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This Brewery Wants to Make Millennials Fall in Love with Golf

June 11, 2019

By Sam Eichner, June 11, 2019

Everyone in Pinehurst knows that the best place in town to grab a beer is the old steam plant.

Built in 1895 to power the fledgling village in the heart of North Carolina, the plant fell into disuse decades later, though the brick building remained. After extensive renovations, it reopened last fall as Pinehurst Brewing Co., serving up a rotating panoply of beers and traditional Texas-style barbecue from a smoker out back. For locals, it’s a great hangout. But for the eponymous golf resort that occupies the village, it’s a new kind of amenity.

Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to find something modern housed in someplace old—adaptive reuse, as this practice is called, speaks the same language as gentrification. But few restaurants or bars have taken as much care to preserve the spirit of the site they’re replacing as Pinehurst Brewing, whose developers kept the brick façade intact, repurposed faucets and barometers for light fixtures and used boiler pipes to frame a space for live music. In the atrium-like space up front, they even fashioned long tables out of a stately tree, which once stood guard outside the plant.

A strong sense of history is the lifeblood of Pinehurst. In the religion of golf, the name carries a biblical significance. From 1898 to 1910, the renowned architect Donald Ross designed three of the nine public courses in the village. Bobby Jones, the mythical amateur who co-founded The Masters, dubbed Pinehurst “The St. Andrews of America.” This August, courses No. 2 and No. 4—newly redesigned by Gil Hanse to match the original character of No. 2—will host the U.S. Amateur; in 2024, No. 2 will host the U.S. Open for the fourth time in the last 25 years.

Still, Pinehurst is not content to rely on its decorated past.

“We love our black-and-white photos in the hallway, we honor the timeless traditions of what Pinehurst is,” the resort’s executive vice president Matt Massei says. “But we also have to stay relevant.”

Almost two years ago now, Pinehurst opened the Cradle, a nine-hole par-3 course. It takes less than an hour to play, and features a trailer-turned-bar called the Pinecone for refreshments, which players pass on the way to the fourth and ninth tees. The course is on track to host 36,000 rounds this year.

“Going back 25 years ago when I was [first] here, if someone had said we were going to eliminate the first holes of course 3 and course 5 and put a par-3 course on there, I would’ve said, ‘What? Really?’” Massei exclaims, before adding, “What a genius decision.”

Pinehurst is far from the only resort to experiment with a short course, and the Cradle can be seen as part of an industry-wide trend to make golf more palatable to newcomers—in particular, Millennials—who may view the game as prohibitively expensive, uptight, rule-oriented, and time-sucking. Along with Pinehurst’s 18-hole “putting course,” the pins of which double as cup holders, these new alternatives also reflect the growing popularity of facilities like Topgolf—a nightclub-slash-driving range where actual golf comes second to drinking, eating, or, in the case of its Vegas outpost, swimming.  

The brewery is another standout attraction for Pinehurst. (Case in point: the publicist who invited me to the resort used the subject line: “Wanna Play The New Pinehurst and Drink Beer?” I really did.)

When deciding what to do with the old steam plant, Massei says the resort’s leadership considered what was hot in the market and what might work well in that space. A brewery seemed like a natural fit.

“It just made perfect sense,” he says. “It’s casual, it’s laid-back, but again, it’s a draw not just for the resort and our members, it’s a draw for the whole community.”

Eric Mitchell, formerly of Heist Brewery in Charlotte, was brought on to head up the brewing operation.

“I was really interested to see what their philosophy was going to be,” Mitchell tells me, when I meet him at the brewery one morning. Much to his surprise, they were open to innovation.  

Compared to brewing for the younger, more urbane crowd at Heist, Mitchell says there’s a bit more focus at Pinehurst on the kind of “easy-drinking lawn mower beers” that wouldn’t have sold as well in Charlotte.

“I mean, this is a drinking town with a golfing problem,” Mitchell half-jokes. “So if they’re going to start drinking at 11 or noon every day, they’ve got to have something they can crush.”

The brewery has 10 taps, one of which is reserved for an exclusive cider from North Carolina’s Flat Rock Cider Company. Mitchell says he brews on average three to four times a week. When I visit, only three of the nine beers on tap—the blonde ale, the IPA, and the coffee stout—have been offered before. Mitchell’s goal is to make 100 different beers this year (as of writing this, he’s at 29).

Right now, the brewery only serves its beers onsite, though a few kegs have trickled onto various places in the resort—including the Deuce, a comely 19th hole situation overlooking the 18th green of No. 2, where I enjoyed a refreshing blonde ale after a punishing round on No. 4.

A few other golf courses, like Canyon Lakes in San Ramon and The Shawnee Inn in Pennsylvania, have their own breweries onsite. But neither clicks as seamlessly into an overall scheme as Pinehurst’s, where shuttles are on hand to take groups to and from the resort’s nearby hotels, and guests can charge beer and brisket to their rooms.

As such, Mitchell views the brewery as something of a pioneer. Driving me back to the hotel after our interview, I spy a set of clubs in the backseat of his truck. A 7-handicap, he gives me a tip on how to handle the devious greens on No. 2, which I try (and fail) to deploy later that afternoon. I wonder aloud whether more golfing destinations like Pinehurst will open breweries; it seems like a no-brainer.

“Trust me,” Mitchell says. “It’s happening.”

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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