Pinehurst No. 2, Hole 17
Pinehurst. It's where the game of golf makes its home in the United States.
Eight world-class courses dating back as far as 1901, each with its own personality and unique challenge, welcomes visitors from all over the world.
It's also a resort and a community with wonderful accommodations and incredible food—not to mention a spa and fitness center, a library, a church, a village full of shops, swimming, tennis—and best of all, some of the nicest people I have ever met.
At the center of it all is Pinehurst No. 2—home to more major golf championships than any other venue in America and one of the most famous golf courses in the world.
This legendary place, designed by celebrated golf course architect Donald Ross, recently completed a three-year restoration process intended to return this true masterpiece of golf course architecture to its original design.
Led by Ben Crenshaw—a dedicated student of golf history and golf course architecture, and one of the most popular golfers of all time—and his partner in design Bill Coore, the results are awe-inspiring.
It was a sort of revival, if you will, with the intent of looking backward in time in order to move forward by restoring the golf course both in spirit and form to the original Donald Ross design.
Mission accomplished. This golf course is back to the way Ross intended it to be.
I was recently given the opportunity to experience the results myself as I spent three incredible days at the Pinehurst Resort—and one unforgettable afternoon playing golf at storied Pinehurst No. 2.
Ben Crenshaw & Bill Coore
Pinehurst No. 2 has returned to the original design and feel intended by renowned golf course architect Donald Ross.
Ross introduced the golf course in 1907, but it wasn't until 1936 that Pinehurst No. 2 unveiled grass greens. That's right, the putting surfaces were made of sand prior to the PGA Championship that year.
Ross continued to develop the course until he passed away in 1948. Since that time, Pinehurst No. 2 remained one of the preeminent golf courses in the United States, but it lost a lot of its natural and strategic character along the way.
Enter Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore.
The duo transformed a course that had become known primarily for its crowned, undulating greens into one that will have golfers rediscovering the variety and unique characteristics that once made Pinehurst No. 2 one of the country's most cherished courses.
It had become, according to Pinehurst President Don Padgett II, status quo:
"We felt that something was missing," Padgett said. "Pinehurst was always meant to stand apart, to embrace its natural elements and to offer a unique atmosphere of creativity. We felt the time was right to embrace the original character of No. 2."
The restored No. 2 has no rough, although I can now tell you from experience, it's rough going where the rough used to be.
The fairways are 50 percent wider on average, but they are firmer, meaning good shots will be rewarded, but if you're off the mark, stray shots will find their way into distressed areas.
And there are more strategic shot options now. Ross believed in providing golfers with crucial choices, and Pinehurst No. 2 was intended to epitomize that philosophy.
For example, when you stand on a tee box, you should be able to determine where the best spot is to place your first shot—let's say the right or left side of the fairway—so you have the best angle of attack to the green, depending on where the pin is located.
And speaking of the greens, you can get very creative around here. Bring all your short game shots, all your clubs and all your imagination. You'll need them.
There has also been a return to the natural aesthetics of sand, hardpan and native wiregrass that befit the area and are reminiscent of Ross' original design. That's the way golf courses used to be designed back in the early 1900s. The attention to detail was placed from tee to green, but the outlying areas were left to the lay of the land and what was naturally there.
All the Bermuda grass that had been allowed to grow plus the turf that had been planted, irrigated and fertilized over the years was eliminated—it was stripped off to recreate the appearance and the playable aspects of this course from its heyday.
That was the objective—to take what was old and make it new again.
"We think the world of Pinehurst No. 2, and we just hope that if Donald Ross could see it, that he'd be pleased with what we've done," Crenshaw said. "It was truly an honor to be involved in this project, and we hope people enjoy playing it as much as we enjoyed working on it."
Affirmative. Pinehurst No. 2 is indeed a joy to play.
Pinehurst No. 2, Hole 9
I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to play Pinehurst No. 2. Not only was I going to be able to experience the golf course, but I was also going to spend several days enjoying all the resort and the community had to offer.
Pinehurst No. 2 has been a kind of "bucket list" item of mine for years and to be able to experience it the same year in which it was restored was an honor.
I had a 1 p.m. tee time on a warm, overcast and drizzly fall afternoon, not that much different from the kind of day Payne Stewart experienced when he won the 1999 US Open here. I mentioned that to my caddy, Bob, and he agreed with me—the day provided a very similar feel to that historic day in Pinehurst history.
Stewart is revered here. He was and probably always will be my favorite golfer. His life was tragically cut short in a plane crash just a few months after he won the aforementioned US Open, but his memory will live forever in this special place.
A statue replicating his celebratory fist pump from that major championship victory stands outside the clubhouse along the club's Walk of Fame. Memorabilia and photographs of Stewart line the walls inside the clubhouse.
Stewart is sadly gone, but he's certainly not forgotten at Pinehurst.
After a brief warmup on Maniac Hill, Pinehurst's famous driving range, I hit a few putts to get a feel for the speed of the greens. I was ready to play.
I was paired with one other player, a local gentleman who had not only played No. 2 many times, but he was pretty darn good at it, boasting a low, single-digit handicap here.
I was admittedly a bit nervous on the first tee, but I placed my opening shot in the middle of the fairway and began what would be an educational and entertaining afternoon.
