Location: 80 Carolina Vista Drive, Pinehurst, NC 28374
Phone: (855) 235-8507
Hours: Tee times can be reserved via phone or online (http://www.pinehurst.com/)
Price: Free to resort guests of the Pinehurst Resort, but hotel rooms cost anywhere between $241 – $622 per night; conversely you can sneak in pretending to be a guest (in which case it is free).
Review: After reviewing several of the nation’s most popular mini golf courses in South Carolina, I was ready to visit one of the sport’s most exclusive sites. And its oldest. That’s right: it’s time to to review the nation’s oldest mini golf course.*
The Thistle Dhu.
But first, we need some historical context. All the way back in the happy-go-lucky year of 1916, when America was still high off the purchase of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Pinehurst resident James Barber designed a small, 18 hole miniature putting course on the grounds of his home. Seeing the final product, he proclaimed “this’ll do!” and the name, though stylized as “Thistle Dhu” stuck around. (James Barber’s house also had several other famous outdoor features, including the “Itz Sokay” rock garden, the “Meady Ochre” wishing well, and the “I don’t care what we call it Martha, it’s a damn gazebo” gazebo). Little did Barber know, but in 10 years time, thousands of these these so-called “Midget Golf” courses** would spring up around the nation, franchised in bulk as “Tom Thumb” courses by inventor Garnet Carter.*** And eventually, by the early 1930’s, there were over 30,000 mini golf courses in America, with nearly 150 located in New York City alone.
Unfortunately, following the collapse of the stock market, by 1932 (like all the M&M’s in a bag of trail mix) miniature golf courses mostly disappeared from America and the original Thistle Dhu was destroyed. However, in 2012 a small putting course was built in the same space at the world famous 4-star Pinehurst Resort, continuing the legacy of mini golf’s origin and celebrating its storied history.
Now, given that I was not a member of the Pinehurst Country Club, and given that I was not about to shell out upwards of 300 dollars to book a room at the Pinehurst Resort, playing this course was not easy for me to do. It also wasn’t, technically speaking, legal. So, in case I am ever formally charged with trespassing, rather than simply writing an admission of guilt, I will instead pose a series of hypothetical (and entirely fictitious) questions. Who knows, how did I even get to the course in the first place? Did I sneak onto a chartered bus going from the Pinehurst Resort all the way to the its members-only golf courses? Did I surreptitiously putt 18 holes on the Thistle Dhu using a bright blue ball I had purchased from an earlier mini golf course, sweating like a chocoholic at the Ghirardelli store? Did I overstay my welcome and sneak into a 4th of July party that was being hosted on an adjacent fairway, pretending to be the proud Pinehurst native “Steve Wexler”? Did I drink one of the beers there and smile whimsically as I listened to their country band play “Sweet Home Alabama,” knowing I had just gotten away with the perfect crime? For legal reasons, my answer to all of these questions must be an emphatic “no.”
That being said, the rebuilt Thistle Dhu was nothing to write home about. Sure, it was a fantastically well-maintained putting course in one of the nation’s most historically significant locations. And, for the first time in my entire trip, my fellow mini golfers were dressed in both polos and boating shoes (they were also preteens who spent 40 minutes paraphrasing the film Happy Gilmore, so it was a mixed bag). However, the course was quite simplistic. I’ve got to admit, the rebuilt Thistle Dhu lacked the sheer novelty of the original; the course I hypothetically played was just a really small golf course. Not a miniature golf course. And there is a massive distinction between those two phrases. Fortunately, I believe that that distinction may have been ever so slightly blurred in the past few days. Because hypothetically, if I did sneak into the Thistle Dhu, it may have been the first time ever that a modern-day mini golf ball was used on the nation’s oldest mini golf course.
Which is pretty neat.
* For those wondering, the world’s oldest mini golf course is the Ladies’ Putting Club in St. Andrews, Scotland, established in 1867. Back then, it was deemed “unseemly” for women to play real golf, undoubtedly because their tender, pliant birthing hips would force the ball to gravitate into a sand trap (or because of some other monstrously sexist reason). The past was pretty bad.
** Again, the past was pretty bad.
*** It got to the point where Hollywood execs, fearing mini golf would replace movies as America’s favorite form of entertainment, forbid their stars from playing on these miniaturized monstrosities (which is probably the third most-oppressive thing Hollywood has ever done, right behind blacklisting commies and creating a sequel to Weekend at Bernie’s.)
Course Score: 54; no par listed.
Pros: You can literally smell the history in the air; beautiful setting; fantastically well-maintained course; great atmosphere.
Cons: Not the original course; extremely exclusive; mostly simplistic; no obstacles; low production-value; the resort is quite expensive; punk kids.