The new, old Pinehurst is ready

Apr. 15, 2014 @ 05:33 PM

Pinehurst Resort's famous No. 2 course has hosted two outstanding U.S. Opens in the last 15 years, including one which provided a conclusion as fresh in the minds of fans of the game as if it happened yesterday.

This June's two U.S. Opens, as Pinehurst No. 2 will become the first course to host the two U.S. national championship tournaments in back-to-back weeks, will be the worldwide showpieces for the historic restoration No. 2 has undergone in the past four years.

The project will make this year's Opens closer to what legendary course designer and Pinehurst resident Donald Ross would recognize as his true work if he were able to step into his backyard and onto the third green. In some ways, Pinehurst No. 2 this June will resemble the course as it was for the 1936 PGA Championship rather than it was when Michael Campbell won the 2005 U.S. Open or when the late Payne Stewart won in 1999.

Beginning in meetings — which included the USGA — in 2008, then physically on the course in March 2010, the design team headed by course architecture team Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and Pinehurst's Director of Grounds and Golf Course Maintenance Bob Farren turned the course back to how Ross used the Carolina Sandhills terrain.

Pinehurst No. 2 opened in 1907. Ross, a native of Scotland, designed or more than 400 courses in the U.S. from 1900 until his death in 1948.

Ross lived beside Pinehurst No. 2's third green, constantly working on and perfecting the course.

The redesign team used a host of sources.

"The idea has been," said Farren during a tour of Pinehurst No. 2 Monday morning, "to restore the course to what we feel Donald Ross's intentions were."

Research included aerial photos from 1943, archival material from Pinehurst and the Tufts Archives and communications to and from Ross — although, Farren said, there wasn't as much written about Pinehurst No. 2 as golfers might initially think.

"(Ross) lived here and worked on it personally," Farren said, "so it became a challenge because there wasn't as much written communication ... he was here, so he didn't have to send communication to someone, say in Cleveland, who was working on one of his courses."

The restoration work is into its fifth year and, while Pinehurst No. 2 welcomed golfers again in March 2011 and will make American golf history in June, their is no "completion date" to the project, Farren said. The effort to return the course to "its natural work" — for the sake of how the course looks and how it plays — is constantly ongoing.

Undulating greens, greens which sport false fronts, steep backs and more slopes which can run a seemingly well-played iron into grass bunkers, back down the fairway or into bunkers or natural sand areas, will be of a test which creates, "psychological wear on players over 72 holes," Farren said.

Fast, hard, possibly penalizing greens are typical for U.S. Open championships, though. No rough for a U.S. Open will be a sight to see.

Outside of the fairways isn't 5-inch-high plush rough. The natural scape is made up of large tufts of wiregrass, sand which ranges from hardpan to soft, sinking sand, thick blankets of pine needles, ridges, crevasses and more terrain which was there long before a golf course was laid down.

According to the archives, Ross summed it up often with the term, "broken grounds."

Some shots errant of the fairways or greens are likely to leave the best golfers in the world wishing for a manicured sand trap or the usual U.S. Open-level rough.

Coore, Crenshaw and Farren removed the unwanted turf by removing the water. In time, the Sandhills vegetation reclaimed the land.

A day after golf fans enjoyed The Masters and the vibrant spring colors of Augusta National Golf Club, Farren said Pinehurst will be unique compared to Augusta and many of the well-known venues on the American golf calendar.

"Here, we'll have a lot of different shades of green, and a lot of different textures," Farren said.

"As beautiful as Augusta National is, Pinehurst will be the antithesis of that and it'll be a great test," he said.

All 18 holes will play at least slightly differently than from the '05 Open. Holes five and 13 will be among the most obvious changes.

The fifth hole has gone from a demanding par four to a strategic par five. At about 585 yards for the men's championship and 510 for the women's, players will choose whether or not to navigate a large bunker and berm, crossing in from the left of the fairway. Even conceding an attempt to reach the green in two leaves a tight lay-up shot into a narrow fairway sloping right to left heading to a green sloping right to left.

No. 13 was "ground zero" for the restoration's accuracy, Farren said. It will be a drivable par four for the men and women. The fairway is a forgiving width until it narrows considerably in the last 80-100 yards to an uphill green guarded by a false front and all type of "broken grounds."

Only one of the issues concerning hosting two major championships in two weeks is having each hole play the same for both tournaments. If the par-five fifth is requires a tough choice on whether to go tee to green in two or three shots for the men, it should be the same for the women. Similarly, No. 13 will be set up as a drivable par four for both opens, Farren said.

Stewart's 18-foot par putt on No. 18 gave him a one-stroke win over Phil Mickelson; at 1-under par for the 72 holes. In 2005, Campbell won at even par, two shots better than Tiger Woods and five shots clear of the rest of the field. So at no time has what Ross called, "the fairest test of championship golf I have ever designed," been simple.

"It is obviously the function of the championship course," said Ross — his known quote presented on a sign all golfers and spectators come June may read nearby the first tee, "to present competitors with a variety of problems that will test every type of shot which a golfer of championship ability should be qualified to play."