Golf Course Review - Forest Creek Golf Club (North)

FACTS & STATS: Course Architect: Tom Fazio (2005). Year Opened: 2005. Location: Pinehurst, North Carolina. Slope: 144. Rating: 74.7. Par: 72. Yardage: 7,209.

Hole-by-Hole:

1 - Par 4 381 Yds 10 - Par 5 556 Yds

2 - Par 3 209 Yds 11 - Par 4 442 Yds

3 - Par 5 560 Yds 12 - Par 4 406 Yds

4 - Par 3 168 Yds 13 - Par 4 396 Yds

5 - Par 4 429 Yds 14 - Par 3 215 Yds

6 - Par 4 382 Yds 15 - Par 4 432 Yds

7 - Par 4 455 Yds 16 - Par 3 212 Yds

8 - Par 4 469 Yds 17 - Par 4 426 Yds

9 - Par 5 548 Yds 18 - Par 5 518 Yds

Par 36 3,606 Yds Par 36 3,603 Yds

Awards Won: No. 10 in North Carolina - Best in State - Golf Digest (2009-10), Ranked 19th - Best Residential Course - by Golfweek (2009), No. 98 - Best Modern Courses - by Golfweek (2010), No. 36 - Best Residential Golf Course in America - Golfweek (2012).

Website: www.forestcreekgolfclub.com

HISTORY: "All I had to do was cut down some trees and throw out some grass seed and the rest was here."

That statement alone by famed course architect Tom Fazio during construction of the courses at Forest Creek tells the true story of this magnificent piece of property.

We digress, however, to the beginning.

Located in the pristine region of the North Carolina Sandhills, Forest Creek Golf Club was the original vision of the C. Louis Meyer family, which owned the property. Terry Brown and his family inherited the 1,265 acres in the 1980s and made that dream a reality.

"Our family decided we wanted to do something very special with it and in 1996 we opened the South Course and in that year it was named the third-best new private course by Golf Digest," Brown said.

Always planned to be a 36-hole residential community, Fazio was again brought in to craft the North Course.

Many times when a second venue is built in the same community, it is overshadowed by its predecessor. This is certainly not the case with the North.

Opened in 2005, the North Course takes a backseat in the region only to famed No. 2 at Pinehurst Resort. Nominated as the best new private course in the country by Golf Digest when its doors opened, the North has a look and feel similar to the greatest course in the world, Pine Valley, and is one of only four venues since 2005 that are ranked in Golfweek's top 100 Modern Courses.

"The north course here at Forest Creek is a lot like Pine Valley," director of marketing Chuck Cordell said. "We do not mix the sand. We use the indigenous sand and that is the way Fazio wanted to play it. All the bunkers play as waste bunkers. We left the indigenous grasses, straw grass and love grass, giving it a much more rustic feel."

How good are these courses?

Forest Creek is the only golf course community in America with two layouts ranked among Golfweek's Top 50 Best Residential Golf Courses for 2012.

"We are proud of the fact that Forest Creek has always set the standard for golf course communities," club president Brown said. "Our residents and members are blessed with two golf experiences that we have always considered among the best in the world, and the rankings have consistently supported our belief."

Winding through the ever-growing pines, the North Course is a wonderful contrast to the South's Parkland style and the changes in elevation, you have to see it to believe it.

"We have more elevation change than anyone in the area, over 100 feet on the whole property," Cordell added.

Although homesites border each and every hole, you never feel encroached upon and that you're looking into someone's bedroom.

In addition, the only time you'll see another hole is during the back nine stretch from 15 through 17, where the trio play around a lake.

The membership continues to grow at Forest Creek and not because former Tar Heel and NBA superstar Michael Jordan is a member. "What makes Forest Creek very distinctive is the fact that it's in Pinehurst and there is a commitment for a private residential and golf development by 'golf people,'" Fazio said.

Originally slated to host the 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, the member- controlled club decided to hold off on hosting the event due to the potential impact on the club during championship preparations.

The USGA visits 15 outstanding courses each year, many of which have hosted numerous championships over the years and to be selected as a host venue speaks volumes for that site.

I'm sure in the coming seasons Forest Creek will once again entertain the thought of hosting a national championship event.

HOLE-BY-HOLE REVIEW: The opening hole on the North Course is a perfect starter, not too hard and not too easy. Bending from right to left, the first is a modest, slightly downhill par-4 of 381 yards. Aim at the right fairway bunkers and play a draw to the fairly wide landing area. This will set up a short iron to a well-protected and very long putting surface. Miss short and you'll be swallowed up by a deep bunker that covers the entire green. Long and you'll find sand or worse, a deep embankment that runs down to the woods. This hole can be had, but don't fool with a back-left pin or you're asking for trouble.

