Pinehurst News

“There’s going to be a lot of heartache out there” – Ben Crenshaw, Mike Davis relish No. 2′s U.S. Open possibilities

Ben Crenshaw, right, and Bill Coore look over the restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 early in the process.

Ben Crenshaw, right, and Bill Coore look over the restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 early in the process. Photo by John Gessner

“Being a Scot, Ross interpreted the word ‘rough’ to mean ‘broken ground.’” – Charles Price

By Lee Pace

If there was one underlying guidepost that Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw used in their 2010-12 restoration of Pinehurst No. 2, it’s this passage from author and historian Charles Price that appeared in GOLF Magazine in 1979. Crenshaw, an avid student of golf history, knew that Price had lived in Pinehurst at two separate times in his life and also had lived in St. Andrews, thus Price’s opinions carried plenty of weight on the subjects of architect Donald Ross and traditional golf design.

“Being a Scot, Ross interpreted the word ‘rough’ to mean ‘broken ground,’” Price wrote. “In other words, it was never tended in any other way. The ‘fairway’ meant the same to him as the word does to a ship’s pilot, a navigable channel through rocks, sand banks and other obstructions that is the safest way for a vessel to leave or enter a harbor—to leave the tee and enter the green. Consequently, he didn’t create rough to border a fairway. He ‘dredged’ a channel—a fairway—through the rough and left it as he found it.”

Crenshaw harkened back to those words one recent evening in Pinehurst when he and USGA Executive Director Mike Davis joined Pinehurst officials to inspect the golf course and tweak their preparation and maintenance plans just seven months away from the 2014 U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open.

“One sentence kept going over in my mind, something Charlie Price wrote a long time ago,” Crenshaw said. “Fairways were meant to be an oasis encased in sand, pine straw, pine needles and wire grass. That statement never left our mind.”

Pinehurst No. 2 The 13th Hole - Then and Now

Pinehurst No. 2 The 13th Hole – Then and Now

 

First approached in the summer of 2009 with the idea to restore the course to its original width and character native to the Sandhills of North Carolina, Crenshaw admits that he and his design partner of some three decades tiptoed into the project with some reservations.

“We always thought the course was there, that the bones were intact,” Crenshaw said, referencing No. 2’s evolved look into a svelte presentation of smooth, grassy playing surface. “But we thought it could be depicted in a different manner. We said, ‘We need to tackle this, we need to give it a shot.’

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Playing Pinehurst No. 2 – at 100 years old

M.O. Owens, at 100 years old, lines up a putt on Pinehurst No. 2.

BY ALEX PODLOGAR

When M.O. Owens Jr. picked up the game of golf, he used two clubs – a 7 iron and a putter.

“On that course, a 7-iron was all you needed,” he says now.

It was a short, dusty 9-hole course near Greenville, S.C., opened right around the time Owens picked up that fateful 7 iron. But at the time, that course had something in common with Donald Ross’s famed Pinehurst No. 2.

“Sand greens,” Owens recalls. “Just a little 9-hole sand-green course.”

That was in 1932.

On Thursday, over 80 years later, No. 2 had something else in common with that long-forgotten track.

M.O. Owens Jr., now nearly two months after his 100th birthday, had played both.

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“It was delightful. I can now say I’ve played No. 2. That’s great.” – M.O. Owens

Owens shuffles off the back of the 18th green, moments after sliding his 30-footer from the front of the green just past the right lip of the cup. He makes the 2-foot comebacker to close out the round.

“Amazing,” says Adam Ludlum, Owens’s caddie. “Just amazing.”

His last day at 99, Owens shot his age. Well, he shot an even 100, but at that point, a little rounding up is OK.

“Three-to-four weeks before that, I shot 92,” Owens says, a brief glint in his eye, before he pauses a second, “but that was way back.”

It isn’t Owens’s first trip to Pinehurst – he played No. 8 not long after it opened in late 1990s – and the Gastonia pastor was in the gallery for the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Opens. But this, his first time playing No. 2, is different.

M.O. Owens points out a picture lining the hallowed hall of Pinehurst’s Resort Clubhouse on Oct. 31.

“At the Open, you can really only see one hole at a time. I saw all 18 today.”

