A private Donald Ross golf course beside Pinehurst built for a handful of Skull & Bones guys?
Once considered to be made into Camp David - South?

Sandhills Insider Overhills



Beyond a particular grove of longleaf pines near Pinehurst was an estate that spent the better part of a century shrouded in mystery. Known to but a few, vague tales of an "idyllic Southern Arcadia" occasionally made the rounds. Nobody seemed to know very much at all about the place - not even the lofty patricians of Pinehurst. The most one would hear was that there was a "playground for the America's elite" rumoured to have their own private Donald Ross golf course.
So what exactly was the story that took place beyond that particular grove of pines for all those decades?

All in all the whole affair was rather extraordinary: a polo field, a private railroad depot, dairy, extensive equestrian and hunting facilities, etc... it was called Overhills.
And it did indeed feature a full Donald Ross course that a 1917 Golf Illustrated article described as "one of the very finest golf courses in the country." It was very highly rated by other golf aficianados including USGA president (and Walker Cup namesake) George Herbert Walker.

The handful of Overhills members were from the airy realm of the very highest branches of America's aristocracy - a large percentage of those members were, in fact, Skull and Bones fellows from Yale. Three buildings ringed the first tee. Beside the large but understated clubhouse were the vacation homes of a Rockefeller and Averell Harriman. To get a sense of who Mr. Harriman was consider this photograph:

Harriman was the fellow that various presidents to dispatched to sit nose to nose with Stalin, Khruschev, Churchill and many others. His task? Stop the very real possibility of World War III.
Being as well heeled as he was connected Harriman could spend his free time pretty much any place he liked. The fact that he chose Overhills make a profound statement regarding the quality of the estate.


The squire of the estate was Percy Rockefeller - a member of Skull and Bones. He "was labeled in 1910 as one of the coming rulers in banking, steel, railroads, oil, and sugar. After a career aggressively involved in a wide range of capitalist enterprises, Rockefeller died at a young 57, following an operation for ulcers of the stomach". (His son Avery succeeded him as benevolent dictator after Percy's passing.) He and Harriman had a proper falling out due to the fact that Percy was a fox hunter while Averell preferred to hunt birds. After the fox hounds interfered with Averells bird hunting a couple of times matters came to a head with Percy not being willing to curtail his hunting rituals. Averell sold his house and left for good. He left the hunting dogs behind as well.


Donald Ross hardly needs an introduction here. He designed over 350 courses - several of them among the crown jewels of golf architecture. He designed the first four courses at Pinehurst as well as many others upon which major championships are still played. Ross was born in Scotland and was the protege, at St. Andrews, of the man who practically invented the game as we know it: Old Tom Morris. A better pedigree for golf course architecture you will not find.

So, this means the members of Overhills essentially got the best designer in America to build their course for them. Not all of his courses are true gems. However, even the least heralded in his collection are competent and very playable. He simply did not design bad courses. So, the question is how good of a course was this Overhills?

Overhhills should probably be rated just below his world class level courses. There terrain is among the best he ever worked on. The property was over 11,000 acres and he got to choose the most suitable land. It is the same sandy loam you find in Pinehurst as well. There are many truly great holes and no bad ones. At over 6,500 yards in 1913 it was a very strong course, as well. One of the holes was 585 yards long! Again, Ross was a master craftsman and this terrain featured terrific roll. It was a great course.

The back 9 of the course was abandoned during WWII. In the 1950's Percy Rockefeller's son Avery decided to resurrect this part of the course. A few changes were made. The long 11th hole was divided into two holes and the original short par-3 14th was abandoned.

You can take a detailed tour of the course here.


Although the golf was highly valued, the fox and bird hunting was actually more important to the very small group of members. The estate featured a very large kennel and stables area which housed the hunting animals.

There was also a full scale polo field adjacent to the 15th hole of the golf course. In addition, there was a skeet shooting area. Prior to the purchase by the Rockefellers the land was used primarily for hunting parties. It was owned for a time by R.J. Reynolds and was then called Buckthorne Lodge.


