A Late Winter Visit to Pinehurst, North Carolina

Connie and I had a super Holiday Season with some interesting travel that I will eventually post to this blog. From just before Christmas until now we have been incredibly busy. For those who have followed our adventures via this blog, you know that we had a great pre-Super Bowl visit with our friends Pat and Marty who met us in South Florida. I am saving Christmas and the New Year for special reasons, but trust me I will chronicle those holidays.

Those who know me know that I really enjoy golf. I am not a good player by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, but I do enjoy the game. Wanting to play golf in Europe with a good friend of ours who is a Scot by birth and who lives in England, I needed to establish a handicap. So, starting early in January I signed up for a handicap and started playing by the rules and counting every last stroke. By the time we left for our trip to Pinehurst, I had recorded enough scores to have a handicap, but had not yet officially been assigned an index. I knew my index would be around 30, so I could reasonably expect to shoot somewhere around 102 were I to play to that index while we were in Pinehurst. Before I get too far into this ramble let me say that what one plays at their home course and what can reasonably be expected at a different course may be very different. Factors that tend to level the playing field are knowledge of the course layout and therefore where to try to drive the ball and of course a good feel for the greens. Knowing that what is keeping my scores high is my inconsistent play, I really had no great expectations when we arrived in Pinehurst except to play on some great courses, have some great fun with the people I would be playing with and have some wonderful dining experiences.

Before we could play any golf we had to first get to Pinehurst. That is where this story truly starts. As usual, we left Kings Bay late in the morning, about 9:30 AM with the intention of traveling just over 200 miles to Santee State Park in Santee, South Carolina leaving about 160 miles for the second day. Obviously, both days were to be easy driving days allowing a couple of retired folks to relax and enjoy the trip. Well, between Kings Bay and Exit 109 in Georgia, a drive of just over 100 miles we had seventeen power interruptions to the dashboard power that also meant there was a momentary loss of power to the engine. By the time we got to Savannah I was bordering on exhaustion and Connie was nearly frantic. So, I pulled off the interstate to go to the Freightliner service center on the north side of Savannah. We had to stop at a stop light and then make a left turn to get to the service center. We were at the light for three light cycles because the engine stalled two times while I was trying to make the left turn. You talk about being concerned. The good news is that the engine stalled so quickly each time that I had not had much of a chance to roll into the middle of the intersection. Therefore, our only real danger was from the potential road ragers behind us. There were a few horns honked, but in the end we finally made it to the service center to tell our story to a very understanding and sympathetic service writer. However, he had no space for us and possibly would not be able to get to us until the next week. That would not do. We were focused on getting to Pinehurst. After gaining the assurance of the service writer that we were doing no damage to the motorhome, we made a reservation to return to the shop late the following week. We were probably at the service center for 30 minutes or so. By the time we left, the engine had cooled down some and early on we had no problems. In fact we had very few interruptions between Savannah and Santee. After registering at the park office we drove to our site and once again we wrestled with numerous stalls. I had the sense that as long as I could travel at highway speed I would be okay. Supporting my theory, we had no real issues the next morning as we rolled out of Santee State Park headed towards Pinehurst. That doesn’t mean we rolled down the road worry free or even incident free.

We were able to sort of limp into Pinehurst without any serious problems, just a lot of negative anticipation and the occasional momentary loss of power to the dash. But, we did get there and get settled into our site at Village of Pinehurst RV Park. Once settled we immediately called our hosts, Marjorie and Jan Ludwig who live in Pinehurst half the year and in New Hampshire the other half. With them was Carla Morey, a birding and golfing friend from Rowlett, Texas who coordinated her visit with the Ludwigs to coincide with ours.

Let me back up and explain some relationships. Connie, Marjorie and Carla are all charter members of a private internet discussion group called The Loons and Larks. The common draw that put this group together had three points of intersection. All had to be birders, all had to be involved in Cornell Laboratory’s Project Feeder Watch and all had to have been members of the associated discussion group sponsored by Cornell. This spin off group has a very broad list of other interests which are often discussed via the internet. Some great friendships and relationships have developed amongst many of the members. So, it was from this base that we all ended up meeting in Pinehurst to enjoy one another’s company, play some golf and, of course, eat.

So, with that as background, we met at Marjorie and Jan’s home which is conveniently located on the sixteenth hole of Pinehurst Course Number 3. Of course, Jan is a member of the club and he would be our sponsor during our visit. Marjorie is not a golfer so there were only to be four of us golfing. As we discussed things during that first evening, we had four days when all four of us could golf before Carla had to catch a flight back to Texas. Connie would accompany Marjorie to the airport leaving Jan and me alone for a fifth round of golf in as many days. Now, I ask, is this heaven or what? During that first evening’s discussion we also discussed possible birding opportunities. Even though we discussed biding, I was not sure there would be much time to do much because our tee times were all late morning and early afternoon taking the heart out of the days. When you factor in the breakfast plans there was very little time left for birding.

