The Land of Sunshine

04 Dec 2019

Home of American golf

By Ray Owen

“Deserta Arensa.” That was among the first terms Europeans used for the Sandhills. Early explorers spent days in the vast pine forests before encountering water and felt themselves lost in a desert of trees. Albert Ray Newsom’s Twelve North Carolina Counties in 1810-1811 describes the section as “pine barrens,” with little hills “which nature seems to have disunited in a frolic.”

What is in a name? The pine barrens, with soil too poor for farming, was the last part of our state to be actively settled. People learned to live upon the land by bleeding pines of their resin for turpentine, tar and pitch. The outcome being a continuous sound of saws that left us nearly devoid of trees by the late 1890s.

If you can’t hide it, feature it. That was the thinking of John T. Patrick, North Carolina Commissioner of Immigration, who in 1884 began forming Southern Pines. His goal was to generate wealth for the cash-poor state, so he devised a marketing scheme to re-brand the district as the “Land of Sunshine.”

Where others saw denuded sandbanks, Patrick saw a place where people could prosper. He circulated an eloquent series of advertisements in northern publications, persuading physicians and newspaper editors to promote the settlement in exchange for free lots.

The nation had just endured a terrible war and Patrick understood the need to assure prospective settlers that the locals were hospitable. To this end, he held town hall meetings across the Northeast enlivened by Southern performers in “magic lantern shows” with banjo picking, dancing and minstrels.

At the depot in Southern Pines, an African American choir called the “Singing Society” greeted incoming trains, and representatives of local Scottish clans entertained with barbecues and hunting trips. Offerings included trips to Carthage to witness court in session, religious services at black and white churches, excursions to turpentine stills and burning tar kilns.

Patrick was selling the natives, appealing to urbanites hungry for what they understood to be authentic rural life. In this context, settlers were drawn here by idealized accounts with the locals no less important than the resort itself.

Its distinctive Scottish and African culture made the Sandhills fertile ground for resort building. Indeed, Pinehurst guests were encouraged to tour the countryside and visit the native folk. The 19th century McKenzie log kitchen was relocated to the heart of the village, and Ada McKenzie gave weaving demonstrations at the Carolina Hotel along with folk potter J.H. Owen.

The Tarheels charmed their guests and by 1886, more than 2,000 Northerners had entered the Sandhills, bringing with them an aggregate wealth of around $2,000,000 – a remarkable feat.

Economic prospects were cultivated by a massive “re-greening” effort undertaken by Boston soda fountain magnate, James Walker Tufts, in the establishment of Pinehurst where an estimated 226,000 trees and shrubs were used to fashion “gardens of natural beauty.”

This movement was sustained by the Boyd family of Southern Pines who influenced community taste in the development of their Weymouth estate. The town became a haven for nature lovers who lined the streets and train tracks with native plants – close by the virgin longleaf giants that crowned the town’s eastern ridge – spared from the axe by the Boyd family.

Civility was fortified through publications, such as More Hospitality in Moore. This 1920s booklet gave examples of proper etiquette: “Sir, why don’t you get out and stretch your legs…. part of the road you’re traveling on was used by the buffalo long before the white man came to this section.”

Much has changed in the Land of Sunshine, still some things remain the same. Pine-inspired place names
abound – aspects of community identity, our cultural mark – hard fought and dearly won.

Today, our region is famous as the “Home of American Golf” and the easiest way for an international Sandhills traveler to explain where they’re from is just to say “Pinehurst.” While it’s natural for those in neighboring communities to feel passionate about where they live, the fact is we’re best known for golf.

What is in a name? In terms of economic strength, the area is the state’s top “micropolitan” economy, ranked 27th nationally among cities with 50,000 or fewer residents. Each year, visitors to Moore County spend $441.84 million at area businesses, directly supporting 5,450 jobs – which offsets more than $812 in taxes per household.

“What I love most about the area is the people and the golf,” says Phil Werz, President & CEO for the Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) of the Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen area. “Outside of Saint Andrews and Pebble Beach, there’s no better location in the world for the sport.”

“We send a survey out to our database of about 35,000 people and no surprise, they recognized Pinehurst is a global iconic golf destination. These are people actively interested in coming to the area as a whole. Hardcore golfers represented 81% of the respondents that are coming here anyway and the 19% is who we’re trying to attract.”

Answers to the survey revealed a place perceived as a kind of “Mayberry,” a timeless destination where people come to escape. “Pinehurst is all about hospitality,” says Werz. “What it came down to was an ad campaign that uses Southern colloquialisms.”

Expressions like ‘plum crazy’ and ‘smack dab in it’ blaze across the pages, showing such activities as shopping, dining, paddle boarding, kayaking, and downtown Southern Pines during a First Friday celebration. “It’s identity, some call it branding,” says Werz. “We’re just trying to let people know there’s more than just golf.”

“It’s all part of Southern hospitality,” explains Werz. “In our research, people talked about the kindness of our people and how strangers instantly felt like friends here. That’s something you won’t necessarily find in Charlotte or in New York City – it sets us apart.”

“I’m fortunate to have a wonderful staff,” says Werz. “Beverly Stewart, a Moore County native, serves as executive vice president and she’s a tremendous asset. Together, we’ve moved into the 21st century, using social media to reach the digital market, sharing stories, drawing others to the destination.”

From pine barren days to the Home of American Golf we’ve forged an incomparable place – our people and culture the flip side of the resort coin.

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