PINEHURST — They’re going to raise a glass this evening in honor of the Pine Crest Inn, where glasses, voices and spirits have been raised for a century now.
The Inn opened for business on Nov. 1, 1913 – and the owners, guests and golf romantics will spend the next year celebrating a place that would have a plaque in the World Golf Hall of Fame if the shrine included a corner for pork chops, cold beer and good times.
There’s a program Thursday night featuring remarks by the mayor, a historian and assorted other guests. There’s also been talk of a small parade in front of the gray-stone building but nothing fancy because one of the Pine Crest’s great charms is its lack of pretension.
If you’ve ever made a golf trip to Pinehurst, chances are you’re familiar with the Pine Crest. It’s tucked a wedge shot away from the village’s main street, down a soft sloping road, framed by old trees and gravel parking lots that fill up every evening when the golf is done and the recovery begins.
Its entrance – a dark green awning that leads guests from the street to the long front porch filled with white rocking chairs, couches and an orange cat named Marmaduke – is as recognizable to many as photos of the 18th hole at Pebble Beach.
Step inside and it’s not much different than it was 100 years ago when Mrs. E.C. Bliss of Edgewood, R.I., opened the Pine Crest. The ceilings are low, the floors are gently uneven in spots and the stairway to the second floor creaks.
The Pine Crest Inn is not ultra-modern or part of a chain or terribly expensive. Instead, it’s comfortable like your own den. It’s a place where people who runthe place know their guests’ names and take pride in making them feel at ease.
The carpet is soft like a fluffy lie in a fairway and the lobby area is filled with glass cases stuffed with fading mementoes of days and people gone by. A bulletin board holds dozens of snapshots pinned to the wall, most of them showing groups of golfers with laughter in their eyes sitting around dinner tables in the restaurant.
This is where Payne Stewart came on the Sunday night before he won the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 one week later. He scrawled his autograph on a bathroom wall that evening and before it faded away completely, a copy of Stewart’s signature was made and now sits framed not far from the front desk.
Arnold Palmer has stayed at the Pine Crest. So has Jack Nicklaus, who was there in 1985 when his son, Jack II, won the North and South Amateur, a week the Golden Bear calls “one of the highlights of my life.”
The Pine Crest is a place where history lives. Legendary course designer Donald Ross, the first professional at Pinehurst Country Club, purchased the Inn in 1921, added the east wing and owned it until his death in 1948.
It was later purchased by New York hotelier Carl Moser. Then the Barrett family, which still owns the Pine Crest, bought it in 1961.
A painting of Ross hangs above the fireplace in the lobby where he can watch guests attempt to chip golf balls into the fireplace. A pro named Lionel Callaway gave lessons in the lobby many years ago, and now there’s a plywood board covered in artificial turf that sits in front of the fireplace, a hole in the center being the target.
A handful of clubs leans against a column in the lobby and there are golf balls on the floor near the fireplace. There are varying stories about who’s made the most consecutive chip shots, the numbers often influenced by how much time the storyteller has spent in Mr. B’s bar just off the lobby.
Peter Barrett, one of the owners, says he held the record of 22 in a row until a red-headed left-hander playing in the North and South junior made 23 last year.
The restaurant is known for its 22-ounce pork chop, created by chef Carl Jackson years ago. It’s as big as a Sunday roast and as much a part of the village life as the chancel bells that ring on the hour.
At night, the bar comes alive and on weekends there is music in the lobby, the crowd and the noise often spilling onto the porch and into the darkness. John Maginnes, the former PGA Tour player turned golf commentator, calls the Pine Crest porch the best place in the country to have a beer without an ocean view. He may be right.
For a century, golfers have come to the Pine Crest for a bed and breakfast and the feeling that comes with being there.
It’s in the gentle give in the old floors and the sound of golf talk in the lobby. It’s the thump of another chip shot being pitched toward the fireplace and the smell of dinner drifting out of the dining room. It’s seeing the cat curled up on a front porch couch in the afternoon and it’s bumping into an old friend in the bar.
It’s a place worth celebrating.