PINEHURST, NORTH CAROLINA | In the late afternoon of another warm summer day in Pinehurst – the resort operators answer the phone by saying, “It’s a beautiful day in Pinehurst” for good reason – Bob Dedman Jr. has found a soft chair and a cool drink in the den of the Fownes Cottage where he stays when he’s in town.
It’s a casually elegant place, close enough to the village green to hear the chancel bells that ring on the hour and near enough to the golf courses at Pinehurst Resort to feel the game as it quietly pulses like a heartbeat through everyday life here.
Bob Dedman and his family own Pinehurst Resort. It sounds almost brash when it’s put in those terms, someone holding the deed to what can fairly be called the home of American golf.
Dedman is many things – smart, influential and bold – but he’s not brash. In fact, he fits Pinehurst almost perfectly, appreciating the legacy that began more than a century ago while believing the resort’s best days are still to come. Dedman’s touch is like that of a good cashmere sweater and Pinehurst itself, soft but with an unmistakable depth of quality.
He and his team are guided by a simple mantra: Always Pinehurst but always better.
Asked what it’s like to look around at Pinehurst No. 2, the wildly popular and newly redesigned No. 4, the other seven golf courses plus the picture-perfect Carolina Hotel, the charming Holly Inn, the refurbished Manor Inn and a brewery with lines snaking out the door and Dedman just laughs.
Go beyond the business decisions and weighing what’s next for a place that doesn’t want to lose touch with its past, and Dedman talks about Pinehurst with a reverence that reveals the difference between a possession and a passion.
“It’s not manufactured. It’s real here. It’s truly authentic,” Dedman says, sitting in a high-backed chair the color of old corn stalks. “Literally every great golfer over the last century has been here and played, walked the same fairways, played the same shots as Donald Ross back then.
“There’s something here. It’s not just No. 2. It’s more than that. It’s the village. You’re in this ideal setting. It’s the Carolina blue skies. It’s church bells in the background and you can hear the birds. There is something truly unique and special about this place.”
Dedman is one of the reasons why.
He’s not the only one. James Walker Tufts, who originally saw Pinehurst as a health sanitarium then a peach farm before golf arrived, got this started in 1895 and it stayed in his family through 1970.
After an unfortunate run with misguided ownership, Dedman’s father, Bob Sr., purchased Pinehurst and made it part of ClubCorp’s sprawling portfolio in 1984. Gradually and with the help of Don Padgett, Pat Corso and others, he began recapturing what had been lost. It required more than a fresh coat of paint.
Bob Sr. was a force of nature, similar to Arnold Palmer in the way he could take over a room when he arrived. He so loved Pinehurst that when he died in 2002, he was buried in a Pinehurst U.S. Open blazer.
“He was a tough act to follow,” says Don Padgett II, who followed his father and worked as president and chief operating officer of Pinehurst Resort before retiring in 2014.
That duty and responsibility ultimately fell to Bob Jr., who remembers his father asking him as a 5-year-old what he wanted to do when he grew up.
“I said I want to have a chair with wheels on it like yours because he used to take me to the office on weekends and I was impressed,” the younger Dedman says.
Bob Sr. founded ClubCorp in 1957, the same year Bob Jr. was born. At its peak, the Dallas-based company owned more than 220 golf properties with more than 19,000 employees and more than $1 billion in annual revenue. The organization’s 1984 Pinehurst purchase came about the time Bob Jr. left to oversee mergers and acquisitions at Salomon Brothers in New York.
He returned to ClubCorp in 1987 and soon became president and COO. It was Dedman, along with his mother, Nancy, and sister, Patty, who made the difficult decision to sell ClubCorp in 2006 with the caveat they would keep Pinehurst.
Dedman, who still lives in Dallas with his wife and two children, is chairman of the board of trustees at Southern Methodist University and active at Trinity Forest Golf Club there. But he’s a regular visitor to Pinehurst and though he doesn’t play as often as he’d like, Dedman loves the camaraderie the game can create, part of what made Pinehurst important to him and his family.
“When you’re in a family-owned business, selling the business is like selling off a part of your family,” Dedman says. “It’s a very difficult thing to do from a psychological standpoint and an emotional standpoint.
“We had discussions with our board. I would have liked to have kept more assets but it was like, ‘No, you can only keep one,’ so we chose the crown jewel.”
In a sense, Dedman said, his family bought Pinehurst twice, once in 1984 and again in 2006, though the price tag was significantly higher the second time.
Two years later, the great recession struck and Pinehurst’s revenue declined by approximately 30 percent. “Pretty bleak” is how Dedman describes the downturn.
Over the years, much of what Donald Ross had designed with care, patience and time had been lost, covered over by acres of Bermuda grass rough.
Eventually, though, the clouds parted and Pinehurst was renewed. It had already hosted two hugely successful U.S. Opens in 1999 and 2005 and had the first U.S. Open/U.S. Women’s Open doubleheader booked in 2014 when Dedman made a decision that reshaped golf at the resort.
He decided to restore Pinehurst No. 2, long considered one of the classic designs in the game, to its original sandy state.
“It wasn’t obvious to everybody that that was the thing to do,” Dedman says.
Through the years, much of what Donald Ross had designed with care, patience and time had been lost, covered over by acres of Bermuda grass rough.
It looked like seemingly every other U.S. Open course, disappointing many who remembered the way it was. Padgett remembers Lanny Wadkins tearing into him about what had been lost at No. 2 and designer Tom Doak writing a blog post arguing that what had made No. 2 special had gone missing.
Mike Davis, now the CEO of the USGA, broached the idea of stripping the rough off No. 2 and putting the course back in its more natural state. Dedman, Padgett and others worried it wouldn’t present a U.S. Open-worthy challenge and almost forgot about the idea.