Owens, who founded Parkwood Baptist Church 50 years ago, didn’t shoot his age on No. 2. He says he didn’t play well on this day, and he wasn’t pressed to provide a score.

The score didn’t matter anyway.

“It was delightful,” Owens says, his voice rising. “I can now say I’ve played No. 2. That’s great.”

All it took was 81 years.

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In those eight decades of golf, M.O. Owens Jr. has never broken 80.

Never.

Oh, he’s been close. He’s gotten to 80 before. And over the years, golfing regularly with members of his congregation and other friends, he’s hit that magic number and signed a few low-80s cards.

“I’ve been around there a number of times across the years,” Owens says.

That number is out of reach these days. Of course Owens knows that. And he’s going to have days when the course is too much for him. Seven months from hosting back-to-back U.S. Opens in 2014, No. 2 is one of those courses, and it wears Owens down.

“I didn’t play very well,” says Owens, waiting a beat again as a tone soaked with equal parts resignation and truth surfaces, “but when you get to my age, you don’t expect to.”

Yet Owens keeps coming out. Keeps swinging the club. He plays like we all do. Warm up on the range. Roll a few on the practice green. Head to the tee.

And at times, there is frustration. Golf is hard. We all know that. But at 100 and on a U.S. Open-ready course?

That’s tough. Real tough.

But, you play to 100, you learn a few things about the game along the way.

“Sure, you get frustrated sometimes, but I learned a long time ago that it’s not worth getting upset about things,” Owens says. “There’s always another day…”

That pause again. You hang on what’s coming next. You know something is coming, and it’s gonna be good.

Apparently, among the other things you can learn over a century, is perfect timing.

“There’s always another day…

“Hopefully.”

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Phil Mickelson sheds more light on prepping for Pinehurst

 

No doubt, Lefty is narrowing his season all around Pinehurst.

Phil Mickelson has shed more light on how he will alter and shorten his 2014 playing schedule in anticipation for the U.S. Open on Pinehurst No. 2.

Mickelson recently told reporters he plans to play in the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis the week before the Open at Pinehurst as a tuneup.

“I enjoyed and felt like playing Memphis the week before was very helpful for me to be ready,” said Mickelson, who added a sixth runner-up finish at the U.S. Open this past summer a week after taking second at St. Jude. “They are very similar grasses at Memphis as we have at Pinehurst, with the exception of the greens being bent at Pinehurst … so I plan to play Memphis.”

 

Mickelson added he intends to play The Memorial this season. The Memorial is contested May 29-June – a week before St. Jude and two before the Open. Mickelson said he typically likes playing a three-week stretch of tournaments entering majors, but said the Memorial/St. Jude/U.S. Open trifecta will be the only time he plays three weeks in succession this season.

It also sounds like Lefty will be a regular visitor to Pinehurst in the coming months.

“But I plan on having two weeks prior to the U.S. Open lead up, and I’ll have some time in Pinehurst prior to that,” Mickelson said.

Mickelson’s first of his storied runner-up Open finishes came in 1999 at Pinehurst No. 2. He was tied for 33rd at the 2005 Open at Pinehurst.

 

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Going to Bermuda – via Pinehurst

Pinehurst No. 3

Pinehurst No. 3 reopened on Oct. 4 – with Bermuda greens.

What Goes Around, Comes Around

By Lee Pace

The old-timers remember the taut Bermuda grass greens of Pinehurst No. 2 as being as much a part of the experience as the wide fairways, sandy roughs and beveled greens complexes.

“There was nothing like playing those old Bermuda greens,” says Lanny Wadkins, a frequent Pinehurst visitor in the 1960s from his Richmond home and later a mainstay on the PGA Tour.

“They were firm and quick and there was no room for error.”

“The course was built on this pure sand base, and the greens were the identity of the course,” remembers David Eger, who visited from Charlotte often as a junior golfer in the 1960s, later won two North and South Amateurs and now is a regular on the PGA Champions Tour. “The greens were Bermuda at the time and they all sat up and had plateaus where you had to invent shots around the greens. It was very challenging if you missed the greens.”

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We still miss you, Payne

Oct. 25, 1999.

We still miss you, Payne.

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