The Pit Golf Links -- Purgatory at its best

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos by Kevin Gaydosh

PINEHURST, NC – Golf courses acquire all sorts of reputations, some for historic value, some for conditioning (good or bad), some for great service, and some for nothing at all (meaning they’re not worth remembering).

And it’s not often that an infamous reputation acts in your favor, but that’s definitely true of The Pit Golf Links in Pinehurst, North Carolina. It seems everyone who knows Pinehurst knows The Pit – it’s such a distinctive golf experience that it would be impossible not to remember it once you’ve been there.

The Pit’s scorecard reads ‘A Dan Maples Original,’ and that’s certainly the truth. Maples has created something so ‘original’ that there’s scarcely anything like it this side of the ocean that separates us from the Old Country.

Looking from the fairway of the par four 11th hole - the length of your second shot over the water depends on how much club you took off the tee and your placement in the fairway.

It’s often said that classic golf holes look like they’ve been there for a hundred years, and Maples says at The Pit, that’s literally true. “It took a hundred years to build The Pit, because it was started in the 1890’s. Out by what is now the third and fourth holes, there was a sand excavation, a strip mine, basically.”

The initial excavation didn’t last long, apparently, as the sand on that portion of the land was only ten feet deep, with a clay layer underneath it. Deeper sand was found over by where the sixteenth hole is located today (in 1926), and the mining operation slowly made its way over to where the clubhouse is now – where the sand is 30 feet deep. The sand mining operation ended in 1972, and the golf course opened in 1985.

“It was all a sand pit,” Maples said. “They just didn’t know they were building a golf course.”

The site itself still bears some scars from the sand operation, though Maples said it was all part of the grand design of The Pit to incorporate the land’s former use as part of the project. “We had it all on the map. We design by maps, but then when the maps are done, we also do detailed plans for each of our golf courses. My Dad (Ellis) learned under Donald Ross and my grandfather learned under Donald Ross – and our plans are still pretty much like what Ross would do.”

Looking at the green of the par three 7th hole from the deck of The Pit condos.

He continues, “We did plans on all those holes and we had all those roads or sand mounds on the map. We did all kinds of things with it before we actually put a shovel in the ground.”

Maples said they didn’t really do anything other than set out to build eighteen holes of golf, but in the process they built a course with a lot of different looks – everything from wide open holes, to traditional parkland-style holes to holes so tight they must’ve really had to squeeze them in – and there’s even an island green in the middle of a large lake.

“We didn’t purposely try to build all these different kinds of golf holes, it’s just something that unfolds as you design it – because you run so many different routings and ways the course should flow,” Maples lectured. “Take the island green for example – I’d never seen the TPC in Florida at that time, and hadn’t even heard of the famous 17th hole when I was doing The Pit.”

“But we had to drain the lake in order to put the holes around it – and where that green was sitting was on kind of a little ‘hill,’ some raised ground from the bottom. It was a good, solid, hard place to put an island – and that’s why the green’s sitting where it’s at today,” Maples added.

Even the tee markers are unique at The Pit, and they hint at the land's mining past.

It couldn’t have been any other way, since to haul that much dirt into the middle of a lake would be a monumental task – so that hole (the par three 12th hole) just kind of ‘evolved,’ just like the rest of the holes.

Naturally, there isn’t a bad hole in the bunch at The Pit – and that too is just the way Maples learned it. “My dad used to tell me that when he would route out courses, if he had a bad hole, he’d go backwards and get rid of a whole routing just to get rid of a hole he didn’t like. He never progressed through a routing plan unless he was really satisfied with all he had on it.”

“That’s the way we are – that’s the way we do every golf course,” Maples said.

The methodology seems to have worked, down to the smallest detail – which included the course’s name. Maples said they went through hundreds of names and kept coming back to The Pit – they just couldn’t come up with anything else that would capture the essence of the place. And besides, it’s easy to spell, and it looks good on a hat.

After enduring the bruising par four ninth hole, Dan Maples gives you a break on the short par four 10th hole.

The Pit’s quirky nature also received an endorsement from another course designer known for incorporating a few twists and turns in his work, Pete Dye. “I took Pete Dye around it in the beginning, and he loved it – and he said, ‘now you’re going to catch some of the grief that I catch.’ He said not everybody’s going to like this golf course, which isn’t something we were used to, but I realized just then that this course was just slightly against the grain,” Maples remembered.

It’s the type of ‘oddity’ that you might find in Europe at some of the older courses – layouts that were ‘built’ so long ago that it just wasn’t possible to move much earth. Maples often tells people who are wanting to go to play in Ireland or Scotland to try The Pit first – and if you don’t like it, then don’t waste your money going overseas.

Seeing as the course is very tight in places and a bit hard to navigate even if you know where to hit your shots, it provides more than enough challenge for almost everyone who plays it. Modern technology has caught up to The Pit in some ways, however, which has brought about the only major change in the course since it’s opening – a new set of tees known as the ‘Scratch’ tees.

They’re not listed on the scorecard and you’ll have to get permission to use them – but they lengthen the course to just over 7000 yards. There are white posts to the rear of the tee boxes on all the holes, marking the location of the ‘scratch’ tees.

The green of the par three 16th hole defines 'small target,' but it's only 148-yards from the back tee.

Maples says it’s all you can handle – but it’s still fair. “When The Pit first started, I wanted to show people how a short golf course can still play tough – and then it was about 6400 yards. When Tobacco Road came along (a course nearby), and they said it was going to be ‘The Pit on steroids,’ we thought we’d try and stretch out the course to 7007 yards, which is how long Pinehurst #2 used to be.”

