Toying Recklessly With Pinehurst Traditions
Is Pinehurst’s almost $900,000 renovation project historically flawed? I’ve spent a great deal of time researching Pinehurst and its golf heritage. Whenever I feel like drinking in some of its richest moments, as well as its rocky ones, I leaf through Lee Pace’s 2004 classic, “The Spirit of Pinehurst.” It’s still fresh as morning dew on Pinehurst greens.
I mention Pace’s masterpiece because Pinehurst is again at a critical crossroads in its colorful history.
Traditionalists want to see the village maintain the best of its past. They have a very different vision of Pinehurst’s future than those promoting controversial changes.
“The Spirit of Pinehurst” was dedicated to Robert Dedman, owner of ClubCorp, and Don Padgett, his trusted director of golf, visionaries who oversaw the resurrection of Pinehurst following 14 years of commercial exploitation by Diamondhead Corporation. Both would die within a year of each other in 2002 and 2003, with Dedman’s wishes followed that he be buried wearing a Pinehurst blazer.
Diamondhead saw the founding Tufts family’s historic development of Pinehurst as quaint and anachronistic. Dedman realized its special past was well worth preserving and improving upon, but with subtlety and extreme care. He put in smart people and gave them full responsibility to protect what was best, while designing a strategy that led to two U.S. Opens, with two soon to come.
A signal achievement for Dedman and Pinehurst was the June 1996 Department of Interior’s recognition that Pinehurst’s unique history warranted a National Historic Landmark designation. Pinehurst became one of the few golf resorts to receive this high award, which coincided with the building of Course No. 8, the “Centennial Course,” celebrating 100 years of resort history. Had not 9/11 happened, Courses No. 9 and No. 10 probably would have been built.
The Historic Landmark designation is now seriously threatened, not by thoughtless developers, but by well-meaning elected officials (and an unelected one), whom one would normally expect to vigorously protect the landmark.
Pinehurst plans to spend almost $900,000 to modify the Village Green and core areas of Old Town to achieve a net gain of fewer than 36 new parking spaces, which will mostly be located away from the business area and nearer to The Village Chapel. Scores of mature longleaf pines will be destroyed.
A Tufts Memorial Park offers a green-lawned area near the Given Library. This large landscape feature is likely to offend the National Park Service (NPS) because historically the Village Green was never green; it’s always been woodland. (The Tuftses, desiring a typical New England green, never succeeded in growing grass there.) Of concern to the NPS: When the landmark status was granted, the green was woodland, not lawn.
The plan includes changing traditional sand/clay parking areas using paving materials traditionally never used by the Tuftses. This represents another change from the way walks and parking areas were in 1996, when landmark status was granted.
The plan was rejected 4-2 by Pinehurst’s Historic Preservation Commission (deemed “incongruous with the historic district”). It has never been submitted to the NPS, which has warned Pinehurst that its past actions had not been in keeping with the spirit of preserving the landmark status.
Last year, NPS suggested that Pinehurst provide a cultural landscape report before moving forward with its plans. Pinehurst refused to commission such a study, although it spent more than $30,000 for a Pinehurst Performing Arts Center study to satisfy largely private interests.
The village has already invested more than $55,000 in various design fees for this project to McGill and Associates, Hobbs Upchurch, and LandDesign. (Normally a project of this size and sophistication would only require one contractor.) In spite of the fact that the plan calls for angled parking on a busy street, two police chiefs were never consulted about its safety as of last week.
The previous mayor said publicly that “losing the landmark status was a chance worth taking.” Last week, when asked about the rejection by the Historic Preservation Commission, Mayor Nancy Fiorillo said the plans will be “tweaked” by staff and reviewed by council.
My hunch is that mere tweaking ain’t gonna fly with the NPS. The commission got it right. It is “incongruous.”
Paul R. Dunn lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at paulandbj @nc.rr.com.
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