When Pinehurst officials decided to restore Pinehurst No. 2 to the way famed designer Donald Ross originally intended, the choice to lead the giant undertaking was clear.
By LEE PACE
Fifty years later, Bill Coore can easily conjure up the sights and sounds of a summer day spent playing golf at Pinehurst. As a boy growing up in Davidson County just an hour northwest of Pinehurst, Coore would often travel with an adult golf mentor or a group of junior golf buddies to play Pinehurst No. 2, then as now one of the top courses in the nation.
“This was the foundation of my introduction to golf architecture.” – Bill Coore
“We’d tee off at daybreak,” Coore says. “It was five dollars. You got a little tag, a paper tag to put on your bag. We would start walking and playing. Far more than a few times we’d play fifty-four holes in one day, carrying our bag, on the No. 2 course. That was my earliest memory. It’s just an incredible place.”
Coore, established in 2010 as one of the top architects in the game of golf, pauses to reflect on the influence Donald Ross and No. 2 have had on his life and career.
“This was the foundation of my introduction to golf architecture,” he says.
That interest evolved as Coore played on the golf team at Wake Forest in the late-1960s and grew as he got a job out of college working on the construction and shaping crew for architect Pete Dye. Later Coore ventured out on his own, designing a course solo in Corpus Christi, Texas, and in 1985 he and Ben Crenshaw formed a design partnership that has produced such notable layouts as Sand Hills, Friar’s Head, Old Sandwich, Bandon Trails and Kapalua Plantation among the 100 Greatest Courses in the U.S. in Golf Digest’s 2013-14 rankings.
While Crenshaw has carved time out from his schedule playing the PGA Tour and Champions Tour to drop in on the firm’s projects, Coore has been the full-time, on-site, hands-on guy. He’s taken charge of routing new courses, walking a new site as many as a dozen times before arriving at a final routing, and will spend hour upon hour shaping greens on a machine he created by tweaking a small bulldozer and adding a grooming element.
Coore’s formative years in golf at Pinehurst showed him that a good course need only be maintained along the corridors—tees, fairways and greens—and the rest can be left as Mother Nature intended it. He has never bought into the modern maintenance standards of perfectly grooming every square inch of a golf course. The Coore & Crenshaw art of sculpting strategically interesting courses with features defined by the visually dramatic natural settings of the native ground made the team the ideal choice to direct the restoration of No. 2 from 2010-11.
“He’s hitting the ball out of sand and wire grass. To Ben and me, that means something.” – Bill Coore
Coore notes a photograph hanging on the clubhouse wall of Donald Ross taken on the rugged and scraggy ground at Pinehurst three quarters of a century ago.
“That picture speaks volumes,” Coore says. “Donald Ross didn’t just go out there at random and pick that spot. It doesn’t have anything to do with trees, it doesn’t have anything to do with beautiful turf. He’s hitting the ball out of sand and wire grass. To Ben and me, that means something.”
BACK TO THE FUTURE?
As the restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 commenced in 2010, the covers of the popular national golf magazines were dominated with photos of the newest of the four courses at Bandon Dunes on the Pacific Coast. Coore & Crenshaw designed one of these courses, Bandon Trails, and the quartet of layouts has been saluted for its old world appeal of sand, wind, taut surfaces and a lack of contrived features and appearance.
“This golf course was so instrumental in my understanding what good golf architecture can be and should be.” – Bill Coore
“You look at all the golf magazines today, the courses they are featuring have this very natural, evolved look to them,” Coore says. “None of them portray the sense of the perfectly manicured look. Those are not the ones coming to the forefront. Bandon Dunes is in every magazine you pick up. Well, Pinehurst has been that since its inception. It was the leader in the beginning of very natural golf courses. It was one of the most natural looking golf courses in the entire country.”
As the project was winding down late in 2011, Coore reviewed the key statistics of the venture: 1,000 sprinkler heads reduced to 450; 40 acres of turf removed; some 80,000 wire grass plants established; 40 percent less water used in maintenance.
“This was a huge risk for Pinehurst,” Coore says. “Ben and I were out on a limb, too. But it was worth doing. I hated that so much of what I knew 40 years ago was no longer here. This golf course was so instrumental in my understanding what good golf architecture can be and should be.”
Lee Pace is a regular contributor to the Pinehurst Blog. He latest book, “The Golden Age of Pinehurst—The Rebirth of No. 2,” is available in all retail shops at Pinehurst.