How Pinehurst Resort perseveres amid a power outage

A recent attack on Moore County, North Carolina, electric substations left the resort — and much of the surrounding region — at a loss and having to pivot to old-school ways of business

No. 2_13th Hole 2.jpg

UPDATE: On Wednesday afternoon, Pinehurst Resort said in a that power had been restored to The Carolina Hotel, and "should be restored at the Holly Inn and The Manor with both reopening Friday. We’re making plans to have the resort fully operational in the coming days."

PINEHURST, North Carolina — One of golf’s powerhouses is without power this week.

Pinehurst Resort was humming along and heading into the final month of what has been yet another record year following the golf industry's post-COVID-19 surge when the iconic golf destination was suddenly thrust back into the so-called dark ages.   

Resort executives were forced to pivot to crisis mode over the weekend when gunfire disabled two North Carolina electric substations Saturday night and left much of Moore County — which includes the Village of Pinehurst and many surrounding Sandhills golf courses — without electricity service for days.

Over the years, the resort, which includes nine golf courses along with several hotels and about 20 food and beverage operations, has had to cope with powerful hurricanes or crippling winter storms. But those events are forecasted days out and can be planned for in advance. A sudden loss of power, that doesn’t last just a few hours but most of the week, is quite a different animal.

"I was sitting on the couch watching a movie with my daughter on Saturday night and kind of going in and out of falling asleep and she nudges me and said ‘the power was out,'" says Matt Barksdale, the resort’s director of golf. "Within an hour our tee director sends me a note about what my thoughts were on how we were going to operate Sunday and that 'it looks like it’s not going to be the best day.'"

Like some in the area, Barksdale assumed power would be restored sometime Sunday, but as a precaution reverted to "paper and pencil" in order to run the golf operations smoothly that day.

"Luckily we print tee sheets the day before so we felt everything should be fine, we’ll just operate in the fashion of writing down things how they used to decades ago," he says. "Obviously, we didn’t understand the severity of it."

Once Barksdale arrived at the club at 6:45 a.m. Sunday he quickly realized there was a gas leak caused by the power outage and no functioning clubhouse water in order to flush toilets or wash hands. He soon pivoted to an outside check-in process, which allowed golfers to drop off their bags and then immediately be directed to the first tees of their respective courses.

"I would say a good way to describe it was we had to quickly audible," Barksdale says. "I say this very tongue-and-cheek, but luckily for us we had been though COVID-19 20 months ago so we knew the concept of how to adapt, of having to go to an alternate check-in system."

On Monday, Barksdale said the resort was able to get its point-of-sale system up and running, and began checking in golfers at two makeshift terminals in a room inside the clubhouse while the rest of the facility was blocked off to any foot traffic.

Attention then shifted on Tuesday to golf carts, which at the resort are powered with electricity and not gasoline. The resort has a fleet of 335 golf carts, and a juggling act soon ensued.

"Our biggest concern became golf carts running out of juice," Barksdale says. "Luckily we have a large fleet at the main club and they run off lithium batteries so they hold a charge for at least 36 holes. We’ve been calculating which carts have been going in and which carts have been going out, and at the main club we have GPS units on each cart so we can deep dive into the system to see how much juice is left in the batteries. But at our four satellite courses it’s a guessing game. We’re trying to accommodate anyone who really needs to take a cart but again it’s rolling the dice. We’re going to have to be nimble and our members are going to have to be patient if we make the call to walking only."

Golf is just half of the puzzle at a massive resort like Pinehurst. Hotel, food and beverage and overall hospitality play a major role in the high-end experience. The resort was at full occupancy of 500 guests, including 350 in the main Carolina Hotel — when the power went out Saturday night. There was also a full slate of holiday parties in various conference rooms. 

It was dark and soon there wouldn’t be necessities often taken for granted — like hot water for a shower or being able to charge depleted cell phone batteries.    

"It’s off season for us for golf (in December) but it’s on season when it comes to events and meeting space," says Matt Chriscoe, the resort’s director of hotel operations. "And at the time we didn’t know if this was short term or long term. Nine times out of 10 a power outage comes back on pretty soon so you don’t want to recreate the wheel for what potentially could be just a few hours. But when you woke up and learned what happened and realized it was going to be more long term we had to quickly evaluate all of our food and beverage outlets and decide ‘OK what can we operate, what is on a generator for food storage, what do we need to consolidate into those coolers that are operable?’ And we have satellite restaurants as well, so closing them and reallocating food across the property to coolers that are cool was a challenge."

Vendors such as U.S. Foods brought refrigeration trucks to town for the resort to transfer whatever food was salvable to proper cooling units.  

And always front-and-center for Chriscoe is the guest experience. By Monday afternoon all remaining Carolina Hotel guests were moved to 61 rooms in one wing of the hotel powered off a generator.

“Think about it, you have elevators that run off of power, you can’t clean or vacuum a room, so housekeeping is challenged in that regard, and then our front desk aren’t capable of doing certain things because all the systems aren’t able to talk to each other,” he says. “It is crippling to some degree. But we’ve had not only COVID, but winter storms, hurricane preparations that have created these issues in the past, and you just work through them. Our upper level management staff has been here for years and we know how to operate, so we just relied on that experience and knowledge about what we needed to pick and choose to close."

The spa was closed as were all restaurants except the Carolina Dining Room.

"But again, you are paying a rate that you might not get the experience of so we have to manage that as well," Chriscoe says. "There is a lot of dynamics to the overnight guest experience when they are in the hotel.

"And we have people who still want to come play golf and folks who say they’re  going to be outside most of the time anyway so it doesn’t matter to them. We have paused taking any additional reservations through Thursday, and we told some people ‘Hey, if you come this is the experience you can expect.'" 

Pinehurst also has to manage its staff of 1,500, who are also dealing with power outages at their respective residents.

“We’re planning for Friday and beyond to be as normal as possible, but can we get all of our restaurants up and going, can we get our school system back?’’ Chriscoe said. “If the schools are closed some of our staffers may have to take care of child care. There are a lot of dynamics in play that you just don’t think about when you lose power, there is more to it than just losing power.”

"We’ve tried to keep everyone in positive spirits, make sure the staff and their families are doing OK," Barksdale says. "There is definitely a helpless feeling of — we’re out. At some point you run out of light each day and sleepy little Pinehurst gets very dark in the evening because there are no street lights. It’s really, really dark so safety of our guests is also a concern."

A group of former Penn State University grads and golf superintendents in Pennsylvania headed to town over the weekend for a long awaited golf vacation and were warming up for a round on Pinehurst No. 4 on Tuesday. The foursome joined just one other lone golfer on the practice green.

“Pulling in it was a ghost town. It is kind of amazing,” says Eric Reed. “Hey, we’re not complaining though because the pace of play on the course should be great."

"It’s crazy. How to you even prepare to deal with something like this? There is no easy way," adds Charlie Miller, the superintendent at The Springhaven Club outside of Philadelphia.

"The silver lining is that golf is still open," Barksdale says. "That’s a positive and it’s going to be in the 60s and 70s, and a lot of people want to be outside and enjoying golf. They just may have to do it the way the Scots did it."

A good walk is never a bad thing.