Unpretentious Pine Crest Inn celebrating 100 years of golfing folklore

By DAVID DROSCHAK

The stories may have been exaggerated over the years, the truth stretched a bit here and there, but Pine Crest Inn’s assessment of 45,000 drinks poured annually to golfing foursomes is likely right on target.

Regarded as one of the nation’s best 19th holes, the historic inn begins a year-long celebration this winter of its 100th birthday, which will occur in November 2013. If you’ve ever been to the Sandhills to tee it up you’ve likely graced the front porch of the Pine Crest Inn for a brew or bourbon, or attempted a shot or two … or more … into the infamous fireplace chipping board.

It’s hard to put your finger on just what makes the Pine Crest Inn such a renowned gathering place. It’s far from fancy; closer to cozy, a place with what you might call character. Yet the appeal is undeniable, almost a golfing god magnet of the late, great architect Donald Ross, who once owned this place, pulling and tugging everyone who drives down Dogwood Road to stop to “see what’s going on.”

“Being on the porch of the Pine Crest Inn and relaxing is one of the greatest places in golf, without question,” said Drew Gross, the Inn’s resident manager. “There is an aura about it, relaxing, satisfying and a lot of people feel the same way.”

“It is probably the most significant after-golf place in America, not only because Donald Ross owned it but where else can you chip balls into a fireplace?” added longtime Pinehurst resident and memorabilia collector Tom Stewart. “It just has that reputation. Every golfer of any notoriety has stayed there at some point. It is where Arnold Palmer goes when he comes to town; Payne Stewart stayed there. It is one of the icons of this area.”

There are traditions that set the Pine Crest Inn apart as it sets to turn a century old. Practically any time of day – or well into the night – the small lobby will be filled with “chippers,” attempting to settle a bet – with real golf balls mind you. There is even a photo or Ross himself chipping in the hotel in the 1940s.

Balls have broken pictures, plate-glass windows and even zipped by patrons in the dining room, but Gross chuckled when asked if the Inn ever entertained the idea of doing away with the chipping.

“Never, never,” Gross said. “They come in even if they are not staying here, even if they are not going to eat here or drink here just to chip. It’s phenomenal. We’ll have entertainers in on Fridays and Saturdays and they are trying to sing and guys are chipping and they get all mad. There is a picture of Donald Ross above the fireplace that we now have in bulletproof glass. Hey, I was standing at the front desk one night watching these guys chip and this guy shanks it and it just missed my eye. I don’t know what would have happened if he would have hit me.”

“I want to know how they can get it that high with a 7-iron to hit that Ross picture, but they do?” added Tom Stewart.

Fact or fiction, you decide, but story has it that Ben Crenshaw once made 28 straight into the chipping board hole. Talk about hot.

“Of course everybody tries to duplicate that and most people can’t even get one,” Gross said.

The Inn has upgraded most of its “back of the house” items recently, and is beginning a room-by-room facelift, but nothing too drastic that would take away from the simplistic digs golfers have become accustomed to over the years. Tom Stewart helped accent the recent restoration of the 32-room inn with memorabilia from his Old Sport Gallery collectable shop around the corner in the Village of Pinehurst.

“The way I describe this place is it’s like staying in your grandmother’s house, it’s just very, very comfortable,” Gross said. “We’re not the Hyatt, we’re not the Marriott, and if you’re looking for that type of service this is not the place to come. But it is iconic; I call it a jock hotel. If you’re with a group of guys who want to play 36 holes a day, if you want to have a nice dinner, have some drinks afterwards, kind of a fraternity house atmosphere; this is the place.”

Another tradition is the 22-ounce pork chop, a dish created by former chef Carl Jackson, who worked at the Inn for 61 years. Jackson has since passed away, but it remains a savory staple.

“You don’t even need a knife to cut it,” Gross said. “People come from all around, even if they are not staying here they’ve heard about the pork chop, and they come and have it.”

It seems as if every famous golfer who ever played No. 2 has been to the Pine Crest Inn. Payne Stewart signed his name in the bathroom, while Palmer frequents the joint every time he’s in town.

You never know who you’re going to run into at the Pine Crest Inn.

“The golf writers always know where to find the players,” said Tufts Archives executive director Audrey Moriarty.

“This place is almost like a state of mind, it’s an institution,” said Gross, who has been coming here for more than 40 years. “I consider the Pine Crest Inn the last bastion of old Pinehurst.”

“People can walk in there and see Arnie sitting by himself, or with a couple people and you can sit down and have a beer with Arnie,” Tom Stewart said. “It is so unpretentious. I heard a comment once that said ‘it’s a low-class hotel for high-class people.’ What a great line.”

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