Ben Crenshaw was a 15-year-old growing up in Texas when his father gave him Charles Price’s 1962 book, The World of Golf, a 308-page treatise to the game’s venues, champions, implements and traditions that covered six centuries in words and pictures.
Crenshaw adored the game and was quite good at it, but so far his universe extended only as far as the out-of-bounds stakes at Austin Country Club and the local municipal course.
“I couldn’t have cut my teeth on a better book.” – Ben Crenshaw
“I couldn’t have cut my teeth on a better book,” Crenshaw says. “It has a little bit about everything. When I first read that book, I began to understand the rich history and colorful stars of the game of golf.”
Soon after, Charlie Crenshaw suggested to Ben that he enter the 1968 U.S. Junior Amateur, scheduled for The Country Club in the Boston suburb of Brookline. Ben lost in the quarterfinals but had a mesmerizing week — “The ground was so perfect, I was scared to take a divot,” he says — and the experience ignited a magical circle that ended in 1999 when Crenshaw captained the U.S. Ryder Cup team to its memorable final-day rally at The Country Club.
“It was perfectly natural. It was so history laden. You had to ask yourself: ‘Why? Who put this together? Who started this? Who nurtured it?’” -Ben Crenshaw
“I couldn’t have been luckier to see Brookline early on, when I was so young,” Crenshaw says. “It was rustic, it was New England, it seemed like the other side of the world from Austin, Texas. It was perfectly natural. It was so history laden. You had to ask yourself: ‘Why? Who put this together? Who started this? Who nurtured it?’ There was so much romance about it, and then I learned about it being one of the founding clubs of the USGA and the place where Francis Ouimet won the Open.
“Together, Charley Price’s book and my trip to Brookline set me off on a path I’ve enjoyed the rest of my life. They opened my eyes to a different world.”
That world, of course, was at first built around competitive golf. Crenshaw won two NCAA championships outright as a Texas Longhorn from 1971-73, shared a third with Tom Kite and christened his new career on the PGA Tour in the fall of 1973 with a win in the San Antonio Texas Open.
His next event was a second-place finish in the 144-hole World Open at Pinehurst, a one-off, two-week tournament with $100,000 to the winner, an unheard-of sum for the early 1970s. Crenshaw trailed Miller Barber by one shot in the final round when he hooked his tee shot on the par-5 16th. He made bogey and lost to Barber by three shots.
“I was just trying to hit the ball 500 yards,” Crenshaw says of the fateful drive on 16.
Riding a silky smooth putting stroke, a deft ability to read greens and a friendly Bulls-Eye putter named “Little Ben” (a Wilson 8802 he found in a municipal golf shop rack as a teenager), Crenshaw evolved into one golf’s luminaries through the close of the 20th century. He won the 1984 and ’95 Masters, 17 other tour events and played on four Ryder Cup teams.
His love of golf history and his worldwide travels to the game’s finest venues naturally primed an interest in golf architecture, and in the 1980s Crenshaw began exploring avenues to develop a course-design sideline. A mutual acquaintance brought the native Texan together with Bill Coore, who in the mid-1980s was a fledging architect and course construction worker and had recently completed the design and construction of Rockport Country Club in Corpus Christi. Coore gave Crenshaw a tour of his course and a match was made.
“We think the world of Pinehurst. Beyond the golf, the feeling of the place, it means so much to American golf. From the turn of the century, it has always been a leader, and it always will. It’s been a Mecca.” -Ben Crenshaw
“I liked what I saw,” Crenshaw says. “I liked how natural it looked. I was fascinated with architecture, always had been.”
They soon formed Coore & Crenshaw and over nearly three decades have teamed to become one of the game’s most respected design firms, with the courses like Sand Hills, Friar’s Head, Old Sandwich, Bandon Trails and Kapalua Plantation ranked in the 100 Greatest Courses in the U.S. in Golf Digest’s 2113-14 rankings. Their ability to craft courses that are interesting and fun to play and faithful to inherent personality of a particular site were among the reasons they were asked to restore Pinehurst No. 2 to its mid-1900s “golden age.”
“To be asked to contribute our ideas at Pinehurst is a high, high honor,” Crenshaw says. “We think the world of Pinehurst. Beyond the golf, the feeling of the place, it means so much to American golf. From the turn of the century, it has always been a leader, and it always will. It’s been a Mecca.”
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.