlike any other golf that’s currently offered at Pinehurst. Walking out to The Cradle on a weekday evening in late March, passersby would notice a course that’s full of Resort guests and members alike. They might notice The Pinecone, the teardrop shaped bar equipped with four beer taps (including brews from the Resort-owned Pinehurst Brewing Co.) and a full bar, that golfers conveniently pass by twice during their loop. If they listen carefully enough, they might even hear the sounds of music coming from one of The Cradle’s 26 on-course speakers, expertly disguised as rocks or located in the surrounding vegetation.

“We try to make sure that everybody is relaxed. When they’re worried their ability, I tell them they don’t need to worry about it,” said Cradle starter Curt Hoffman, who retired to Pinehurst in 2017, and has been a starter for the short course since its inception. “Everything at Pinehurst is so steeped in history and everything is so reverent, it’s nice to just let your hair down. We’re about having fun out here. Come out, hit your wedges, and have a good time.”

Part of The Cradle’s charm is that it’s truly accessible by all ages and skill levels, and sometimes friendly wagers can break out in groups, even if you’re not familiar with your playing partners prior to taking the first tee.

“The atmosphere is great, the holes are challenging but fun, and it’s just a great time,” noted Clay Thruss of Cumming, Georgia, who was visiting Pinehurst for the first time with his adult sons and playing The Cradle following a morning round on Pinehurst No. 2. “It’s just fun. We paired up with a few guys from Detroit we didn’t even know and are having an absolute blast out here. It’s absolutely phenomenal.”

One of those Michiganders was Tom Kubeshsky, in town for a four-man scramble event and just trying to get some “reps” in with his teammates before his tournament round the following day.

“The Cradle is truly something special,” he said, “It’s a good time with the boys, and we’re really enjoying it. There’s nothing like this in Michigan where we’re from.”

As Thruss and Kubeshsky continued their trek around The Cradle with a round of drinks on the line, 9-year-old Michael Jordan (yes, his real name) finished a lap around the short course with his dad, Jeff. Carding a 1-over-par 28, the younger Jordan, a seasoned Pinehurst veteran at this point, following three trips to the Resort in 2020, was also very complimentary of the course he had just played.

“I really like that the greens are tough and you can always play with whoever you want and find new friends out there,” he said.”

“It’s relaxed. You can be an excellent golfer and there’s still a lot of toughness out there,” his father continued. “At the same time, when we were here last year with the whole family, his sisters aren’t nearly as gifted of golfers as Michael is, and they went out and definitely had fun. Anyone can go out and play. Length isn’t an issue, and it’s just a very laid-back atmosphere.”

When asking Pinehurst staff and golfers alike, nearly everyone interviewed for this story named the 66-yard third hole of The Cradle, affectionately nicknamed “The Punchbowl,” as their favorite hole on the course. Flanked by elevated Adirondack chairs circling the green, the strategic play at “The Punchbowl” is to aim for the back of the green and watch as your ball funnels down towards the flagstick.

“If you’re playing, or even just watching, The Punchbowl is the most entertaining hole on the course,” Hoffman said. “So many people will hit behind the pin and it will draw back, either going in, or just missing. With the Adirondack chairs by The Pinecone, it’s almost like it’s becoming a miniature version of the 16th hole at the Waste Management Open. There are always people ‘critiquing’ shots as they’re hit, and there are huge cheers when they do go in!”

On the far side of the starter shack, there is a list of course records, including best scores for men and women (19 and 21, respectively), fastest round (7:38), most holes played in one day (432), and cumulative Holes-In-One since September 28, 2017, which as of this writing stands at 710. But while the records are certainly impressive, Hoffman notes another reason as to why The Cradle is so special.

“The Cradle has brought people to golf who would have never come to the sport,” he said. “That’s the most wonderful thing about the course itself.”

Whether it’s a round on one of Pinehurst’s nine courses, putting through the hills and swales of Thistle Dhu or walking a few laps around The Cradle, Pinehurst is ready to take on their next 125 years.

Greens Fees for The Cradle are $50 and include complimentary replay rounds. Children Under 17 Play for Free with a Paying Adult.

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