I might not be the smartest guy, but I’ve played enough golf to know when to expect a frost delay! Thursday was a clear and chilly night with temperatures bottoming out in the mid to high twenties. Normally if I am looking to play 36 holes in a day I will try to book an early morning tee time. Ideally this time of year, I’d like to start around 8am which should allow enough time to comfortably play another course. However, I didn’t want to book an early round, get to the course, and wait around for an hour. I decided that I’d book a 9:03am tee time which would give me plenty of time to call the course before riding over. A $29 deal on Golfnow helped with my tee time selection too!
It all went according to plan and I felt brilliant! I called over to the course and they told me that they would start letting people play at 9:30am. I had time to get some breakfast without feeling rushed and was the first golfer out ahead of a couple foursomes. It worked out perfectly as I was able to play in about 3 hours without being bothered by anyone. The bad news is that I doubt it got over 40 degrees and there was a little wind so it was a very cold morning for golf!
I had read mixed reviews about Little River. Some were really positive while others were negative so I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t about to pay the normal rate this time of year which is $70 and I’m sure glad that I didn’t! I had read that the course has been hurting financially and I can understand why. There have to be 20 or 30 courses in the area that aren’t related to the Pinehurst Resort so there is a lot of competition. I believe that a couple local courses have closed in the past years and with the over-saturation of courses, it can be hard to makes ends meet.
I’ll get to the design shortly, but there is no doubt that Little River has seen better days. Certain things about the course had me feeling like it was neglected. There were broken tree limbs strewn about, bridges with holes in the boards, and many pins didn’t fit properly into the cups. The course maintenance was also lacking. The conditions weren’t anything that would be found at a dog track but it seems that the current owners are trying to get away with bare bones maintenance. The greens were a bit chewed up with some small bare patches and lots of ball marks. They rolled fine but were on the slow side. The fairways were probably the nicest maintained part of the course and I always could make clean contact. The conditions were worth $29, but with so many other courses nearby I wouldn’t suggest that anyone go out of their way to play Little River at this time.
The good news is that if the course gets cleaned up around the edges it could be a great mid-tier course to play. Little River is a Dan Maples design and out of the few courses of his that I’ve played, it is my favorite. I played the blue tees which play 7018/74.2/140 and even though the course was long I thought that it was very fair. Thankfully, a couple of the tees were up which helped, but it is another course which could use a combo set of tees because the whites are ~6400 yards. The course is generous off the tee (which I like!) so there are plenty of opportunities to recover. The yardages are mixed up pretty good for a longer course and the par 3’s range from 134 to 206 yards while the par 4’s range from 334 to 464 yards. It certainly is the type of course where someone could use all 14 clubs by the end of the round.
Little River is laid out on a unique piece of property. The course has plenty of elevation change which isn’t too uncommon for the area, but it also has a group holes on the front that have a Myrtle Beach feel to them. These holes play through some wetlands and down by a creek before the back nine plays around some small, mountain lakes. Overall there is a nice mix of flat holes, ones with gentle rises, and a couple with elevation changes of about a club.
If someone has never been to the Pinehurst area then I wouldn’t put Little River very high on their list of courses to play (even if was in great shape). I don’t say that because of the layout which I personally like. I say that because of the setting and scenery. When I think of Pinehurst I think of pine trees on every hole and having to figure out how to play a shot from the pine straw! Little River is more typical of any Mid-Atlantic course as many of the holes are lined by hardwoods. It is going to be very scenic when the leaves are on the trees, but the setting is one that could be found off of many stops on I-95.
#1 (464 yard par 4):
The course opens with the longest par 4 on the course and the 3rd most difficult hole. It is pretty wide open on the drive and there is room left on the approach. However, it plays a bit uphill so it is going to take two good hits to get pin high in two. I like to see an easier hole to begin the round, but a bogey isn’t going to be a bad score here.
#2 (183/164 yard par 3):
This par 3 is unique because it has two greens! I played to the green on the right which is the shorter shot. That green is tiny and I had a tricky chip from short of it. If you play to that green make sure hit a laser and don’t go left.
#3 (531 yard par 5):
This is the shortest par 5 on the course and it is a good chance to maybe get one back after the tough 1st! There is some slope which can feed shots to the left so I’d favor the right side off the tee. From there a 3 wood or hybrid can run up near the green and there is plenty of room around it to play from. The green curls around a bunker which divides it into three sections. I had to chip over that bunker and it tested my nerves.
#4 (386 yard par 4):
This is the shortest par 4 on the front nine! That just goes to show the type of yardage that the front packs. Even though the length isn’t overwhelming there are a couple tricks that need to be overcome to avoid disaster. This par 4 goes almost 90 degrees left past that lone tree left of the fairway. What I didn’t realize when teeing off is that I wanted to be as far right and as far down the fairway as possible. That’s because there are more trees to the left which come into play. I hit a 240 yard layup in what I thought was a nice spot. You’ll see from my second shot that I had to avoid some lumber after a nice drive. I got lucky and kicked a field goal through the trees, but it could have been a lot of trouble especially with a hazard right of the green. If someone gets a clear line at the green then the pin can sit down a little bowl offering a chance to stick one close.
