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.