Pinehurst’s No.2 will stretch every players’ sinew and nerve
Absence of rough, unique as it is for a US Open, is unlikely to lead to lower scoring
The par-five 10th at Pinehurst. The renovation of the course, described as “funky” by coach Pete Cowen, meant the removal of more than 40 acres of rough, which was replaced by native vegetation that includes clumps of wiregrass on sandy areas adjoining the fairways. Photograph: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
The view from the 18th green back down the fairway which will determine the eventual winner of this 114th US Open is the stuff of picture postcards. On the fairways, not a blade of grass is out of place; beyond those pristine cuts, in the unkempt wastelands, it appears as if someone with a loose interpretation of agronomy has been given free run to plant wild grasses and weeds. It paints quite the picture, for sure.
As aesthetically pleasing as the mix of green-keeping perfection and dishevelled imperfection is to the eye, this famed Pinehurst No.2 course, brought back to the original ideal of its designer Donald Ross, presents a serious challenge for players this week: physically, in the heat; and, mentally, with the creativity of shot-making required around the up-turned saucers of greens.
Pete Cowen, coach to a number of players with designs on the old trophy, described it as “funky”, before – with a mischievous glint – declaring it would have been the sort of course where Seve Ballesteros would have revelled, particularly in the challenges asked of players around the greens.
Around the greensOne player, who shall remain nameless, described those challenges around the greens as “a mind f**k” which probably gives as good an indicator as any of the psychological demands placed on would-be conquerors of the course and especially their attempts to land long iron approach shots on to greens which undulate and then run-off in numerous directions to shaved collecting areas. They’d likely test the patience of a saint.
But there is something very homely in its own way about the US Open returning to Pinehurst, often referred to as the cradle of golf in the United States and their equivalent to St Andrews where the sport was first nurtured. There are eight courses on the resort – with another, designed by Jack Nicklaus, in the making – and, of them all, the No.2 course is the crown jewel.
Designed by the Scottish architect Ross – who, when he died in 1948, left behind a legacy of 413 courses known for their natural beauty and meticulous attention to detail – the No.2 course has been subjected to a renovation since it last played host to the US Open in 2005. The modern day design team of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore worked on old aerial photographs to mastermind the work, aiming to restore Ross’s intended design philosophy. It meant the removal of more than 40 acres of rough, which was replaced by native vegetation that includes clumps of wiregrass on sandy areas adjoining the fairways.
In this day and age of ecological sensitivities, it is estimated the redesign – negating the use of watering or sprinkler heads in the areas where rough once blossomed – has saved about 40 million gallons of water a year. The absence of any rough, unique as it is for a US Open, is unlikely to lead to lower scoring however.
Similar scoresPayne Stewart finished one under when he won in 1999 and Michael Campbell was level par when he triumphed in 2005 and it is anticipated similar scores would get a player into the mix this time round.
Generally speaking, players have expressed excitement and satisfaction with the changes to the course. Phil Mickelson, who contended down the stretch with Stewart in 1999, called the redesign “sensational”.
And, as the modern player with most of Seve’s old magic around the greens, there is substance in his belief that, “if we all miss every green, I feel like I’ve got the best chance . . . with no rough around the greens, the repellent greens, touch and chipping and the ability to salvage par is going to be critical. That is my strength and that’s why I’m excited.”
The rough may have been bulldozed away, what is in its place is hardly a perfect lie. As Curtis Strange – the last player to win back-to-back US Opens and here as a television analyst – put it, “it is everything that you have seen in the worst kept lawn you’ve ever seen in your life.
“It is dandelions growing up to 12 to 15 inches, it is low-growing weeds and in some cases it’s actually difficult to find the golf ball.” The problem is compounded by sandy lies and clumpy grass.
Visually, the contrast between the fairways and the waste areas make for a natural beauty; but the main characteristic of the course remains its greens, with flags positioned in tiny areas. Jim Furyk, one of the more patient men on tour, observed: “The (US) Open tests you physically more than any other golf tournament but mentally I think it’s exponentially more difficult.”
The fairways have been widened, compared to 2005, but that doesn’t mean that players will automatically reach for the driver. In fact, it will probably increase strategic play because the fairways will play firmer and increase the possibility of balls running on into the waste areas where anything from footprints to clumps of grass to weeds await.
Will it be tougher? “I’m not sure,” said Coore, one part of the design team, “but there will be more mystery. With the sand and the wiregrass, you’ll see some of the most spectacular approach shots . . . and the most bizarre. It will be the greatest variety of shots you’ll ever see in a US Open.”