Three photos of the 7th hole at Pinehurst No. 2: 1940, 2005 and 2011 (Pinehurst Media)
PINEHURST, N.C. – Last week, under Carolina blue skies and a slight breeze that made the famed turtleback greens all the more menacing, Pinehurst unveiled a renovated No. 2.
The purpose of the three-year project, which was led by the design team of Bill Coore and two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw, was to resurrect the strategic and aesthetic elements Donald Ross intended when he built the course in 1907. All of the Bermuda rough was replaced by natural sandy areas and 100,000 wiregrass plants.
As for the trademark Donald Ross greens, they were re-sodded, but the devilish contours remain unchanged.
Pinehurst No. 2 reopened to its members and the public in March and will be showcased to the world in 2014 when it hosts the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open during back-to-back weeks.
The new/old Pinehurst
As the above photo illustrates, Pinehurst No. 2 used to look rugged, with wide fairways spilling into natural sandy areas where pine straw fell and wire grass grew. It’s the way Ross, the pioneer of minimalist golf course architecture in the U.S., intended the course to be.
At the 2005 U.S. Open, No. 2 was made lush and green, with sharp bunker lines and thick rough – pretty to look at, but not how the course was designed.
Fast forward to today and Ross’ masterpiece looks more like it did a century ago.
The 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst is remembered as Payne Stewart’s final victory before his untimely death, but it also marked the end of Pinehurst No. 2 as golf enthusiasts knew it.
With the introduction of the Titleist Pro V1 golf ball in 2000, pros suddenly gained 30-40 yards off the tee, diminishing many of the shot values that had made No. 2 a highly regarded U.S. Open venue. Knowing the 1999 setup would not hold up when the U.S. Open returned to Pinehurst in 2005, the U.S. Golf Association added five-inch rough and 400 sprinkler heads. With the course set up in defense of par, its character changed dramatically.
After the 2005 U.S. Open, Pinehurst’s owner/CEO, Bob Dedman, began wrestling with the idea of a reconstruction. Three years later, soon after No. 2 hosted the 2008 U.S. Amateur, the renovation began.
“It’s like messing with the Mona Lisa,” admitted Dedman. “There were trepidations initially about what should be done, and if we should undertake this. We all realized it will probably be the smartest thing we've ever done, or the dumbest thing we've ever done.”
Coore and Crenshaw’s sandy expertise
Crenshaw’s passion for golf course architecture began when he traveled outside Texas for the first time to play the 1968 U.S. Junior Amateur at Brookline in Boston.
“My head just spun off about golf history and architecture and playing on a national stage all in one week,” Crenshaw said. “My head's been in the book ever since.”
More than forty years later, at a time when most golf course architects are struggling to find business in the U.S., he and Bill Coore have carved a niche as one of the preeminent minimalist design firms.
Of the 40-plus Coore-Crenshaw original designs or renovations, several of the highly regarded layouts are sand-based, like Pinehurst. The list includes nearby Dormie Club, Bandon Trails in Oregon, Sand Hills in Nebraska and Old Sandwich in Massachusetts.
“We love sand,” Crenshaw said. “It’s economical.” (Economical. Now there’s a word you didn’t hear many golf course architects uttering in the 1990s and early 2000s.)
As part of their minimalist emphasis, the irrigation was reduced from 1,150 sprinkler heads to 450. Water lines were reconfigured so that a single pipe runs down the middle of each fairway, with the greens and everything within a 40-yard radius receiving water. Everything outside that boundary is left to grow naturally.
With no rough, and wiregrass that isn’t yet mature, the new No. 2 is less daunting off the tee than before. The green contours, however, remain the same, which is to say they’re very difficult.
On normal golf courses, approach shots that land on the green have a good chance of staying there, but at Pinehurst No. 2 most do not. The greens here are so severe, in fact, that Pinehurst caddies coined the term, “Greens Visited in Regulation” because “Greens in Regulation” are too tough to come by. If your approach shot touches the green at any point – even if it ends up rolling off – give yourself a pat on the back and a dot on your scorecard.
The aesthetics are much improved. You’ll feel like your money was spent on a fantastic golf course, not just one that has hosted a bunch of championships – which is certainly true, but is only worth so much.
Pinehurst No. 2 is worth a look whether or not you played it before the renovation. Though the course yardage and par is unchanged, you’ll hit different shots on the new No. 2. It’s wild and untamed, just the way Donald Ross drew it up more than a century ago.