Marjorie had planned a light dinner at her house for that first evening which was fine with all of us. Carla had been on airplanes all day and Connie and I had, well we had stressed all the way from Santee. So, an uncomplicated dinner in was just fine with all of us. That light dinner wound up being some of the best homemade lasagna I have ever had. Of course it was made even better by all the talking and laughing that always goes on when more than one Loon is in the room. It was a great beginning to what was shaping up to be a great long weekend of golf and friendship.

Connie and I returned to our motorhome absolutely exhausted and ready to fall into bed. By morning we had the technical issues with the motorhome buried deep in our minds and we were ready to enjoy the golf.

That first full day started by meeting up with the rest of the group at Marjorie’s house and then going to a great little café at the Pinehurst Trotter’s track for a great southern breakfast. We then went to the Members’ Club House for a tour of the grounds and a brief orientation fromr Jan on the history of the golf courses and some of the more memorable events staged on the property. Finally, we moved clubs to the driving range and started warming up. So far everything is nearly perfect. Only nearly, because although the rains of the two previous days were now gone, there was a mighty stiff breeze blowing. As it turns out we would be challenged by the wind all five days we were on the various golf courses.

Our first challenge was Pinehurst Number 1. This course is a Donald Ross design. If you know anything about Donald Ross, you know he had this thing about undulating greens and lots of bunkers. Well, we would learn just what all that really means to high handicappers like the three of us who accompanied Jan, a much better player. As I mentioned earlier one of the factors that makes playing a new course a little easier is to have someone along who knows the course and can sort of guide you towards better landing areas. I tried to take advantage of Jan’s guidance. However, he often said you don’t want to be left on this hole, there is real trouble there. Well, my normal ball flight is right to left. The harder I try to straighten it out, the more left I go. That was how day one went for me. I shot several strokes over my estimated handicap, but I had a great time trying to navigate the fastest and least level greens I think I have ever played on. Towards the end of the round I had this false sense that I might have figured out how to putt on them. For the record, Carla beat me by two strokes. Connie who plays only a few rounds a year played well below her norm and was really very impressive. A good day of golf can only be improved upon by a good dinner afterwards. So, following a return to the motorhome for Connie and me and home for Jan and Carla to shower and clean up, we went to one of the must visit restaurants in the Village of Pinehurst, the Pine Crest Inn. This establishment has plenty of history. I am sure there have been books written about who has visited and what has gone on there. Of significant interest to all of us, this is the place Jan took Marjorie to celebrate their engagement. We had a wonderful dinner and really enjoyed the atmosphere of this historic establishment. Unfortunately, we were all too exhausted to stick around after dinner to enjoy the entertainment in the lounge.

Our second golf day was Saturday. The plan was to play Pinehurst Number 3. Unfortunately, Connie spent all night Friday fighting an intestinal bug of some sort and she was in no shape to golf come Saturday morning. She sent me out on my own. So, I met Jan and Carla at the driving range and we set off to tackle another of Donald Ross’ examples of torture. As I mentioned earlier we would golf in the wind all weekend. Saturday’s winds sort of came and went and all in all were not so bad. I had one of those days that make all golfers come back for more. I shot a rather amazing round of 97, truly one of the best rounds I have ever played, not just for the score, but also for the high number of quality shots. Even some of the misses looked really good. For the record, I beat Carla soundly on this round and lagged Jan by only 10 strokes. I am not sure what I felt better about, my score, or the delta between my score and Jan’s. At any rate, I was one happy golfer by day’s end. By my return to the RV park, Connie was feeling a good bit better, so after cleaning up we went back to Marjorie and Jan’s for steaks on the grill with all the fixings. It was another evening of really good food and lies and laughing.

Sunday started with brunch at the Member’s Club. We had another really great meal with a view that some would kill for. Our table looked out on the eighteenth green of the famous Pinehurst Number 2. I probably ate too much, but I knew I would need some energy to get around Pinehurst Number 6 which was our course of choice on this blustery day. It was another sunny day, but I think if I had a glove for my other hand I would have worn it. Number 6 is the newest of the Pinehurst courses and was designed by George and Tom Fazio. I stayed cold all day. Somehow I stayed warm enough to play below my handicap again. This day would find all of us high handicappers playing well for our individual games and Jan, the only “good” player among us playing closer to our style than to his. Connie played what had to be her best round ever. Cold and windy as it was, we all had a great time. Dinner Sunday night would be Italian and of course it was great. Of course we laughed and carried on like a group of teenagers adding to the noise level of this family restaurant.