The second hole is one of my front nine favorites, a beautiful, downhill par-3 that can be stretched to 209 yards from the tips. Carved into the tall pines, this one-shotter requires key club selection, as sand guards the left and right front portions of the green. The putting surface is angled from left to right and is quite long, so choose the right stick or you'll pay the price.

Your first hurdle comes in the shape of the longest hole on the course, the par-5 third. A dogleg right, the third gives the first real look at the Pine Valley feel of the course, as your tee shot must clear the sandy waste area down the right. Play too safe and bunkers down the left will catch your errant shot. The key, however, to conquering this hole is the second shot, which now must favor the right side, as another sand-filled expanse guards the left. A long iron or fairway metal should set up and short pitch to another well- protected green. Birdies can be made, but stay below the hole for your best chance. It's not rated the third-most difficult hole on the course for nothing.

Another spectacular par-3 awaits on the fourth. At 168 yards, it's the shortest hole on the course, but it's not without difficulty. Another angled green from right to left, this time protected by sand on the left portion of the putting surface. The green itself features a ridge in the center, so, again, club selection is of utmost importance.

The first of seven par-4s over 400 yards, the fifth plays downhill from the tee, with sand left and right of the landing area. As with most holes at Forest Creek, tall stands of pines guard each side of the fairway, but this corridor is quite generous. A medium iron should cover the distance to very large putting surface with sand right and drop offs deep and left.

Although the sixth is just 387 yards, it plays uphill off the tee and doglegs to the right. Your approach to the green will be slightly downhill, but you'll have to negotiate the fronting trap. In addition, the green is raised, so falloffs front and right certainly come into play. The putting surface is fairly benign, your only saving grace.

The meat of the course will hit you hard on the seventh, as four of the most difficult holes await. The play is uphill and to the right off the tee and then downhill toward the putting surface. It certainly doesn't play as long as the yardage indicates, but if you miss your tee ball, you'll have a lengthy approach. The green is not as large as some of the other holes, but it has plenty of undulation. By the way, avoid the bunker right of the green, it sits well below the putting surface.

Not only is the eighth hole the longest par-4 on the North, it's also rated as the most difficult. A robust 469 yards from the championship tees, this hole doglegs to the right, with sand protecting the corner. If you can, try to cut the dogleg to set up a shorter approach. Sand protects the left side of this very long putting surface, with chipping areas long and right. A back flag will need an extra club, otherwise you'll bring a three-putt into the mix.

The closing hole on the front side is a roller-coaster par-5 reaching 548 yards in length. Firm and fast fairway can lead the bigger hitter into going for it in two, but for the average player, this is a three-shotter. Sand left off the tee is a no-no, so try and filter your shot down the right. Your layup should be played down the right, as trees encroach on the left, not to mention an enormous greenside trap. This also will open up the green to a simple pitch to the flag. The putting surface slopes hard from right to left, so play accordingly.

If you thought the ninth was a difficult par-5, then the 10th will certainly get your attention. At 556 yards from the championship tees, this is no picnic, as it's rated the second-most difficult hole on the course. The tee shot should be fairly routine with an accommodating fairway, but it's the approach that will get your attention. Bunkers guarding both sides of the landing area pinch the target, so either play short of that mark or try to sling your approach short of the green. Risky, but the reward could be birdie. The putting surface is diabolical with several slopes and plenty of sand protecting the right and mounds to the left. Your approach to a front flag must be spot on, or the result might end up back in the fairway.

A slight reprieve when you reach the 11th, despite its 442 yards of length. Playing straightaway, this hole features a wide fairway. Miss right, however, and trees will be the end result. A medium-to-long iron will remain to a very wide and fairly deep green; however, sand on the left sits well below the putting surface. Shots short or right of the green will be repelled back and to the right. Outside chance at birdie if you stay below the hole.

Don't let the yardage on the 12th fool you. At 406 yards, you'd figure this hole would be a pushover - not! Bending slightly to the left off the tee, this par-4 plays directly uphill to the green, featuring some of the biggest elevation on the course. Trees guard the entire left side and a massive fairway bunker stands watch on the right. Take an extra stick (or two) to reach the elevated putting surface, otherwise you'll certainly find a sandy grave, as several deep bunkers protect the left side, sitting well below the green. Visually wonderful, scorecard-wise, a round breaker.

If you haven't had that Pine Valley feeling by now, the 13th will certainly get you in the mood. Waste area down the left gives the sense of the New Jersey Pine Barrens as you stand on the tee. Bending from right to left, a sweeping draw is the play, as this hole drops dramatically from the fairway to the green. Most players will be able to funnel their tee shot down the hill, leaving a simple pitch shot. The real trick will be negotiating the green with its different levels. A pot bunker fronting the green is a nightmare, not to mention the trap on the right. With a short iron, however, you should be able to give yourself a real shot at birdie.