Davis persisted, telling the Pinehurst group that the USGA would be OK with scores being lower if it could recapture what No. 2 was intended to be. That’s when Bill Coore, along with his partner Ben Crenshaw, warmed to the idea of stripping away the rough and leaving scruffy, sandy areas off the fairways.
It was a transformational decision but it didn’t come easily.
“I continue to think the restoration of No. 2 was one of the bolder moves I’ve seen done in golf, much less in Pinehurst. That moved started all the others,” Pinehurst president Tom Pashley says. “Padge thought doing nothing was the risk. I’m not sure I felt that way at the time.”
Dedman signed off on the decision, trusting it was the right thing to do. The work Coore and Crenshaw did exceeded expectations, restoring No. 2’s distinctive brilliance.
“As I told Padge, this will either be the smartest thing we’ve ever done or the dumbest thing we’ve ever done,” Dedman says.
“In hindsight, it’s been seven years since it started, it was the right thing to do, not only for us but for the game of golf and going back to a more natural state. It’s going back to authentic roots. It’s at our core.”
It was also a decision that defined Bob Jr. as more than his father’s son.
“I’m not sure Bob Sr. would have ever pulled the trigger on No. 2,” Padgett says. “He might have said, ‘We’ve had the Opens, we’re successful, I don’t see a reason to do that.’
“Bob Jr. said, ‘We can be better and we need to take this on.’ ”
The same message and mission has taken Pinehurst Resort to where it is today, hosting the U.S. Amateur this week with another U.S. Open booked for 2024. Beyond that, the resort is thriving, in the midst of one of the most successful years in its history.
The re-creation of course No. 4 by Gil Hanse has been a spectacular success, underscored by the USGA’s unprecedented decision to split the U.S. Amateur’s 36-hole final between No. 4 and No. 2, an enormous compliment to a course that’s been open less than a year.
No. 4 complements No. 2 without trying to replicate it. What Hanse did in taking the land back to its original rugged state before rebuilding the course has been so popular that requests to play it currently exceed those to play No. 2.
“You have to pick good partners and let them do what they do,” Dedman says. “We don’t overmanage them. They are the experts.”
Under Dedman’s leadership and through the guidance of Pashley and others, Pinehurst has evolved without losing what made it special in the first place. Dedman wants Pinehurst to be a leader in the game, embracing changes that enhance the experience, whether it’s building the Cradle, an enthralling short course on 10 acres adjacent to the clubhouse, or turning an abandoned steam plant into a brewery.
What would seem to be a simple decision – creating a new pub overlooking the 18th green on No. 2 – exemplified Dedman’s willingness to look outside the long-established lines.
For years, lunch was served in the Donald Ross Grill, a spacious mini-ballroom in the middle of the resort clubhouse. What was missing was a warm place to have a beer after golf. Pashley and others saw what is now called The Deuce as that place to grab a post-round drink. Dedman saw more than that.
“As we got deeper into it Bob said why do we have to serve lunch (in the Donald Ross grill)? Let’s make this bigger,” Pashley says.
“To us, not serving lunch in the Donald Ross Grill was mind blowing. To be here as long as many of us have, it’s easy to get stuck in our way of thinking.”
The same goes for the Pinehurst Brewery, walking distance from the Carolina Hotel. The old steam plant had been essentially abandoned for years, covered in kudzu and used by the resort as a place to put things it didn’t need any longer. While discussing the idea of opening a brewery with another group, Dedman asked to see the old building.
He stepped around what was stored inside, saw the exposed beams on the ceiling and the brick walls and asked why Pinehurst couldn’t create its own brewery there.
“It was part of our history and we found a way to weave it back into the mix with a modern purpose,” Pashley says.
Now, the Brewery and the Deuce are part of the Pinehurst experience like playing the Cradle, which offers unlimited play for $50 a day, and the sprawling Thistle Dhu putting course, both of which were created by Hanse, who counts them among some of his favorite work.
If some of it is reminiscent of features that have helped define Bandon Dunes and other destinations, that’s because Dedman appreciates what others have done.
“(Gil) said I want people to walk out here and see golf heaven on earth. That’s what it feels like,” Dedman says.
Stand on the porch in the afternoon overlooking the Cradle and Thistle Dhu and the game comes alive. There’s music playing softly over the short course, where the specially designed Pinecone beverage cart dishes out creative concoctions and the sound of laughter floats on the breeze.
“They say bad artists copy, great artists steal,” Dedman says. “I think we all learn from what other good people are doing.
“We have an incredible respect for what (Bandon Dunes developer) Mike Keiser has done. What they don’t have that we do is the history. Bobby Jones never played out there. He played here. Ben Hogan won his first professional golf tournament here. That you can’t replicate.”
In the quiet of the Fownes Cottage, where a television is tuned to the Golf Channel, Dedman talks about the responsibility of maintaining Pinehurst’s place in the game and the delicate act of balancing the past with the present and the future.
He’s proud that taking the rough away from No. 2 reduced water usage on the course by 70 percent and renovations to the Holly Inn and the Manor Inn have created multiple options for visitors.
Dedman talks about the most valuable lesson he learned from his father – creating win-win situations in business and life, otherwise one side will want out of the relationship – and the value of employees who have worked at Pinehurst for 50 years or longer. He wants it to be a place not just about golf but about the people who work there and those who visit.
“It’s an intangible but it’s tangible. You feel it. You can touch it,” Dedman says. “A lot of people talk about the spirit of Pinehurst. I really believe it’s part of the soul of American golf.
“This has been a nurturing place for the game of golf and we want to continue that for the future. It’s not manufactured. It’s real here.”
Not far from where Dedman sits, the game that separates Pinehurst goes on.
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