We had time on Monday morning to walk around Pinehurst Village and do a little shopping. Jan and I found ourselves in what I would call a golfing antique shop. The former professional golfer and current proprietor of this establishment has a broad collection of historic golfing items, books, art work, both original and prints, and even some hickory shafted clubs. I think the proprietor may be the real attraction for anyone interested in the history of golf. Of course he and Jan are good friends and they told some great stories while were visiting. I was also lucky enough to meet Mr. Tufts, the great grandson of James W. Tufts, the founder of Pinehurst, who just happened to be in the shop when we arrived. Jan also took us through the library and Pinehurst Archives where the history of this marvelous village has been preserved. This short tour helped to put this whole experience in historical perspective. On this day Carla, Jan and I set out to tackle Pinehurst Number 5 an Ellis Maple designed course. Number 5 ate my lunch. It was one of those rounds that never got on track. It seemed that all my worries about the short game that had not been realized the previous three rounds came to reality this round. As a result, Carla who played well, waxed me and Jan found his game again and left the course with a smile. I guess it is possible that the history lesson of the morning had intimidated me. I suspect that my normal quality of play finally caught up with me.

Dinner on Monday was at an Irish Pub and need I say it, it was yet another wonderful dinner.

Jan had asked me choose the course for our final round. I immediately picked Number 3. My reasoning was that I had played it well the first time and had really enjoyed the course for a lot of other reasons. Carla argued that I was taunting the golf gods by going back so soon to a course that had treated me well. I laughed that off as being silly superstition. I probably should have listened to Carla. My final round of golf in historic Pinehurst was my worst round. As bad as it was, and it was really bad, our host, Jan found something positive to say about each hole. That is probably the most impressive thing about this whole adventure. Our host was an absolute prince to take three high handicappers on a tour of historic Pinehurst and give us a real history lesson as well as show us our way around the courses. He was full of praise for all three of us and made no attempt to try to change anything about our way of play except to encourage us to shake off the bad shots. I have golfed with scores of golfers, most much better than me. I can say that the experience with Jan was absolutely wonderful. We could have played anywhere and had the same positive experience with such a marvelous host. Marjorie matched Jan day for day in planning the off course activities. She didn’t know how much of a challenge that would become and yet she never skipped a beat. In the end our Pinehurst experience was one for the books.

Then there was drive back to Savannah for the appointment with Freightliner to find out what was wrong with the motorhome. All the fun we experienced in Pinehurst was offset within hours of getting underway. Our route was south on US 501 to Interstate 95 to the north end of Savannah. We made it to just a few hundred yards from the town of Rowland, NC on US 501. That put us within a few miles of the North Carolina/South Carolina border and real close to that infamous or famous South of the Border. Remember I said that the service writer at the Freightliner shop said there would be no problem driving with this issue and the fellow I talked to on the Freightliner help line agreed. Well, we proved them wrong when with no more notice than we had been getting for the momentary losses of power to the dash we suddenly had a complete engine shutdown. I was able to coast to a stop and get the coach off the road and straddle a driveway. The last ten to fifteen feet were exciting as the power steering went away just about the time I had the steering wheel in the soft sandy soil of the non-shoulder. Figuring that this was just an exaggerated repeat of what we had been living through, I waited a few minutes and then attempted to restart the engine. To my delight it started on the first try. So, off we went. That was a mistake. We actually only traveled about 200 yards before the engine stalled again. This time I had farther to go before I could get astraddle of a driveway and the ditch seemed a bit deeper. I coasted as far and long as I could and only pulled off the road when I felt the power steering fade. I got to the driveway, but I could not get the entire rear of the motorhome and car completely off the road. This time the engine would not restart. From the drivers seat I could see a big parking lot just ahead. I just could not get there.

Connie was dispatched to set out the emergency reflectors while I started calling the Freightliner help line. Within a few minutes I was talking to my new friend, John. John did not have very good news for his new friend. The nearest authorized Freightliner service center was some 80 miles away in Wilmington, North Carolina. Before long I was on a conference call between Freightliner, Triple T Trucking and me. I was pinpointing our location so Triple T could send a technician to try to get us back on the road. A few hours later a North Carolina State Trooper pulled up behind us and provided physical security to the car and motorhome. He told us we had done a good job with the reflectors, but with the traffic as heavy as it was he felt he should maintain a presence with his lights flashing. He was one of the good guys we talked to that day. Another good guy was the gentleman who owned the property where we stopped. He sort of liked the excitement, but before we left he would get a little anxious, because he wanted to go to church and we had him completely blocked in. Fortunately, we were clear of his driveway just in time for him to get out.