Looking across the golf course between shots—as I walked or waited for the group in front of us—the thing I noticed most about Pinehurst No. 2 was the beauty of the place. And not just in the appearance from one hole to the next. It was also the tranquility. There was a sense of quiet and calm in the air and a sense of peacefulness here.
I was in awe to think of the legendary golfers that walked these very fairways before me—Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Walter Hagen, Sam Snead, Payne Stewart and so many others.
Not that I spent a lot of time in the fairways, mind you.
I guess if I wanted to get the full experience of the renovation's sandy waste areas, the native wire grass and the pine needles, I brought the proper game today, as I was inexplicably spraying my tee shots all over the place.
Sometimes, even when I did hit the outer regions of the wide fairways, I realized the penalty as my ball would roll off into the natural areas where I would be faced with any number of different circumstances.
Sometimes I found myself with a perfect lie on hardpan sand. Other times my ball was nestled up against wiregrass. But more often than not, I found my ball sitting on top of pine needles that Mother Nature had thrown around at her discretion.
For the most part, I was making some outstanding recovery shots—if I do say so myself—and getting a few realistic opportunities at birdies. I just couldn't make any putts, except for a tap-in on the par-five eighth hole, where I hit what amounted to four of my best shots of the day.
There were times I simply had to take my medicine and avoid a big number by just getting my ball back into the fairway.
Still, as I looked over my scorecard after the front nine, I didn't think a 43 was that bad for my first time playing the golf course.
My back nine was pretty similar—another 43, this side without any birdies, however.
I played the par threes well. There were three threes on my scorecard and they really saved my day. When all was said and done—you probably already did the quick math—an 86.
Of course, one of my golfing buddies would later ask me if I had played the US Open tees. No, I did not. The championship tees stretch out to almost 7,500 yards. I played from the more forgiving—at least in terms of distance—white tees.
Everyone still has to figure out these greens, though—these signature crowned greens that are one of Ross' most defining features. Where you place your approach shot on any given hole is pivotal to your success at Pinehurst No. 2.
Honestly, I wasn't as interested in carding a great score as much as I was in simply enjoying the experience of playing golf at this historic place. I'm very competitive by nature and I always want to post a good number, but the sheer joy I felt in walking this golf course was something I will never forget.
Pinehurst is a special place. And this now restored, historic Pinehurst No. 2 is at the heart of it.
Donald Ross once said that golf should be a pleasure, not a penance. This restoration is a true success in honoring his notion.
Pinehurst No. 2 will host both the men's and women's US Opens in 2014. That means preparations are already well underway for what is going to be a historic couple of weeks here.
Never before has one golf course hosted both US Opens in consecutive weeks.
I spent some time talking with Pinehurst's Director of Grounds and Golf Course Management, Bob Farren, about the excitement of the upcoming events and the challenges he and his staff will face.
DAVID: How do you feel the greens will hold up and what will you do to assure they are in championship form for both the men and women?
BOB: I am confident the putting surfaces will hold up well throughout the Championship. We totally resurfaced them during the recent restoration in order to eliminate the annual bluegrass (Poa annua) that had invaded them over the years. We will continue to manage them to ensure their quality leading into the Championship. We will take measures preceding the Championship and during the event knowing that we must maintain the quality throughout the two weeks. The primary factors to consider will be irrigation and nutrition management. Obviously, many of these decisions are based entirely on the weather conditions during that time.
DAVID: (smiling) Nervous?
BOB: (laughs) Not really nervous—anxious might be a better term. Frankly, we are humbled by the fact the USGA has confidence in our abilities to consider this option. We have enjoyed working with Mike Davis during all of our recent Championships and have a great relationship with him.
DAVID: I'm assuming you must be thrilled to be a part of something historic like this? I mean, why wouldn't you be?
BOB: We really are and the excitement is just beginning to build. I have had the opportunity to speak at a number of educational summits lately about the restoration and continue to be amazed at how much attention the project has garnered. Obviously, there are also many questions about the plans for the back-to-back concept. I am trying to wrap my hands around it to view it as a single “two-week long” event. We will plan to schedule our volunteer team along this concept as well.
DAVID: Obviously, these events are a few years away yet, but what is the timeline for getting the golf course "tournament ready"?
BOB: Part of the strategy and beauty of the new course concept with no rough is the fact that, essentially, it's always ready. We will not be working to grow additional rough or anything of that nature. Our primary focus, other than making sure the greens are in the condition we want, is to continue, over the next two growing seasons, to make the fairways and approaches to the greens as firm and fast as possible. We have discontinued overseeding these areas and have instituted a fairly aggressive topdressing program to enable us to have them faster and firmer.
DAVID: What are your thoughts on the restoration of No. 2?
BOB: I have had the good fortune of working here since 1982 and I have been involved in many wonderful projects and events. The No. 2 restoration has been the most challenging and rewarding of any I have done. It has created a lot of excitement throughout the entire golf industry at a time that it really needed it. It has also given the superintendent side of the industry a wonderful platform to talk about all aspects of sustainability. However, perhaps more importantly is the fact that it has been so well received with all levels of golfers, including our members. Most of the changes we made leading into the other championships only involved adding length and never really impacted the forward tee players. This project has an impact on everyone that plays the course regardless of their teeing area or ability. The course has so much more drama and visual appeal than ever before, at least in recent history.