The first par-3 on the backside is the 215-yard 14th. Playing slightly downhill, a long iron will be required to negotiate over the massive array of sand fronting the fairly long putting surface. A nice high draw would be appropriate here, especially with a back-left pin placement. Although it's rated pretty easy, trust me, it's not.

The closing stretch of four holes is as good as it gets in the Pinehurst region, starting with the eye-popping 15th. From the back markers, it's 432 yards, slightly downhill and over a lake. Hopefully, the wind will be at your back, otherwise, choose a different tee box. The water wraps around the entire right side, while several bunkers populate the left of the landing area. A short-to-mid iron should remain to a green fronted by a pot bunker. Miss long and you'll be left with an almost impossible up and down from an area well below the putting surface. The green is wide, but shallow, so choose the right club to approach.

Another par-3 over 200 yards, the 16th is visually quite appealing. Tall framing pines in the rear, massive bunkers left and right guarding the entrance to the green and a putting surface that's very accessible. The key is club selection, as the wind can play tricks from the tee. This green is very wide, with many pin positions. Hey, if I can make birdie, so can you. The view from behind the green is spectacular. Obviously, my favorite hole.

Not to be outdone by beauty, the 17th does not take a backseat to any hole at Forest Creek, as it plays over the corner of the lake, swinging from left to right. Try and cut the corner of the dogleg and either sand or water will make your round a living ... you get the point. Usually into the wind and stretching to 426 yards, this hole cannot be taken lightly. Your approach to the green reminds me of the 16th at Hazeltine, with water virtually surrounding the putting surface, as it juts out into the lake. What a hole!

The final hole on the North Course is a solid, dogleg right par-5. Trees and sandy scrub guard the right side from the elevated tee, so play down the left for your best angle to the green, although that brings a massive fairway bunker into play. Reachable, yes, at just 518 yards, but with an elevated putting surface, you'll need some extra punch to get home. If you lay back (the smart thing to do), you'll have just need a wedge to the green. Another difficult hole, but a real birdie chance.

FINAL WORD: When golfers around the country debate about the best courses in the United States and more specifically in the Sandhills region, Pinehurst Resort's No. 2 is always at the top of the list, and rightfully so.

The problem here is that most people fail to get the opportunity to experience some of the other, more sensational courses around America due to their private status.

This is definitely the case with Forest Creek Golf Club.

Although widely known amongst the golfing inner circle, Forest Creek with its exclusive distinction has been a difficult ticket, but is certainly worth the price of admission.

After entering through the gated community, the ride to the clubhouse meanders through beautiful homes and vegetation, with glimpses of the South Course. But when you make that turn down Forest Creek Drive, that's when you get a full perspective of what's in store.

I've said it before, but nothing beats Southern hospitality and Forest Creek is all that. But it's the golf that is the main attraction.

The story goes that following a round of golf on a Wednesday at Forest Creek, Michael Jordan returned two days later for more golf and then later that evening, purchased a large parcel of land along one of the fairways so he could be a member. That's how good Forest Creek is. In fact, to this day, Jordan has not built on the property, but is enjoying his time at the club.

The golf courses are as pristine as any in the area.

"The two distinctive, different styled golf courses are exquisitely maintained," Fazio said. That certainly adds to the allure.

Beauty aside, the challenge of the North Course is all anyone could handle, but fair for all levels.

Five sets of tees are available, from the championship markers (pine cones), where the course reaches over 7,200 yards to the short tees at just under 5,000 yards. The north will play quite difficult from the back tees, as evident of the 74.7 rating, not far off from Pine Valley's (75.2).

In addition, the wide variety of holes will keep you guessing. From doglegs right and left, the ever-present lake that guards the 15th and 17th holes and the amazing elevation changes, the golfer that gets the chance to play this course will be quite taxed.

"The North has a lot of elevation changes and that was one of the main characteristics that Tom Fazio enjoyed when he built the golf course," Cordell said. "He enjoyed it so much because of the natural terrain and he didn't have to move much dirt."

Cordell added, "He was given cart blanche to build the course. There were no pre-conceived ideas or dictating by the developers."

Anytime an architect is allowed to play, so to speak, the results are usually amazing.

"At Forest Creek," Fazio continued, "we really worked hard to create a distinctive style and two separate golf courses that look like they came from two different states."

"It was so nice working with Tom," Cordell said. "He was always so excited about the land and the lay of the land. That's one of the great things about the property and the topography, the way the land rolls. We have had such a great time watching the courses develop and being with Tom and the building of the golf courses."

So, the next time you're in the Pinehurst area, make a phone call or two and after you play No. 2, make your way over to Forest Creek for a real, amazing treat.

Aces, pars or bogeys, send your thoughts to psokol@sportsnetwork.com.