2020 was a crazy year. While COVID-19 was a huge downer for the economy, it hit the tourism industry especially hard as people’s travel plans had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. But golf didn’t seem to take as much of a beating. In many places, golf was one of the more popular outdoor activities that you could safely participate in during the lockdown, thanks to the game’s built-in social distancing.
According to the National Golf Foundation, Golf rounds in June 2020 were up in every state in the continental U.S., including an increase of at least 20% in golf-rich states like Arizona (+29%), Florida (+25%), Georgia (+24%), Texas (+23%), Pennsylvania (+22%) and Ohio (+21%).
The results of this increase in golf led to a boom in golf club & accessory sales also. According to research firm Golf Datatech, sales of all categories of golf equipment set new records in July 2020. Golf equipment and accessory numbers were the highest for a single month since the company began tracking information in 1997. Sales at on and off-course retailers were $388.6 million, which easily surpassed the previous best two months (June 2007 at $368.1 million and June 2006 at $364.0 million).
Pinehurst Resort – Offseason Play in the Cradle of American Golf
I witnessed this mini boom in golf firsthand when I visited Pinehurst Resort in July 2020. Bookings at the resort were through the roof, with near 100% occupancy at the resort’s hotels and tee sheets that were booked solid at all 9 courses. With a packed house and people everywhere, I thought the resort did a really nice job with social distancing and found a good balance between safety, sanitation and hospitality. With ten courses (9 courses + The Cradle short course), three hotels, villas & condos and 10 restaurants, it’s pretty easy to spread people out, and nothing ever feels crowded except at peak meal times.
Pinehurst is a special place, and with some time off and nothing better to do, I decided to return and spend Thanksgiving week in the sandhills of North Carolina on a solo pilgrimage. Not only are the crowds light at this time of year, but the Village of Pinehurst and the surrounding area were in full holiday mode when I arrived, which adds to the overall experience. The resort is just a 7 hour drive from home, so I was able to avoid the rush of holiday travelers at the airport.
The weather was ideal for a holiday golf getaway, with daytime highs in the 70s and evening lows in the high 40s for perfect “sweater weather.” The area was noticeably less crowded than my first trip four months prior in July. It almost felt like I had the whole place to myself. In fact, one morning when I showed up for an early tee time on Pinehurst #4, I literally had the entire practice tee, chipping area and putting green to myself for a while. It was an a amazing sight, given how busy that same area was the first time I was there.
For several reasons I think a Thanksgiving visit to Pinehurst is very much worth considering for a family trip or solo getaway. Not only is the weather great and the crowds light, the cost is way cheaper too. For example, from November through February the rates for Pinehurst Resort’s popular Donald Ross Package drop more than 50%!
The weather cools off in the winter, but most golfers (and especially those living north of the Mason Dixon line) will not be dissuaded, with December and January highs usually in the 50s and February highs climbing into the 60s. Of course there can be big swings in highs and lows, so be sure to check the weather before packing.
Beyond Pinehurst Resort – North Carolina’s Sandhills
Pinehurst Resort may be the crown jewel and the center of attention for the region, but there are plenty of other options near by that add to the experience of golf in the Sandhills of North Carolina. My Thanksgiving trip included warm-up stops at Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club and Pine Needles, both fantastic Donald Ross designs that have tons of character and history. The best part? Tee times at both courses were only $85 – A steal if you ask me. Mid Pines is a classic Ross design that is meticulously maintained and virtually unchanged from the original 1921 design, making it an absolute blast to play. Pine Needles will soon be the first course in the nation to host four U.S. Women’s Opens and is the #4 rated course in NC by Golfweek.
30 minutes north of Pinehurst Village is a golf experience that is unlike anywhere in the world. In 1998, the late Mike Strantz crafted a masterpiece of golf design called Tobacco Road Golf Club. Challenging yet playable, this unique design can be visually overwhelming and playing it can feel a little like riding a roller coaster. It’s not long by modern standards at just over 6500 yards from the longest tees, but it’s very fair. Good shots will be rewarded, but bad shots will be severely punished. I think it must be played to really understand the mystique of the place. In my experience, you either love it or hate it, but most love it. Personally, I think Tobacco Road is in my top 5 golf courses I’ve played in the world. Rates during the winter months vary, but most are under $100 and get cheaper when booked as a package.
The sandhills of North Carolina are a mecca for golf in the Eastern United States, and there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy the cradle of American golf year-round. The weather may not always be perfect, but with golf there’s never a guarantee of perfect weather, even at the peak times in spring and early summer. The biggest benefits of visiting Pinehurst in the late fall and winter are twofold – There are less people, and it’s as much as 50% cheaper. My solo trip for Thanksgiving 2020 was fantastic. I enjoyed good weather, uncrowded courses that were still in fantastic shape, equally uncrowded restaurants, and prices that made the entire experience feel like I was stealing.
Pro Tip: During your stay at Pinehurst, be sure to take advantage of the BMW Guest Drive Program that allows guests of the resort to choose any vehicle from a fleet of new BMWs for a free 3-hour test drive. I spent one very entertaining evening in the fantastic 550 horsepower, twin-turbo V8 powered BMW X5 M550i.