The Holly Inn opened its doors more than 120 years ago. Today it remains essential to the Pinehurst experience.
By Leah Hughes
On New Year’s Eve in 1895, The Holly Inn welcomes its first guests. For $3 apiece, 20 people send out the old and usher in the new at this hotel in the pine barrens of North Carolina’s Sandhills.
As guests step into the lobby, onto native heart-of pine-floors, they take in the relaxed elegance of floral motif carvings, stenciled ceilings, art glass fixtures and decorative tile. The interior details reflect landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted’s commitment to nature.
Located in the heart of The Village of Pinehurst, the Holly mixes architectural styles: Part Queen Ann Revival, part Arts and Crafts, part Art Nouveau. All of it — the Holly Inn, the surrounding property with abundant foliage and winding pathways — is a product of Pinehurst founder James Walker Tufts’ vision for this winter retreat. On the eve of a New Year, this place — soon to become the home of American golf and one of the most storied resorts in the country — begins a legacy of hospitality that will continue for decades.
The Holly has been enchanting guests since that first New Year’s Eve in 1895. In those days, the hotel boasted all of the modern amenities of the time: electric lights, steam heat, telephones, a solarium, billiard room and the “best hair mattresses.”country.
Although much has changed since the Holly’s founding, it remains a Village focal point.
Originally founded as a retreat from Northern winters, Pinehurst’s season ran from November 1 to April 30. The Holly reached its capacity by springtime of the first year.
Expansions were made the next several years. The 1898 season saw the addition of a new music room where an orchestra performed daily.
A story from The Pinehurst Outlook on Dec. 2, 1898, touted: “The Inn as it stands today is one of the best-equipped hotels in the country. While not as large as some, for comfort, excellence of appointments and convenience, it is second to none.”
Through the years, the inn evolved. Perhaps its most unexpected role came in the mid-’40s. In 1943, it was home to officers and their families when Camp Mackall was short on housing. Then in the summer of 1944, The Holly was the site of an Army-conducted study of the common cold. Conscientious objectors from Fort Bragg, who had religious objections to war, volunteered as guinea pigs for the experiment.
The inn struggled in the 1970s as newer, more modern accommodations caught the eye of travelers. The Holly closed for a period, and its future was uncertain — but after extensive renovations, it reopened in 1986. The meticulous restoration preserved the inn’s finest features, and it was designated a National and State Historic Landmark.
A Seat on the Porch
A black-and-white photo inside the Tufts Archives — the treasure trove of Pinehurst history located across the street — shows women in full-length dresses and jackets lounging on The Holly’s porch. A man stands beside them in a suit and tie. On a recent weekday,
The lobby’s dark wood, holly wallpaper and intricate fireplaces create a warm, inviting atmosphere.
On a recent weekday, two women drop their shopping bags by rocking chairs on The Holly’s porch and sit down with glasses of wine.
In The Holly’s century-plus history, fashions have come and gone. Modern technology has evolved from a single typewriter and telephones, to data ports, to wireless Internet. Hair mattresses have been replaced with feather-top bedding. But The Holly’s innate sense of relaxation has remained. And guests return in search of that same feeling.
If you’ve been even a casual reader of Sports Illustrated over the years, you know of SI’s Faces in the Crowd page, where in over a half-century thousands of young athletes – some of the brink of stardom and some never to be heard from again – were pictured with a brief about their magnificent athletic achievements.
Golf has certainly had its share of entries in Faces in the Crowd, including Jack Nicklaus, who made his second appearance at 19 years old on May 4, 1959.
Jenkins, perhaps sportswriting’s greatest satirist and certainly one of the great golf historians, has the credibility to make that claim stick. He’s referring to the North & South Open, Pinehurst’s first entry into professional golf that came half a century – and more – before any of the U.S. Open championships Pinehurst No. 2 today is so well known for.
