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Pinehurst No. 2 has returned to “gem” status

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(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

I will be in Pinehurst all week for the U.S. Open championship, and I am looking forward to seeing a great event on a great course. I’m thrilled to be headed to the home of American Golf as our National Championship is being conducted.

It’s always a pleasure to attend the U.S. Open, but this year could be especially exciting because of the venue. It is not very often that we get a golf season with the possibility of two “Open Championships” in the same year, but with the “new No. 2” awaiting the best players in the world this week, it’s not unlikely we will see the first of two links championships being played this year.

As Tommy Armour, The Silver Scot, said: The man that doesn’t feel emotionally stirred when he golfs at Pinehurst beneath those clear blue skies and with the pine fragrance in his nostrils is one who should be ruled out of golf for life.”

This year, No. 2 could be even better thanks to the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s renovation, which is nothing short of amazing. For those of you who have not seen the new layout, you’re in for a treat. Having seen and played the new No. 2, I am convinced that we are in for a royal run in the middle of June. In fact, it may be difficult to distinguish it from the middle of July!

pinehurst no. 2

Beware, however, if you like the lush rolling hills of Augusta, the thrills and spills at The Players Championship or the sheer brutality of Merion last year, because you may not recognize this year’s tournament. The 2014 U.S. Open is, if nothing else, an experiment for the USGA; not simply for the fact that both the men’s and ladies championship will be held in back-to-back weeks, but because the golf course will be so very different than any we have seen in many years.

Donald Ross’ masterpiece will be showcased for the world of golf to witness and learn what what he meant by “strategic” golf. There’s no deep rough or no narrow fairways (at least in the traditional sense), and certainly no “gouge and hope” around the greens (Merion, ugh). No, this year’s winner need not be long or strong. He or she must simply be patient. And smart.

Some of the particulars:

  • Crenshan and Coore have removed no less than some 35 acres of Bermuda grass from the old course. Pinehurst, built in the sandhills of North Carolina, will, for the first time in many years, see some of that sand again!
  • The irrigation system has been changed to single row. That means the edges of the fairways and the native scrub area off the fairways will be as nature intended. What’s more is that there are reported to be 500 less sprinkler heads on the golf course.
  • The golf course will play hard. And fast. Tons of thatch that had built up over the years, which create ultra soft fairways, has been removed. So balls that are rolling will continue to roll and come to rest who knows where, possibly in the scrub.

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An example of the scrub players will want to avoid at this year’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 (Photo from Chad Coleman). 

  • The strategy of the golf course, Ross’ divine inspiration, will come into play like it did in the early days of the resort. Ross was the master of strategic golf; his greens are angled to a specific sides of the fairway so the player gets to use only a small portion of the expansive fairways, and with the golf ball rolling like it will (with little to no rain rain) it will be even more challenging to get the ball on the correct side of the fairway. With the width of the fairways restored, players who are in control of their golf ball can use the best side of the fairway to approach the green.
  • Fairways hit in regulation this week will be meaningless statistic. A category of “fairways hit with the optimum angle into the green” might be more relevant.
  • There are only two grass heights on the entire golf course; green height and another cut, slightly longer than the greens, everywhere else.
  • Then there’s the greens, the crowing glory of No. 2, the most diabolical putting surfaces in all of championship golf. Pinehurt’s “inverted saucer” greens will repel any and all mishits into them, and more than ever before. This is inland links golf at its best.
  • The greens, averaging perhaps 6,000 square feet with actual puttable areas of maybe half that, can and will frustrate anyone approaching them. Patience will rule the day here. In the words of the immortal Bobby Jones: “Golf is not a fair game; but it is an equitable one”.
  • With the grass near the greens cut so closely, the players will have options, something last year’s championship lacked completely. Chipping, pitching, flopping, putting, bumping, running, fairway metal chips; you name and you’ll see it at Pinehurst this week.

It seems strange that Pinehurst took this circuitous route back to greatness. Sandy soil, far and away the best soil for golf courses in the world, is typically found near the coast, but it’s also found at the home of Pinehurst, the sandhills of Moore County, NC.  In other words, this area can build golf courses like the Old Course at St Andrews hundreds of miles from the sea, but they stopped doing so some time ago. It’s sad what money does to our game sometimes.

American golfers became so enamored with lush green fairways and courses where golf balls fly, sit, fly again and sit again, that Pinehurst, particularly in the Diamondhead Corporate days of the 1970s, lost its charm, its mystique and most if not all its character. The course was green, lush and soft. And boring!

But thanks to the genius of Crenshaw and Coore (God bless the traditionalists in our game), the old gem is back. It’s difficult to imagine a course with 50-yard fairways with no rough hosting our national open, but that’s exactly what will happen this week. I can’t wait!

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Pat

    Jun 13, 2014 at 6:55 am

    The course yesterday looked much softer than “HOT” with 50 yards of roll on drives. Did it rain wednesday night?

    • Dennis Clark

      Jun 13, 2014 at 10:18 pm

      Yes Thursday night about half an inch fell. Cloud cover has also been holding moisture in the greens.

  2. Pingback: US Open Golf Preview – Podcast With Michael Miller, “Big Mike” | Matthew G Scott

  3. Dennis Clark

    Jun 11, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    If it stays dry it won’t play anywhere near full length. Drives are HOT with 50 yards roll on sone, even irons and 3 woods landing hotter than I’ve seen recently.

  4. tony

    Jun 11, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    I got back from Pinehurst at the end of March and played number 2. Awesome Experience, can’t wait to see how the pros play it.

  5. Dave

    Jun 11, 2014 at 1:37 am

    It sounds like the ground game will come into play big time. At this level, it will be compelling to see how these guys handle 7500+ yards par 70 with this set up. They play a waaay different game then I do. Looking forward to it!

    • Dennis Clark

      Jun 11, 2014 at 10:03 pm

      A lot of putting and fairway metal chipping around the greens I saw in the practice rounds today

  6. Ken

    Jun 10, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    The set up looks a little like the World Woods Pine Barrens course in Florida.

    • Dennis Clark

      Jun 11, 2014 at 10:01 pm

      The natural unkempt look is similar but shot values a lot different. I like WW though.

  7. Steve

    Jun 10, 2014 at 8:43 am

    Anyone else see the similarities in the landscapes of Pinehurst and Royal Melbourne? Hopefully gives guys like Scott, Day and the Australian contingent some sort of advantage 😉

    • Dennis Clark

      Jun 10, 2014 at 10:15 am

      Sure does. Mackenzie treated the green complexes similarly. 30/40 yards in are the same as the green and can define how a hole plays. Both courses leave the “front door open”.

  8. Ben

    Jun 9, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    haven’t been this excited about a US Open in some time; and I’m usually geeked for this week!

  9. MHendon

    Jun 9, 2014 at 11:47 am

    Really looking forward to this one, more than normal.

    • antonio

      Jun 10, 2014 at 7:21 am

      +1. I have played number 2 a few years ago and I am very eager to see how it plays now

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