A fluky winter unlike any of the past 2 decades prompts the question: Has it affected No. 2’s readiness and playing conditions for the back-to-back U.S. Opens?
Not at all
The countdown ticker to the left of this missive on The Pinehurst Blog clicked down to 90 a week a week and a half ago. That’s when Kevin Robinson, the course superintendent of Pinehurst No. 2, took real notice of the impending arrival of the unprecedented back-to-back national championships scheduled on the 107-year-old golf course.
“It hit 90 and I said, ‘Wow,’ it’s almost here,” Robinson says. “It’s like it’s ticking down five at a time now instead of one.”
Robinson is making an early morning tour of the course on the second day of spring, dressed in layers and warm gloves as the sun rises above the horizon and begins boosting the 35-degree temperature. All golf superintendents are slaves to the 10-day weather forecast, and Robinson winces a little at the specter of a couple of upper-20 degree nights forecast for the following week.
“It’s like this winter will never end,” he says. “I’ve never experienced this cold a winter in Pinehurst and I’ve been here since 1992. I’m ready for this Bermuda to start greening up and popping. Three years ago, it got warm in February and we were mowing Bermuda in March.
“But here we are this year, it’s the second day of spring and we’ve got patchy frost.”
The inconvenience aside, Robinson is delighted that the course that will be the epicenter of the golf world the second half of June has come through the region’s harshest winter in memory in ship shape.
- The greens were covered when the temperatures dropped into the 20s.
- High traffic-areas around the putting surfaces were covered with burlap.
- Instead of the fairways being overseeded with the golf-industry eye candy known as ryegrass, they were tinged with a pale green paint. The color looked natural, gave visitors a nice visual but will allow the Bermuda grass to grow freely when it warms up without competition from the rye.
“Overall, we’ve gotten through the winter pretty well,” says Robinson, the No. 2 superintendent since the spring of 2010. “Fortunately, we’ve still got plenty of spring between now and the Opens.”
“Overall, we’ve gotten through the winter pretty well.” Kevin Robinson, No. 2 Superintendent
Robinson and his boss, Pinehurst VP of Grounds and Golf Course Maintenance Bob Farren, have heard and read comments from LPGA players earlier in the week voicing their concerns about the course conditions for the second week of the Open doubleheader. The U.S. Open will be held June 12-15, the Women’s Open following June 19-22.
“The playing conditions will be up to their standards, if not better,” Robinson says, then points to the width of the fourth fairway, now as wide as 35-to-40 yards in some spots.
“The fairways are so much wider and the ball is bouncing and running a lot more now than it did in 2005,” Robinson says. “Tee shots aren’t going to collect in the same spots like they did last time.”
The No. 2 course was restored in 2010-11 by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to architect Donald Ross’s original design tenets—one of which was wide fairways that afforded golfers strategic options for tacking their way around a hole. When the Open was last contested on No. 2 in 2005, fairways were 23-to-25 yards across and bordered with thick Bermuda rough.
“The fairways are so much wider and the ball is bouncing and running a lot more now than it did in 2005. Tee shots aren’t going to collect in the same spots like they did last time.” -Kevin Robinson
Farren notes that the course will be essentially closed to guests and members for two weeks prior to the U.S. Open and that having only those 60 players surviving the cut in the first championship will help limit the wear and tear on the course the week of the Women’s Open.
“In 2005, we had a couple of 100-degree days and the greens were stressed, but they were syringed during the day and they came out fine,” Farren says. “Coming out of that week, I don’t remember any thoughts of, ‘These greens need a break.’”
The USGA agronomic staff, Pinehurst maintenance workers and a small army of volunteers will be out full force every afternoon of the Open weeks, filling divots with a sand and top-soil mixture and tamping them down. In a typical Southern June, the Bermuda will begin filling in within days of the divot being made.
“We’ll have a nice, firm surface if a ball lands in a divot,” Robinson says. “On most holes, the women will land their drives past where the men were landing theirs so I don’t think it’s going to be a major issue.”
Farren says there are four holes—1, 3, 10 and 13—where there might be more concentration of divots with both sexes hitting into the same general landing area off the tee or, in the case of the par-5 10th, into the same second-shot landing area. That area of 10 will be cordoned off for two months leading into mid-June to make sure it’s pristine turf for the competitions.
“In 2005, we had a couple of 100-degree days and the greens were stressed, but they were syringed during the day and they came out fine. Coming out of that week, I don’t remember any thoughts of, ‘These greens need a break.’” –Bob Farren, Pinehurst VP of GCM
“I think the women will find the condition levels to be very good, I’m confident in that,” Farren says.
Close inspection reveals a of number of offseason tweaks to the golf course—the removal of the bathroom beside the 4th tee to expand the tee and give it a more pristine look; relocation of the cart path behind the elongated 5th tee; and the adjustment of sprinkler head heights to alleviate the dips in the turf around them.
“We’re trying to get it perfect,” Robinson says. “But in the end, it’s up to Mother Nature. What we don’t want is a lot of thunderstorms followed by heat and humidity. That will take the teeth out of the greens. Otherwise, I think they’ll find a great golf course.”