It’s a tournament that sometimes gets lost in the annals of pro golf, and honestly, even lost in the lore of Pinehurst itself. Every day in the clubhouse’s hallowed hall, guests and golfers stop and marvel at the North & South Open wall of champions, there next to the more well-known North & South Amateur wall, trying to place the tournament’s legacy in their memories. Often, though, it’s not there.
But as the arrival of April harkens the dawn of another Masters, a studious glance of that North & South Open wall reminds those of us with Pinehurst ties that, many times in golf, before men were masters, they were champions at Pinehurst.
Here is a look at five of the greatest players the game has ever known and what they won at Pinehurst before donning their first green jacket, with a few honorable mentions thrown in.
THE HONORABLE MENTIONS
NOT EVERY PLAYER ON THIS MASTER LIST below has a North & South Open championship to his name – the tournament did end its run in 1951, after all, just 17 years after the birth of The Masters – but it is striking how many giants of the game competed in the event in its 50 years. To wit:
Horton Smith, who won the first Masters in 1934 and again in 1936, won the 1929 North & South Open, the first of two Pinehurst triumphs (he also won the North & South Open in 1937). Smith won 36 times professionally…
Cary Middlecoff won The Masters in 1955, but 10 years earlier – and as an amateur – he won the 1945 North & South Open. Middlecoff won 40 times professionally, including three majors…
Henry Picard won the North & South Open for the first time in 1934 and again just two years later in 1936. Picard won the 1938 Masters and won the PGA Championship in 1939. Picard is credited with working with Ben Hogan in the 1930s, eventually convincing Hogan to weaken his grip. Hogan dedicated his first book, “Ben Hogan’s Power Golf,” to Picard in 1953. We’ll get to Hogan in a moment…
A few final notes on the North & South Open: Walter Hagen won the event three times (1918, 1923, 1924). Alec Ross, Donald Ross’ brother, won the most North & South Opens, with six. Donald Ross won three. Byron Nelson won the North & South Open in 1939, and won two Masters, in 1937 and 1942.
Now, a look at the five best players in history to win at Pinehurst before they won The Masters.
Then came Pinehurst, and after two brilliant opening rounds of 66 and 67, he held on to beat Sam Snead. “I won one just in time,” Hogan said at the trophy ceremony. Nine majors and 68 more professional wins – including two more North & South Opens – followed.
4. ARNOLD PALMER
RANKING THE GAME’S GREATEST PLAYERS is tricky, especially when major championships are factored in. But perhaps no player has had as great an impact on golf than Arnold Palmer. But his win at Pinehurst is a difficult one to find. It’s not the North & South Amateur, which he laments, and where he lost twice in the semifinals. Palmer turned professional in 1954, so he missed the North & South Open, and he was past his prime for the PGA Tour events at Pinehurst in the 1970s and the U.S. Senior Open in 1994.
But there is a win at Pinehurst in the Palmer ledger, and he recalls it fondly. While at Wake Forest, Palmer won the 1948 Southern Conference Championship – a precursor to the Atlantic Coast Conference – over North Carolina and North & South Amateur rival Harvie Ward, who nearly holed out from the fairway of 18 to tie Palmer. “It would’ve dismayed me quite a bit,” Palmer says now of Ward’s shot. “It was a great shot that scared me to death, let’s just say that.”
Palmer won The Masters four times, the first coming 10 years after his lone win at Pinehurst (1958, 1960, 1962, 1964).
3. SAM SNEAD
AGAIN, WE’RE SPLITTING HAIRS trying to rank the greatest of the greats, and it wouldn’t take much to move Palmer up this list.
That said, Snead won 82 times on the PGA Tour, with three of those wins coming in the North & South Open. After finishing as the runner-up in Hogan’s big breakthrough in 1940, Snead returned to Pinehurst and won in 1941. He followed that with North & South wins in 1949 and 1950. Snead won The Masters three times, the first in 1949 (and in 1952 and 1954). He is the only player in history to have won the North & South Open and The Masters in the same year.
