Top 100 Golf
By Lee Pace
As a piece of art, the Dormie Club near Pinehurst was a purist’s success from the moment it opened in 2010. The golf course was created 6 miles northwest of the village by the esteemed design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and laid quietly on rolling terrain, skirting three ponds and winding through pine forests and hardwoods.
“By no means did we envision a copy of Pinehurst No. 2,” says Coore, who with his partner authored a significant restoration of that famous course in 2010-11. A native of Davidson County, Coore lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. “But we wanted to take some of the principles we felt applied to No. 2 and other courses Donald Ross had done in the Sandhills and say, ‘This is our interpretation of what golf in the Sandhills might look and feel like.’”
As a business, though, the club was doomed out of the gate.
Conceived in 2007 as an elite enclave of national scope with a total golf focus — no pools, tennis courts or wedding planners — the neophyte club was wracked by the financial crisis of 2007-09. It endured a construction stoppage and never generated any momentum toward its original vision in the recession’s aftermath. Still, most golfers who have played the course applaud it: It is ranked No. 3 among the best courses open to the public in North Carolina by both Golf Magazine and Golfweek and the 12th best in North Carolina by Golf Digest. It is ranked 49th in Business North Carolina’s Top 100 courses, which includes private clubs.
“The fact that the course never closed during some tough times says volumes about how good it is,” says Mike Phillips, the club’s membership director from 2009-13. “The site is hard to match in terms of peace and tranquility. But the operations and service certainly left much to be desired.”
In January, the Peed family of Lincoln, Neb., acquired the course from MKH Ventures Inc. for $7 million as part of a plan to assemble a network of elite courses. Tom and Rhonda Peed started a publishing business in 1978 with a single magazine in Webster City, Iowa. Sandhills Publishing Co. now produces more than a dozen trade journals and related websites for the heavy machinery and agricultural sectors. The Peeds’ three sons work for their businesses, including Zach, who played collegiately at Nebraska Wesleyan University and now runs the family’s golf business.
MKH Ventures created the club when it purchased a 1,028-acre parcel in late 2007 for $15 million and spent approximately $10 million on the golf course. The name stands for partners Rusty Mackey, Walter Krumm and Bob Hansen, the latter a Pinehurst resident who was most involved with the club’s day-to-day operations. When developing the course a decade ago, Hansen said it targeted “purist” golfers who would respect the rough-hewn, minimalist style of Coore and Crenshaw and prefer to walk instead of riding in a cart. He drew a parallel to the word “dormie,” a golf term from match play that means a golfer cannot lose.
“That’s the stage in life our members will have reached,” he said at the time. “They can relax. They can’t lose.”
Those members never showed up, however, as the Great Recession hit full force in the fall of 2008 and the golf industry retrenched with a vengeance. None of the planned real estate around the Dormie course was ever developed or sold, and the club opened for public play to help cash flow. In recent times, no golf professional has been in charge, just a clerk to run the cash register.
The new owners are honoring tee times and outings already scheduled, but eventually the club will be strictly private, per the original vision. Local, national and corporate memberships will be available, with access to each club in the Peeds’ Dormie One network, which as of February included Briggs Ranch in San Antonio, Ballyhack in Roanoke, Va., and Arbor Links in Nebraska City, Neb. More courses are likely to be added.
Plans for a clubhouse and 15 four-bedroom villas are in the works. Phillips, who has returned to Dormie as membership director and land sales broker, says the owners hope to break ground by summer, with plans for no more than 60 to 70 golfers a day. There is also an effort to develop up to 200 homesites by 2020.
Coore visited the club earlier this year and completed a punch-list of items for the club maintenance staff, things mostly a result of tree and underbrush growth over the eight years since the course opened.
“With Bill and Ben, it’s never a ‘fight’ to lay a golf course out,” Zach Peed says. “They take the land and find something that no one else could see. They spend time on a site, walk it and live it. They remove some trees and plant some grass, and you’re left with a golf course that isn’t forced — it wasn’t a struggle or a grind to design.”