By the time the Triple T mechanic arrived, there had been a change of command with the State Trooper. The second guy was not as supportive of staying as long as it took. Anyway, the mechanic could not find the problem, because he was a mechanic and our problem was electrical. So, he called home and the service writer contacted Freightliner who authorized a tow. Yes, a tow.

Now, for those who have never looked under a modern Class A motorhome, let me tell you when you hear the word tow as an owner, the first thought that passes through your brain is “who is going to pay for the damage done by the tow truck/operator?” There is at least six feet between the beginning of the fiberglass and the front axle. There is probably twice that in the back. So, how do you possibly pick the thing up without doing some serious damage?

We would have another couple of hours to ponder this before the tow truck arrived, because it too came from Wilmington. In the mean time the second state trooper was adamant that we were not staying where we were until a truck came out of Wilmington. He was going to call the “rotation” truck, which meant who knows who would show up and then there would be the issue of who would pay for that truck since our warrantor did not authorize it. I decided that I would try to start the engine and see if I could keep it running long enough to move it completely off the road. I was successful and before I could even get out of the coach to ask the trooper if all was okay, he left in a flash.

A great guy who should have been out with his wife as it was their wedding anniversary showed up with a really big tow truck. We broke down around 11:30 AM and the tow truck arrived just before dusk. Anyway, this guy was great. He told me exactly how he was going to hook up and, no, he would not damage the fiberglass. Well, the business end of this tow truck had a huge hydraulic arm on it that he slid along the ground under the front end all the way to the axle. Then he put two U shaped attachments on the ends of the crossbar and lifted the whole rig straight up to cradle the axle in the U’s. Two chains were then attached over the top of the axle to keep it from jumping out. Finally, he disconnected the drive line and then lifted the front end about two feet off the ground and off we went. By the time we got to the shop it was nearly 10:00 PM. Getting the motorhome off the tow truck proved harder than picking it up. Eventually, we were back on all six wheels and I was able to level the rig so we could turn the refrigerator on and go to sleep.

The next morning we were at the same time told we were in the correct spot and scolded for blocking the employee parking area. For the record, we were put where the service writer told us to be put. Because we had no appointment we had to wait most of the day before someone was able to get to us. Unfortunately, I was told on two occasions we would get in momentarily. The fellow who finally was able to get free turned out to be a great troubleshooter. We took a chance trying to drive into the shop. It only took three tries before we got the rear end backed into one of the bays. Then our man went to work. Before long he had identified the circuit that was causing the problem. Unfortunately, the circuit in question starts at the battery, travels the full length of the coach to the dash and then back to the other side of the engine compartment. Along the way it passes through several bulkhead connectors, fuse boxes and relays. So, the tech pulled all the drawings then talked to his boss about overtime. The overtime was denied and we were told he would get on it the first thing in the morning. Well, we had very little water left and Connie was still not feeling well, so we found a hotel.

The next morning we returned to the shop just after 9 AM and our man was on the job. He had already found a suspect connection was going to repair it. By 11:30 AM we had run the engine in the shop and parking lot for over an hour, taken it out on the road for a test drive over bumps and tracks and then returned to the parking lot where we nearly got stuck in the sand. By this point we were all ready to call it fixed.

After getting our no charge receipt from the service writer we were on our way. We drove about 4 hours that afternoon. They were sort of tenuous miles as we wondered when the first outage would occur. To our delight there were no issues.

Now, as I write this, we have traveled nearly another thousand miles and have had absolutely no trouble. In fact, I think the engine actually runs smoother than it did before. That could be my imagination, but I have always had a good sense for how a machine is running just by sound and feel and my senses tell me that our engine is running smoother than when we took possession of the motorhome.

So, we survived our first major breakdown. Connie recovered from her virus. Even with Connie not feeling well, we had a great time golfing and visiting our friends. I guess that equates to a successful trip.

Here is a tease for the next post. We did back-to-back Recreational Vehicle Rallies. At the first we were one of over 4,000 motorhomes parked in the same location. There are some great stories and if this post has not chased you off, you may want to come back for more.

Take care out there.

Dixie, I hope this was worth the wait.



1 thought on “A Late Winter Visit to Pinehurst, North Carolina”

  1. I enjoyed it, Frank and I will be back for the next installment.
    What a wonderful way to live your retirement, even with the nasty experience of the engine problems…

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