The Punishment

The Opening Hole at Cardinal G7
The Opening Hole at Cardinal G&CC, Greensboro, North Carolina (Photo: Scott MacLeod)

Our trek through North Carolina returned to the McConnell Golf Trail today in the Greensboro area.

The city is home to a couple of significant golf tournaments, one on the amateur scene and one for the pros, and they just happened to be played at clubs that are owned by John McConnell.

Following yesterday’s 37-hole trip around the Forest Creek Golf Club in Pinehurst, Flagstick Publisher Jeff Bauder and I were a little short on energy but knew we had to summon some strength to take on Pete Dye’s Cardinal Golf & Country Club and the Donald Ross gem, Sedgefield Golf & Country Club.

Cardinal is home to the Cardinal Amateur, an annual event that has been won by the likes of PGA Tour players Will McGirt, Steve Jones, and Tim Clark.  It’s no surprise that Clark would win on this layout, his ability to hit the ball extremely straight is a definite asset on the Cardinal course.

Fairways at Cardinal are far from generous and the start of the back nine includes an ego-destroying group of holes with a par three in the mix that Pete Dye calls the “hardest par three I have ever designed.”  Imagine the 17th at TPC Sawgrass 80 yards longer, with a smaller green, with water encroaching three sides of the putting surface.  Throw in a few massive par fours nearly 480 yards in length and consider that the full length of the course is 7002 with a par of just 70 and you get  a sense of what we faced.

Even with that level of difficulty there was much to be enjoyed at Cardinal.  With a park-like setting of mature trees surrounding each hole it is easy to forget that homes surround the smallish property.  This was one of Dye’s earliest designs (1975) and you can see features here that he brought to subsequent courses.

As beat down as we were by the many tunnel-like fairways we tasted at Cardinal we knew we had another test waiting for us at Sedgefield.  Built in 1926 and designed by Donald Ross, Sedgefield is the host to the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship.  Beyond Pinehurst #2, it is likely the burliest Ross design I have ever played and that was accentuated by a setup on the day that the Assistant Pro called the toughest they have to offer.  The many back hole locations added another 70 yards to the 7130-yard, par 71 layout.

Foolishly Jeff and I decided to tackle the back tees, despite the configuration staff felt was playing a full two strokes higher than the 75.1 rating.

Despite the difficulty of the situation, playing the back tees allowed us to fully appreciate the true genius of Ross’ design.  Each hole gave us options for lines of play while forcing us to play demanding recovery shots when we got offline.  In the end, we scored decently but had to work for every stroke.  There is not much more you can ask of a golf course.

It was a LONG day facing more than 14,000 yards of golf holes but when it consists of Cardinal and Sedgefield Golf & Country Clubs there are few things you can complain about.  And in McConnell tradition the staff at both course were welcoming, informative and proud to share details of their impressive clubs.

Tomorrow’s Road Trip Destination – Old North State Golf Club, New London, North Carolina.