In those days it was not uncommon for an artist to be found among a magnates entourage. Overhills, in fact, had two artists. One was almost part of the family. Ethel Peterson often travelled with them often. She spent many years on the charmed estate and a lot of the whimsical paintings she did for the children's section of Croatan Lodge are still in fact there!

View Paintings

The second artist know to spend large amounts of time there had a particularly interesting background. Perceval was born in Louisiana, as an orphan he worked in a variety of common jobs before somehow becoming a student at the esteemed

Here is a passage from "Gray's Sporting Journal":
"Rosseau was already on the road to success, with patrons such as Clarence Mackay, president of the Postal Telegraph-Cable Co., and Percy Rockefeller, a director of Bethlehem Steel Corp., Remington Arms, and Western Union, to name a few. He traveled regularly from France to paint their favorite dogs at their private hunting clubs, such as Rockefeller’s Overhills Club in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where the magnate eventually built Rosseau a winter home, studio, and kennels."

Percival Rousseau's life is so interesting that it bears a brief mention here.  He was born into an aristocratic, slave holding family with a large plantation in Pointe Coupée Parish, Louisiana just before the Civil War.  His father, uncle, brothers and mother died in the conflict - and Sherman destroyed the plantation.  A slave saved him and he was raised in rural Kentucky. 
Another passage from Gray's Sporting Journal picks up his extremely circuitous route:

"At 17 he struck out on his own. For the first six years he worked as a cowboy, trading and driving cattle along the Chisholm Trail from Mexico to Kansas, shooting bison to feed his men. With his earnings he got into the lumber business, but lost his timber in an unrecoverable logjam while floating it down the Mississippi River. He then went to New Orleans and started a fruit import business that he moved to New York City. At 35 he’d amassed enough to retire on his investments.
In an amazing switch, the American entrepreneur set sail in 1894 for France to study art, traveling from San Francisco via Honolulu and Hong Kong. Onboard he met another orphan, Nancy Bidwell of Los Angeles—the first white child born in the Arizona Territory. They were married in 1897 and moved to France, where they raised two sons and many hunting dogs in their country home in Rolleboise, about 45 miles northwest of Paris along the Seine River, only a few miles from Giverny, where Claude Monet had lived since 1883. Rosseau enrolled in the private art school, the Académie Julian, which was very progressive (it accepted women, foreign students, and serious amateurs), compared with the government-sanctioned École des Beaux-Arts.

After he matriculated at Académie Julian he eventually specialized in painting the beloved hunting dogs of various wealthy patrons.  Here is a link to painting he did called "Two Setters In A Cooling Stream On The Grounds Of Overhills" (scroll halfway down this linked page to see the painting). That is actually not one of his better ones - but this one is posted because it has Overhills in the title.  His work is highly prized in certain circles.  If you can believe it, one of his dog paintings sold for 120K.


Croatan Lodge today:

As you would expect, the Rockefeller estate featured several fine buildings. Croatan Lodge was one of the finest. This large residence was closer to a small hotel in size and function. It still stands today and appears to be restorable.

The Clubhouse with the Harriman House to the right. The first tee of the golf course was in front of the former and the ninth green the latter. The clubhouse was torn down in the 1940's but the Harriman House still stands today.

More building photos


When the Army bought the large tract of land in the late 1990's they considered several options for its use. One proposal was to use it as a Camp David - South. A presidential retreat. Ultimately they decided the best use for the land was for training. They claimed that this land was necessary for training.

In fact, it is not necessary for training and that is not the wisest use of the land. This is an irreplacable piece of American Heritage. The best use of the property would be to restore the course and use it as a place for disabled veterans to recuperate from injuries suffered while in service. The Overhills tract is approximately 11,000 acres. This is a small part of the larger base which is over 200 square miles. The golf course itself is approximately 150 acres - a miniscule part of the military base.

You can read an official document regarding the use of the property here.