2. TIGER WOODS
IT WASN’T THE NORTH & SOUTH AMATEUR. It wasn’t either the 1999 or 2005 U.S. Opens (although he came very close – see above), and Woods did not appear in the 2014 U.S. Open.
But Woods is a Pinehurst champion.
“It’s just at some tournaments. It hasn’t been nationwide. I’m not that big yet.” -Tiger Woods
In what seems like a bit of quaint history, two years before he became the youngest at the time to win the U.S. Amateur, Woods won the “Big I” on Pinehurst No. 7. The tournament’s formal name was the Independent Insurance Agents Youth Golf Classic, and at the time it was one of the elite junior tournaments in the world.
Tiger was 17, his largest gallery was about 75 people and at one point, he was inadvertently knocked to the ground by a woman who grabbed his shirt while seeking an autograph. Woods had an ice pack on his wrist afterward, and speaking to reporters, said, “The price of fame, I guess.”
Woods was asked about his notoriety, even then. “It’s just at some tournaments. It hasn’t been nationwide. I’m not that big yet.”
1. JACK NICKLAUS
JACK NICKLAUS HAS WON AT PINEHURST almost as much as he’s won at Augusta.
Palmer’s father, Deacon, visited Pinehurst regularly in the 1930s and 1940s with a group of golf buddies from their home in Latrobe, Pa., and their hotel of choice was the Manor Inn. Arnold came on occasion and then attended Wake Forest College in the late 1940s when it was located in the town of Wake Forest, just north of Raleigh. Palmer and teammates such as Buddy Worsham, Frank Edens, Jennings Agner and Dick Tiddy would pile into a Desoto station wagon for the 90-mile drive to Pinehurst.
Perhaps no player has had a greater impact on golf than Arnold Palmer. But his lone win at Pinehurst is a difficult one to find. It’s not the North & South Amateur, which he laments, and where he lost twice in the semifinals. Palmer turned professional in 1954, so he missed the North & South Open, and he was past his prime for the PGA Tour events at Pinehurst in the 1970s and the U.S. Senior Open in 1994.
But there is a win at Pinehurst in the Palmer ledger, and he recalled it fondly. Perhaps he thought so much of it because it was a crushing near-miss for the Tar Heels and their star, Harvie Ward.
“It was a great shot that scared me to death, let’s just say that.” -Arnold Palmer
In 1948, Palmer was a freshman sensation at Wake Forest, competing in the Southern Conference, a precursor to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Near the close of the second round on Pinehurst No. 2, Palmer found himself ahead of his friend and rival Ward. But Ward still had the famed 18th to play, and was comfortably in the fairway.
Arnold Palmer and Harvie Ward at the 1948 North & South Amateur. (Photo Copyright Tufts Archives)
Palmer should’ve been confident. Ward would need to hole his approach shot just to tie.
But with the ball in the air, Palmer’s heart sank.
“Harvie needed to hole his second shot to tie me,” Palmer told us in 2014 before the U.S. Open. “He left it about 3 inches from the hole. I didn’t think it had a chance, but he damn near made it.”
Palmer won the conference championship by a stroke. It’s his only documented Pinehurst win.
“It would’ve dismayed me quite a bit,” Palmer said of Ward’s shot. “It was a great shot that scared me to death, let’s just say that.”
Neither Wake Forest nor North Carolina won the Southern Conference team championship, though.
We at Pinehurst are saddened to hear of the passing of Simon Hobday. His grit and determination in winning the 1994 U.S. Senior Open was a performance that stands with the best in the history of Pinehurst and Pinehurst No. 2. We extend our sincerest condolences to the Hobday family.
Hobday’s victory at Pinehurst was a wonderful moment, and he topped a leaderboard that included the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Weiskopf, Lee Trevino and Raymond Floyd, all of whom finished among the top 13 in the championship.
Hobday, too, was one of golf’s greatest characters. The tributes on social media have been great fun to read today and allow us to remember a great champion at Pinehurst with a laugh and smile.