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June 2021

A Night or Two of History Is A Revenue Driver For Pinehurst Resort

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By: Steve Eubanks

People will pay for history. That’s always been the case. Whether it’s art, antiques, or rare old manuscripts, the market for a piece of the past has remained constant through war, peace, pestilence and prosperity. But only recently has that market expanded to include historical experiences.

Recent generations have moved away from material acquisition and replaced “things” with “moments.” Ask a millennial or Gen Z’er to choose between a big home with a four-car garage and taking a year off to sail around the globe, and you’ll get looked at like you have two heads. There’s no choice. Sailing wins hands down. Big houses and fast cars repulse today’s 35-and-under crowd now. Those things are seen as ostentatious and boorish. But taking a group of friends to Kathmandu for a month of hiking in the Himalayas is not only cool, it elevates your social status.

Historical experiences are a big part of that mix. Spending a night in a drafty old Scottish castle was once what you did if you were trying to visit the country on a beggar’s budget. Now, it’s the hippest thing you can do.

Golf, which has always been about history and tradition, is late to the experiential party. But some in the game are catching on.

In most cases, the discoveries are made by accident. At East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, for example, the family who did a title search and found out that they owned the old boarding house where Bobby Jones grew up did not expect random knocks on their door. But once caddies at East Lake began pointing out the wood-framed house across Alston Drive from the second green, the guests started coming.

The same thing has happened at the house off the sixth fairway at Pasatiempo in Northern California, a century-old dwelling where Dr. Alister Mackenzie lived from 1928 until his death in 1934.

Looking around, getting a few pictures, and experiencing the history of those places has become a popular thing.   

One resort recognized that demand and capitalized on it. Not too many years ago, Pinehurst resort bought a two-story brick home adjacent to the third green at its famed No.2 course. The place needed some work. It wasn’t awe-inspiring by any means. But for fans of the game, it was Shangri-La because it was the home of famed architect Donald Ross.

Called Dornoch Cottage, Ross designed the home himself and lived in it from 1925 until he passed away in 1948. It has four bedrooms, a kitchen and an office, nothing out of the ordinary for a home of that size or period. 

But it’s the only one that size in the area that rents out for parties of 10 to 50 guests at $1,000 an hour before food and beverage. Spending the night there is an even more expensive proposition. And there’s a waiting list.

The place is filled with Ross memorabilia, although much of it was brought over from the resort or purchased from collectors. After going through a couple of owners, not much of Ross’s stuff was left in the closets or on the walls. But you’d never know it from looking at the place now. Photos of the man walking the centerlines of his construction sites, a bowler hat perched on an antique case, and some course layout plans on a desk in Ross’s old office are just a few of the features that attract people from around the world. 

For golf nuts, it’s somewhere between Mount Vernon and John Lennon’s apartment at the St. Regis Hotel.

“There is no doubt in my mind that living in Dornoch Cottage was one of the most meaningful experiences ever extended to Tracey and me during my career,” said Gil Hanse, one of the game’s great architects of today. “To wake up every morning in Ross’s house, look out the window at arguably his greatest creation, and sit in his office and work on plans of our own in the same space where he visualized some of the greatest holes on the planet still gives me chills.
 
“It also crossed my mind that all the mundane things we take for granted — like making coffee, taking out the trash, reading a book were also done by him, here. We lived in his house, and while all the thoughts about great course ideas he created under this roof and how many amazing golf holes were dreamed up — it was the notion that we experienced his house just like he did.

“That might be the most meaningful part of it.”
 
Not every club has Donald Ross’s house to rent. But a lot of courses sit on or near a piece of history. And that history, in today’s world, has experiential value that can be sold for a price.    

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