$5,000 of land purchased in 1895 has turned into some of the most prestigious golf courses in the world.
$5,000 of land purchased in 1895 has turned into some of the most prestigious golf courses in the world.

A $5,000 Investment Became One Of America's Top Golf Courses

Nathan Baugh
Articles

A soda fountain entrepreneur bought 5,800 acres in the North Carolina Sandhills for $5,800 in 1895. In 2022, that land is worth $200,000,000. This is the story of Pinehurst.

James Walker Tufts was born in 1835 in Charleston, MA. He dropped out of school at 15, opened his first Apothecary store, and then began manufacturing soda fountain equipment. He made a fortune, but always had a crazy dream - to own a golf course.

James Walker Tufts always dreamed of owning a golf course.
James Walker Tufts always dreamed of owning a golf course.

In the late 1880s, Tufts’ health went downhill. He began to travel to Florida in the winter months. He’d stop in North Carolina on the way, specifically at a spot called Pinehurst.

In 1891, Tufts consolidated three soda companies and received a payout of $700,000 ($21 million in today's dollars). He knew exactly what to do with it — buy Pinehurst.

But locals called Mr. Tufts a “fool.” The land he wanted was a cow pasture littered with sandhills. Despite the locals’ recommendations, Tufts bought Pinehurst in 1895. He paid $1 an acre for 5,800 acres.

He quickly created:

  • General Store
  • 20+ Cottages
  • Dairy Farm
  • Holly Inn

He hired Dr. Leroy Culver to build his first 9 hole golf course. A year later another 9 holes were added, creating Pinehurst No. 1.

In 1900, Tufts hired the now legendary Donald Ross. Ross redesigned No. 1 and built No. 2, No. 3 & No. 4. in future years. Pinehurst hosted its first North and South Open in 1902 on No. 1.

A sign on the Pinehurst No. 2 course.
A sign on the Pinehurst No. 2 course.

James Tufts passed away in 1902. At the time, Pinehurst was the fastest growing golf resort in the country. It stayed in the Tufts family until 1970 when it was sold for $9 million to Diamondhead Corp. To say Diamondback mismanaged it would be putting it kindly.

In 1982, Diamondhead turned Pinehurst over to the banks after racking up $70 million in debt. Robert Dedman, founder of ClubCorp, then purchased Pinehurst from the banks in 1984 for a steal at $16 million.

Dedman grew ClubCorp into the largest aggregator of golf courses in the US. Pinehurst became the jewel of the collection.

ClubCorp sold its portfolio of golf courses in 2006 for $1.8 billion. But the Dedman family loved Pinehurst too much to sell and kept it out of the deal. Today, Pinehurst remains in the Dedman family.

Pinehurst has nine 18-hole courses and has hosted tons of championships.

  • PGA Championship
  • Ryder Cup
  • US Amateur — 3 times
  • US Open — 3 times
  • US Women's Open

It has 4 courses in the world’s top 200.

A celebration on one of the greens at Pinehurst.
A celebration on one of the greens at Pinehurst.

Tufts originally bought 5,800 acres for $1 per acre. Now, Pinehurst has 2,700 acres and they’re worth an estimated ~$74,000 a piece - or $200 million total. The pictures of how it started versus how it’s going are wild.

A picture of how Pinehurst started.
A picture of how Pinehurst started.
A picture of how Pinehurst currently looks.
A picture of how Pinehurst currently looks.