#5 (443 yard par 4):
This hole continues the run of long par 4’s on the front. The hole plays longer than the yardage because it is slightly uphill to the green. There are a couple fairway bunkers out there which I couldn’t reach but the drama starts on the approach. There is a small hazard short and left of the green which is where I ended up after two solid shots. I think someone should be able to run an approach up to the green on a long hole and not have to carry any trouble. It is 406 yards from the white tees so I could see the casual golfer struggling with that second just like I did.
#6 (560 yard par 5):
This is a brilliant par 5! The back tee box was closed when I played so it was played closer to 525 yards. There are options off the tee here which always makes it fun! The fairway narrows and angles so someone hitting a driver is going to have to hit a good one to avoid the trouble on both sides of the fairway. Hitting a driver allows a chance to get near the green in two. Actually hitting the green with a long club is going to be tough because it angles and is guarded by trouble but short and right will be fine. I decided to take the conservative route and hit a hybrid off the tee to play it as a three shot hole.
#7 (439 yard par 4):
This is another long par 4 and thankfully the tees were up because it was into the wind. The fairway is pretty generous but there is a creek to the left and bunkers to the right. There is some water short and to the right of the green which I don’t think should come into play much.
#8 (206 yard par 3):
This par 3 looks like one that would be found in Myrtle Beach! It has a wetlands feel to it with ponds and the creek in play. From here it looks like there is more room up near the green than there really is. Water is definitely in play to the left. The green angles to the right so a cut shot is the best play.
#9 (459 yard par 4):
I think this hole is a bit boring. The tees were up again here or I would have been trying to swing for the fences since it plays uphill. The fairway is large which is a good thing if it was playing nearly 460 yards uphill.
#10 (396 yard par 4):
This par 4 gets better as someone gets closer to the green. The fairway is wide so an accurate tee shot isn’t always needed. The second shot plays between or over a couple trees and a bunker short of the green. The hole has a rustic look to it which I think is nice.
#11 (581 yard par 5):
This long par 5 plays a bit downhill for the last half of the hole which makes it a bit easier. The tee shot and the layup need to avoid fairway bunkers and the layup is semi-blind. I played conservative on my layup since I’ve never played the hole before but I easily could have hit more club to get closer to the green. The greens falls off over the back so I wouldn’t challenge a back flag unless I had the perfect yardage.
#12 (336 yard par 4):
Position is important on this short par 4. I think a layup club off the tee is the way to go. I’d favor the left side of the fairway for the best angle into the green. That will leave a short iron into a green that probably could hold a mid iron so it is a chance to hit one close. The green has some bunkers short and a marshy area long but I think it looks tougher than it plays.
#13 (134 yard par 3):
This hole is one of my favorites from the entire trip! I think that every course should have a short par 3 like this one! It plays about a club downhill to a smaller green with a ridge that creates a shelf on the right side. There is a marsh right of the green so if someone wants to fire at the flag on the right then the distance and accuracy are going to have be perfect. If someone picks the right club then a left flag should be reasonably accessible as the ridge can be used to get it close.
#14 (334 yard par 4):
This is the shortest par 4 on the course and it is another good opportunity for a birdie. The fairway is gigantic but I’d favor the right side of it for the best angle into the green. Anything down the left might be partially blocked out by trees. The approach is uphill to a very severe green. The green slopes from left to right and I had putt that broke probably 4 or 5 feet from only 30 feet. A nicely controlled approach that ends up below the hole is the goal here.
#15 (392 yard par 4):
This hole starts a nice stretch of holes that play through the pines and around a lake. The fairway slopes a bit to the left and if someone misses right (like me!) then a cut shot from a hook lie awaits. The second shot is uphill to a green that has room around it to miss.
#16 (200 yard par 3):
This par 3 looked tough and I couldn’t commit to a line towards the center of the green because I was afraid of going left. The water is certainly in play and it is a tough shot to judge because of the angle over it. I wish that there was a big slope right to kick balls towards to the green or a chipping area to make the hole more playable for the average golfer. I wasn’t upset with my bogey.
#17 (563 yard par 5):
This is a fun par 5. It is downhill and if conditions are right then someone could run a 3 wood up near the green. The tough part about judging the layup is that it is blind. The fairway runs out on the layup around 115 yards into the green but it starts up again over a bunker. The green has a few spines in it which I couldn’t see when hitting my 3rd shot.
#18 (411 yard par 4):
The closing hole plays uphill and it was into the wind when I played. I had about 200 yards for my approach even after a decent drive. There is some room to miss left of the green but the green slopes hard from back to front so that might leave a sideways chip. It was a fair finish even though it played tough.