50 Words or Less
The Cradle, the short course at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, sets a new standard for what can be done with limited space. 10 acres of total joy.
If you were to judge it by its length, you would not think that the 789 yard Cradle is much of a course. However, if you measure a course by the number of smiles it puts on golfers’ faces, the rounds parents share with their children, and the love of the game that it creates, you’ll see that The Cradle can more than hold its own, even among its prestigious Pinehurst brethren.
Pinehurst is home to some of the best practice facilities you’ll find anywhere. There’s a large range that’s a stone’s throw from a short game area with two greens and two bunkers.
Between The Cradle and the range, you’ll find a massive putting green. There are several holes for conventional putting practice, but why would you want conventional when you have Thistle Dhu? Thistle Dhu is the recently-opened 18-hole putting course. The “holes” at Thistle Dhu range from tame 15-footers to roller coasters that scream “3 putt.” If you want to know how much fun Thistle Dhu is, walk out of the clubhouse in the evening and see how many golfers are still out there, smiling and laughing.
Customer Service & Amenities
Pinehurst Resort is full of world-class amenities including a spa, numerous restaurants, and a trio of hotels, and those things deserve their own feature. For now, I’m going to focus on The Cradle.
What Pinehurst demonstrates at The Cradle is that how you do something can be more important than how much you do. The starter hut at The Cradle is a small, simple building, but it houses people whose love of golf pours out of their skin. They’re thrilled that you’ve come to play their little course, and they’re eager to give you a loaner Seamus golf bag so you don’t have to tote a full set. They’re even more excited if you have a new golfer – young or old – to whom they can lend a putter and a wedge.
The Cradle is also home to The Pinecone, which is a serious contender for most delightful turn stand. The Pinecone is a wooden trailer that houses a full selection of drinks and has four beers on tap. If I lived in the area, The Pinecone would be my favorite bar. I could sit in the lawn chairs, sip beer, and watch families golf all day.
Finally, I need to mention another one of The Cradle’s defining traits: music. Throughout the course, there are speakers disguised as rocks. Pinehurst has these set at a perfect volume – audible without being disruptive. The mix is as eclectic as can be, including classic rock, country, hip hop, and much more.
With tee shots ranging from 56 to 127 yards, The Cradle requires only a couple of clubs to play. You won’t even need a rangefinder because the exact yardages are displayed at each tee.
What impressed me as I went around The Cradle is the amount of variety that Gil Hanse packs into nine wedge shots. You play up and down different elevations and to greens of varying shapes and sizes.
You might expect the greens at The Cradle to be small, given the short yardages, however, they’re actually quite large. On average, they’re over 8,300 square feet. This makes hitting the green relatively easy. However, hitting the green will not guarantee par. If you want to have realistic birdie putts, you need to examine the slopes of the green before swinging and hit very precise shots.
Greens & Surrounds
The large, sloping greens are what gives The Cradle its challenge and character. Gil Hanse has infused each putting surface with unique traits that effect everything from the approach shot to the recovery options and, of course, the putts. There are very few straight putts at The Cradle, but most greens have just one major feature so few putts are unmakeable.
There isn’t any rough at The Cradle; instead the greens are protected by sand and slopes. In truth, though there is a lot of sand at The Cradle, very little of it is in play. Many of the bunkers serve to define the routing and enhance the aesthetics.
What can make recovery shots tricky, aside from the greens themselves, are the slopes around the greens. Several greens are significantly elevated which will tempt players to attempt high risk wedge shots. All the grass at The Cradle is tightly mowed Bermuda, so the wise play is to putt everything that you can.
This hole has one of the few bunkers that’s decidedly in play, short and right of the green. The putting surface bends around the bunker and has some great contours.
This pick continues a personal theme of selecting holes that gave me a beating. There’s a huge mound in the center of this green that makes it difficult to accurately perceive the pin location and even harder to get close to it.
One of three holes over 100 yards, the tee shot on #9 plays downhill to a green that bends left as it runs away from you. When the pin is on the left edge, it brings into play some of the tougher recovery shots on the course.
I can’t say enough good things about The Cradle. It’s everything golf needs right now: fun, accessible, affordable, welcoming, and, taking up only 10 acres, environmentally conscious. What’s even better is seeing a project like this at a resort with the stature of Pinehurst. I sincerely hope that the rest of the golf industry is taking notes.