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Hallowed Ground: Pinehurst No. 2

by   (Senior Writer I)   |   February 27, 2013
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At St. Andrews, you suspect that the entire burgh has turned out to watch your initial tee ball. It’s not the case, as the shopkeepers have wares to sell and the even the starter has other interests. In complete contrast are the headwaters of Pinehurst No. 2, Donald J. Ross’s paragon of the Carolina sandhills. With the strains of the village carillon serving as the piper who brings you aboard, the northwesterly walk from Maniac Hill (the fabled driving range) brings you past the final green, along the clubhouse veranda, to the starter’s shed. And in this gentle way does a round over the terrain of Pinehurst No. 2 commence.

If you dig deeply enough, you’ll learn that the golf course had sand greens in its aboriginal state. You’ll read that ownership began with James Walker Tufts of Boston before the turn of the 19th century, yet has enjoyed a robust transfer legacy since then. You’ll uncover the amount of effort and energy that Donald Ross, born along the coast of northern Scotland, put into creating his inland opus. If it’s history you seek, you’ll find an unending amount in Pinehurst.

For me, a recent trip around the 18 singular holes of Pinehurst No. 2 represented the closing of a circle whose trace initiated in 1982. As a 16-year old golfer with but a smattering of the lore of Pinehurst, I was fortunate to play the course and be exposed to the work of the master. Truth be told, the early 1980s did not represent the luminescent hours of the resort. Golf had not returned to the popularity it holds today and the resort was traversing an uncertain arc, finding an identity. Despite this bit of murk, the features of the course took hold of me, ensuring that I would be forever smitten with the game and its architecture. I would kid my father the tennis player that he played the same rectangle, over and over. In contrast, my game took me from mountains to seaside links, from the desert to the jungle, never to the same geometry.

There is a trap that awaits a golfer who anticipates a maiden voyage around a fabled course. The pitfalls are many: expect too much of the course; expect too much of yourself and your game; expect too much of your caddy; expect that others will share your enthusiasm, and so forth. As I stepped onto that first tee deck of the No. 2 course, I cautioned myself to be satisfied with two achievements: take divots and play to the safe side of the target.

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Pinehurst No. 2, in anticipation of an unrivaled accomplishment, undertook a complete restoration of its spaces between. Gone now is the wall-to-wall emerald grass that made missed fairways a nightmare. Recovery shots from the thick rough were dubious at best, often a wedge to safety and rarely a run at the green. Under the watchful care of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw (and their team of builders and shapers), Ross’s pride was returned to the rugged, less-shorn test that the course creator had envisioned. Sandy wastes line the fairway edges. Bunkers that once described a recognizable curve now appear tangled, shaggy and jagged; in another word, beautiful.

It is a subtle touch that the first hole demands not a great drive, but a thoughtful approach shot to the green, and that the second hole reverses the requirements, accepting only the most stalwart of drives. Lest you think it gets easier from that point on, the third hole enjoins both. It is at the fourth hole that the golf course allows you to swing freely and crack a beauty down the majestic slope of your first look at a par-5 hole.

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After the trundle down the fourth and the ascent back up the parallel fifth, the course for the most part gives off a flattish hue. Holes move this way and that, across boscages and along the odd chaparral. There is vertical movement, but none so dynamic that its presence distracts the golfer from the majesty of the course routing. Donald Ross maneuvered fairway after fairway in distinct directions and at contrary angles. He placed greens against gentle slopes, beyond rumpled hillocks and atop subtle yet potent eskers.

The end result is more golf course than the typical touring golfer can manage. Not in a horrifying, threatening way, but in a subtle one. This is championship golf and it demands championship thinking, planning and execution, again and again. Each golf hole remains etched in my memory for its apparent simplicity and its identifiable complexity. Greens with false fronts and bogus backs seduce golf balls off the putting surface, into grassy hollows.

Pinehurst No. 2 will host the Women’s and Men’s United States Open Championships in successive weeks in 2014. I suspect the mystic, beguiling experience will transcend the tournaments themselves.

Check out the gallery below to see more of Ron’s photos.

About

Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.


7 Comments

  1. Ronald Montesano

    November 1, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    Nate and Matt and Chris…I don’t know what it is, but Pinehurst doesn’t feel like pulling into a Pine Valley or an Augusta National must feel like. It doesn’t feel secluded to me. It reminds me of St. Andrews and being a part of the town and being a part of the fabric of the lives of the people. It’s higher end than St. Andrews, being a resort unto itself, but it doesn’t intimidate me or make me cower. I love it for that.

  2. Bill

    March 18, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    Good read, Ron. Brings back a lot of pleasant memories. We had a condo on course #5 back in the 70′s and many of your early recollections parallel mine. The ownership wasn’t as solid back then but the town and golf experience were remarkable. The smells of pine, charming restaurants in the town (long since departed) and the ambience of The Carolina Hotel were borderline magical to a early teens kid.
    I honeymooned there in the mid 80′s and again had a great time (although my new bride flipped me off on the first hole of #2 after chunking her first two shots (we still laugh about that).
    The course is so subtle in it’s ability to abuse. I can only imagine how many putts I suffered through.

  3. Ronald Montesano

    March 3, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    Thank you, Nate. I don’t know if it’s possible to replicate the town-owned feel of St. Andrews in the USA. Bandon, Bethpage, Koehler are golf courses set apart from their towns. Pinehurst, as you know, is set directly in the town, a town that breathes golf deeply. These days, it costs a lot to play The Old Course in St. Andrews, but not as much to play its companion layouts. That’s a sign of the economic times, I guess.

  4. Ronald Montesano

    March 1, 2013 at 6:12 am

    Thank you, Matt and Chris. I heard an unconfirmed rumor that Pinehurst allows folks to inquire at the shop about simply walking the course. Don’t know if it’s true, but it is worth investigating.

    Number Two, for students of golf course design and architecture, must be seen. It is quite different from most of Ross’ other work and raises questions on why he did this here and why he didn’t do this there.

    I appreciate the kind words.

  5. Nate

    February 28, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    Good read Ron, thanks. I’ve played Pinehurst #4 before but never 2. I still remember the feeling of pulling into the driveway of Pinehurst. From the moment you pull in the driveway, step out of the car, Pinehurst oozes ‘golf’. Golf in it’s purest form. The terraced lawn bowling greens, the back patio overlooking the putting greens. I was there prior to the US Open. They had the leader board up already. It was a pretty cool experience. Thanks for bringing the memory back.

  6. Matt Newby, PGA

    February 28, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Great article Ron. I used to work at Pinehurst a few years back, I can’t tell you how much I miss playing there 7 days a week. Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to get back since.

  7. Chris

    February 27, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Nice piece; incredible golf course. Got to see Payne Stewart play and win there in 1999 but never had an opportunity to play the course until 3 weeks ago. I was impressed and enthralled with all of the natural beauty – kudos to Ross, Crenshaw and Coore. Simply awesome.

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