“We had twenty-five golf pros play it the first day we opened the scratch course – and the low score was 78 – and they loved it, and said it was fair. That’s all we can ask for,” Maples said.

Most players, good or bad, have a similar impression of The Pit as the pros did. The Pit’s Director of Golf, Dan DiCarlo, says most people appreciate the course’s unique aspects. “We don’t have any members here, so about half of our play is from golfers from outside the area who enjoy the golf course and keep coming back year after year.”

“When people go on a trip, they want to play a golf course that they can’t play at home – and this is not like any course that you have around your home, no matter where you live,” DiCarlo added.

Try not to focus on the water off the tee of the dogleg right par four 11th hole.

DiCarlo admitted that they do get an occasional player who doesn’t care for it – but it wouldn’t be truly off-beat if everyone liked it, right?

If anyone doesn’t end up liking The Pit, it may be because they played it too aggressively, which DiCarlo says is a big mistake. There are some holes where if you choose to hit driver – not only will you have to choose the correct direction to aim, you’ll also have to be pinpoint accurate, which is a shot that most players don’t have in their bags.

Needless to say, The Pit can be punishing if you’re hitting it wildly – but that’s true of just about every course. DiCarlo says the best strategy to playing the layout is to take whatever club will keep you in play off the tee -- and then it’s actually very manageable, because the next shot usually isn’t going to be that long.

Whether you heed his advice is another matter, as DiCarlo says most people want to hit their drivers when they’re on vacation – “they’ll come in and say, ‘I shot 120 but what a great day I had – I had so much fun.’”

Nothing but water surrounds the green complex of the par three 12th hole - so hit the green.

On a course like this, where every hole is its own experience, we particularly enjoyed the par three fourth hole, which plays 229-yards from the back tee. The yardage book recommends ‘hit it straight,’ which is salient advice -- because if you don’t, you won’t likely find your ball again. The hole is framed by large sand mounds and trees on both sides, providing a chute to hit through – and it isn’t wide, either.

The 489-yard, par five eighth hole looks benign on the scorecard, but nothing at The Pit is as easy as it would seem. This is one of those holes where your tee ball will have to be in the perfect spot to go for the green in two – but if not, even the lay-up shot can be a challenge. What you’ll remember most about the hole is a large tree that guards the left side of the green and very much comes into play on your approach shot.

The back nine features The Pit’s version of ‘Amen Corner,’ three holes that play over and around the property’s large lake.

The sharp dogleg right par four eleventh hole offers an intimidating tee shot with water all down the right side – which leaves a short to mid-iron approach over the water to a green guarded by a large bunker to the front-right.

The somewhat quirky par five 15th hole definitely has an Old Country feel to it.

The par three twelfth is The Pit’s island green – it’s a good thing it isn’t long (175-yards from the back tee), and the island is fairly large. It probably won’t remind you of TPC Sawgrass with its size – which is a good thing.

The par four thirteenth hole presents you with an intimidating water carry for the tee shot, though the yardage book indicates it looks farther than it is. Even if you manage to stay dry off the tee, you’re work’s not done as you’ll have a difficult second into a green well protected by a bunker front and left.

Maples says lady players love The Pit, because they’re able to hit it straight – and that’s what you need more than anything on this course.

For the men, The Pit is somewhat of a different flavor, a course that you’re not sure why you enjoyed it so much, because you’ll no doubt leave with a few bruises to your golfing ego – but it’s an experience that should not be missed if you’re visiting the Pinehurst area. Perhaps it was best summed up by a local, who once called it ‘purgatory at its best.’

The 13th tee offers the last long carry over water on The Pit's 'Amen Corner.'

Enough said.

Where We Stayed

On our most recent visit to Pinehurst, we decided to stay a bit off the beaten path at a place that we knew would be convenient to all the golf courses we were going to play, would provide plenty of room for our group (which included kids), some peace and quiet, and most importantly, all the comforts of home.

For that reason, we chose The Condos at The Pit, located just south of the Village of Pinehurst and close enough to the area’s amenities -- yet far enough ‘away’ to make it feel like a real vacation spot.

Play it down the right side off the tee of the par five 18th hole.

The Pit Condos are all located on The Pit Golf Course’s par three seventh hole, and are within walking distance to the clubhouse. These two and three-bedroom condos sleep two per bedroom (for golf groups) with two queen beds per room.

Each condo has a fully equipped kitchen with stainless steel appliances, flat panel TV in the den with VCR/DVD player, a TV in each bedroom, digital phone for free long distance, free high speed internet connection, full size washer & dryer, linens, towels, and a balcony with outdoor seating.

We took advantage of the balcony to enjoy the pleasant early fall evenings – highly recommended! The kitchen facilities also helped us manage meal-time in a convenient, budget-conscious way.

For condo rentals or golf packages, please contact Maples Golf Packages at 800-889-5323 or visit

The Pit condos offer full kitchens -- a terrific convenience after a day on the links.




The Pit Golf Links
A Dan Maples Original
P.O. Box 1711
Pinehurst, NC 28370

Phone: 910-944-1600; Toll free: 800-574-4653


Course Designer: Dan Maples
Director of Golf: Dan DiCarlo, PGA


Screw Tees      6491    126/70.7
Spike Tees       6103    118/69.2
Half Rail Anchor Tees            5474    111/66.5
Rail Anchor Tees        4705    109/67.6


Rates range from $29 to $120, depending on the time of day and time of year. Consult the Website for current rates and policies.

Walking is allowed at The Pit.

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