Fred Zahner has taken more than 70 golf trips to Pinehurst in the last five decades. His trips were like most excursions to the Sandhills for a golf getaway, involving marathon days playing multiple rounds of golf, and enjoyable evenings over drinks to unwind.
The trip he is on this week is a little different. Zahner’s playing partners are much younger than the PGA professionals and other golfers he took the trips with, and Arnold Palmers take the place of brews on the 19th hole. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Of the 70-plus times that I’ve been to Pinehurst, usually it was with golfers and drinkers. We would come here for fun and we came here to play a lot of golf,” he said. “Thirty-six (holes) a day was not unusual. If we were here for seven days, five would be 36 a day and two would be 18 a day.”
Zahner’s latest trek to Pinehurst includes three of his grandsons rounding out the foursome, playing a handful of the top courses in the area. While his grandchildren have youth on their side, ranging in age from 11 to 18 years, they are fine with just playing one round a day.
“I am glad because 18 (holes) is enough; 18 is plenty,” the eldest, Andrew Mayhew, said. “My slice is getting in my head a little bit. Once I get that cleared up, then we’re good.”
Zahner, a lifetime member with the PGA of America and former teaching professional, has the remedy for his grandson.
“We’re going to spend some time on the range tomorrow before we go out. We’ll be fine,” Zahner said. “You’ve just got to listen to me.”
Five rounds in the Sandhills in five days, plus a bonus round on the way back south at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, South Carolina, wraps up the week that is far more than just a couple of hundred strokes in a week on the golf course.
Story after story of local lore and unforgettable rounds come from the lips of Zahner, with some of the stories going in one ear and other the other of the younger grandchildren. The drop of one name had all three sets of ears perked up, hanging on to every word as Zahner tells of his time running into Michael Jordan on the Pinehurst Resort putting green, and then warming up beside him and sharing a quick conversation on the driving range.
Jordan went on to play Pinehurst No. 2, while Zahner’s group played Course No. 1, and then they crossed paths again inside the clubhouse dining room.
With the grandkids on the edge of their seats, Zahner explained the origin behind Jordan’s signature on a Pinehurst No. 1 scorecard after what he considered a pedestrian round of 78 after meeting the basketball great. It was different from their preconceived notions of what happened.
“I just thought it was cool that it wasn’t him reaching out to Michael saying, ‘Hey, sign this,’” Andrew said. “But Michael said, ‘Let me see your scorecard.’”
Zahner said that more than likely Jordan doubted the score when he said 78. “He said, ‘Let me see what you guys shot.’”
And there’s countless more from that, starting with his first trip in 1970 with a bartending friend, Bobby Jones. But not that Bobby Jones, Zahner says.
From his commutes south to Pinehurst when living in upstate New York, to heading northward from his current residence in Florida, the golf mecca never gets old to Zehner.
“All you feel is golf. You don’t come here and say, ‘I think I’ll go to a play tonight.’ I’m sure they have plays here,” Zehner said. “They have movies. I’ve been bowling here before when it rained. Every place you go to, you go into a restaurant and you see golfers. It’s just golf, golf, golf, golf.”
From there, Zahner’s children got looped into trips to Pinehurst, and that love for golf trickled down to the third generation.
“A lot came from my grandpa,” said 11-year-old Jonathan Zahner of his affinity for the sport.
Jonathan has less experience in the sport compared to older cousins Andrew and Parker Mayhew, but has quickly started picking up golf more in the Player Development Program at Bardmoor Golf and Tennis Club in Florida, which brings a glimmer to Fred’s eye as he proudly brags about the trio.
Jonathan has a personal connection to the area, with his mother, Jennifer, working at Pinewild Country Club for two years in the late 1990s, leading to the foursome to play a round at the club on Thursday.
“She also wants me to take Jonathan out to where she lived in a second-floor apartment out in Foxfire,” Zahner said.
The Mayhew brothers live near Milwaukee now, but spent their early years in the Carolinas. Both were born in Cary and lived there and in Fort Mill, South Carolina, before moving to Milwaukee nearly a decade ago.
“I was so excited because we’re from here. We’re from North and South Carolina. It’s where we were born. I’ve always been wanting to get out here,” Andrew said. “He has a ton of Pinehurst paintings and pictures all over the house. We have it all over our basement. It’s all Pinehurst.”
Hearing the stories and coming for the first time at a young age, Parker finally gets to experience the area that his family is enthralled with.
“I always had these Pinehurst shirts and I always was like, ‘What course is this? Now we’re actually playing it,” Parker said. “I wouldn’t want to play with anyone else, other than Grandpa.”
On the commute to the area Tuesday morning, Zahner and Jonathan met up with Andrew and Parker at the airport in Savannah, Georgia, for the final leg of the trip up. With four sets of clubs, and four people fitting into a borrowed BMW crossover SUV from Zahner’s neighbor, the younger ones drew the short straw sharing the back seat with two golf bags.
“It was pretty uncomfortable, but once we got here, I was excited. It was worth it,” Jonathan said.
The family foursome played Southern Pines Golf Club in the afternoon, a course that Fred remembers being one of his favorites in the area, and he raved about the new look the course has following a renovation by Kyle Franz less than two years ago.
A round on Pine Needles Wednesday, Pinewild on Thursday and Pinehurst No. 9 Friday is wrapped up with the fitting finale on Pinehurst No. 2 Saturday. Zahner’s itinerary includes food stops at local staples, afternoon trips to take in the ambience of the Pinehurst Resort, and a trip to the Tufts Archive at the library to look back at the history of the village and the cradle of American golf.
“This started two Christmases ago. I told these guys and they kept saying, ‘I can’t wait for Pinehurst.’ I said, ‘I’m glad you say that.’ Once it gets here, then you’ve got to go, ‘Boy, I hope this doesn’t go too fast.’ Because it will be over like that,” Zahner said.
After the round at Pine Needles, Andrew had to brag about his grandpa, who had yet to miss a fairway on the trip. Memories like that are what he is going to take with him to Arizona State this fall as an incoming freshman. With one month remaining until he moves down to the desert, he’s appreciative of the “bucket list trip.”
That “bucket list” term gets thrown around many times out of context. Usually it’s not something someone a few years short of 20 would typically say, unless the event was truly remarkable.
At age 73, Zahner said marking off a list of courses or experiences has ever crossed his mind, until his return back to Pinehurst after a several-year hiatus with his three grandsons.
“This’ll be a story I can tell, well, I’m going to live another 15, 20 years,” Zahner said. “I’ve never done a bucket list of anything in my life, but this is it.”
Contact Jonathan Bym at (910) 693-2470 or email@example.com.