“Pinehurst, N.C., is the golf capital of America,” said Dan Maples, the golf architect who designed the new putting green. “Go anywhere in the world and mention Pinehurst and people know about our village and the story of golf in America.”
The three towns around Pinehurst are home to more than 40 golf courses within a 20-minute drive, an astounding density for a population of just 90,000 people. Major championship sites Pinehurst No. 2 and Pine Needles are among the region’s courses. Eight Donald Ross courses are in the area. The airport, which uses the designator SOP, already features a large sign which faces the runway and states, “The Aviation Gateway to the Home of American Golf.”
The low-maintenance putting green replaces a weed-filled traffic circle in front of the main terminal building. A bulldozer carved three small hillocks into the previously flat lawn. Twelve inches of loose rock was poured, shaped and rolled as the base for the green followed by 4 to 6 inches of fine draining gravel. Approximately 10 tons of sand was worked by hand into the surface. Stone walls emulate the steep-sided “pot bunkers” of Scotland while shrubbery, evoking Scottish gorse, was planted with the help of students from the local high school. Overall, the design is intended as homage to the traditions of golf, Old Tom Morris and Donald Ross.
“It’s not quite finished, but it already looks spectacular,” said Ron Maness, acting airport manager. “It’s going to be a great, friendly reminder that our visitors have arrived at the ‘Home of American Golf.’” Putter and golf balls will be available for visitors to borrow.
No airport in the U.S. has a large, outdoor putting green. The Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport has a putting green for passengers who have cleared security. The West Palm Beach, Fla., airport and the Wilmington, N.C., airport offer visitors small, inside putting greens. The only known outdoor putting green was at the Palm Springs International Airport in California, but the space was redeveloped some years ago.
The putting green was entirely funded with private donations; no tax money was involved. The largest donation is from the Dormie Network in Pinehurst, which is currently comprised of four private/semi-private executive-style golf courses around the U.S.
Dormie Club’s Zach Peed explained that many of the club’s visitors arrive by air into Moore County Airport, where the putting green will be a pleasant surprise. “Dormie Network is a national collection of destination golf clubs supporting corporate entertainment, buddy trips and genuine hospitality,” he said. “It makes sense to our members that we greet them with a golfing theme as they step off their planes.”
Aviation and golf both have long and parallel histories in North Carolina. Bostonian James Tufts contributed to inventing the modern golf industry in America when he bought 5,800 acres in Pinehurst and laid out the first course in 1897/98. The soon-to-be famous Donald Ross, who served an apprenticeship with Old Tom Morris in St Andrews, arrived as the golf professional at Pinehurst in 1900. Dan Maples’ grandfather, Frank Maples, worked with Donald Ross as his construction superintendent on the famous courses at Pinehurst, Mid Pines, Pine Needles, Southern Pines and Roaring Gap.
While Ross was digging bunkers at Pinehurst, 250 miles to the east another revolution began. In 1903 the Wright Brothers made their historic, heavier-than-air flight at Kill Devil Hills on the Outer Banks. This event is featured on North Carolina license plates. Today, general aviation supports about $4 billion in economic output in North Carolina, including an estimated 23,000 high-paying jobs.
Moore County Airport, which is labeled “Pinehurst” on certain aviation charts, was built in 1929. It served as an Army training airfield during World War II. Numerous celebrities have flown into the airport, including Amelia Earhart. Peggy Kirk Bell, one of the pioneers of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, flew from the airport and was the first professional golfer of either gender to pilot a plane to tournaments.
Barry Lerman, member of the Airport Authority, is pleased with this enhancement to the airport. “Golf is the heart of the Pinehurst experience. For many prestigious visitors, this airport is their entrance into our world of golf,” he said. “To feature golf at our airport is living proof the airport is intimately linked to our golf heritage we all enjoy here.”
The airport offers a 6,500-foot runway, ramp space for more than 50 airplanes and state-of-the-art instrument approaches and lighting. There are about 90 hangars, about 100 airplanes, aircraft maintenance services, a flight school and a dozen aviation-related businesses. There are about 6,000 operations from the airport annually, including visiting aircraft from near-by Fort Bragg. The State of North Carolina estimates Moore County Airport adds about $30 million annually into the economy of the Sandhills.
Looking to the future, the airport has an eye on even more improvements. A large portion of the ramp will be replaced before the Women’s U.S. Open returns to Pine Needles in 2022 because the old ramp cannot support the weight of modern corporate jets. The main runway will be repaved before the men’s open returns to Pinehurst No. 2 in 2024. Other upgrades and expansions also are planned.