The Secret of Pinehurst No. 2

BY LEE PACE

“There’s nothing like it, nothing like it in the world.”

Ben Crenshaw has seen thousands of golf courses around the globe in four-plus decades of competition and design work with partner Bill Coore. Since first seeing Pinehurst No. 2 in November 1973, he’s revered its unique qualities.

So what makes Pinehurst No. 2 special?

Let us count the ways.

 

Pinehurst No. 2 8th Hole

Pinehurst No. 2 8th Hole

No. 1 Wide fairways

Donald Ross and superintendent Frank Maples installed the first irrigation system on No. 2 in 1933. The pipe was laid down the middle of each fairway and water was thrown roughly seventy feet on either side.

“There’s nothing like it, nothing like it in the world.” – Ben Crenshaw

That ground was maintained as fairway, everything else was the natural hardpan sand that had defined the region for generations. That breathing room off the tee allowed golfers the opportunity to aim tee shots to one side or the other in order to have the best angle to approach the green and the hole location that day.

Pinehurst No. 2 14th Hole

Pinehurst No. 2 14th Hole

No. 2 No rough

The 2014 U.S. Open will be the first since the 1950s, when the USGA established its template for Open course set-ups, that the national championship has been played with no long grass bordering the playing avenues.

The 2014 U.S. Open will be the first since the 1950s the national championship has been played with no long grass.

No. 2 is now maintained with two lengths of grass—the greens at one very tight measure and the fairways and everything else only slightly longer. Instead of hacking out of thick Bermuda rough, golfers now have to play a myriad of shots off of hardpan, amid pine needles and cones and off a variety of textures, firm in some places, soft in others.

 

Pinehurst No. 2 11h Hole

Pinehurst No. 2 11th Hole

No. 3 Unkempt bunkers

Modern bunker maintenance calls for smooth lines on the edges, uniform grass blankets on the faces and neatly coiffed bunker bases. “They’re so perfect, they look like they’ve been painted on the course,” Coore says.

The edges of the bunkers are rough and haphazard.

No more.

The edges of the bunkers are rough and haphazard. There are tufts of wire grass on the faces and in some of the bunkers themselves. Some of the borders blend seamlessly into the surrounding hardpan sand. The odd wisp of pine straw or organic material in the sand is fine, all the more to resemble Ross’s native Scotland and the condition he left the course when he died in 1948.

 

Pinehurst No. 2 5th Hole

Pinehurst No. 2 5th Hole

No. 4 Firm and fast

This element will take the most time to evolve as the course maintenance staff works to remove the thatch that has built up over years in the fairways and tends to make them play soft. Toward that end, Pinehurst has begun using an organic dying process each winter to give the course some of the green color that visitors from the Northeast covet—without having to overseed the course with bright green ryegrass. Overseeding breeds more thatch—it’s the antithesis of grooming a taut playing surface.

 

Pinehurst No. 2 9th Hole

Pinehurst No. 2 9th Hole

No. 5 Inverted saucer greens

The smart money plays to the front-center of the greens on No. 2, no matter where the flag is located.

The greens on No. 2 are surrounded by a medley of swales and hollows covered by closely cropped grass. Golfers can recover by putting, chipping or pitching. Mid- to high-handicappers are advised to keep the wedge in their bag. It’s tough to get the club under the ball on the tight lies around the greens. The smart money plays to the front-center of the greens on No. 2, no matter where the flag is located. A shot landing on the perimeters of the dome-shaped greens is sure to slide off the putting surface, so the percentage play is to aim to the center and putt toward the corners.

 

Pinehurst No. 2 18th Hole

Pinehurst No. 2 18th Hole

No. 6 A myriad of colors of visual stimulation

“What I see is the attractiveness of a different palette of color. Before, you had just one shade of green everywhere.” – Bill Coore

The appearance of No. 2 had evolved over the latter stages of the 20th century into monochrome green with neat circles of white bunkers. Now it’s anything but. The emerald fairways give way to the natural colors of the bunkers (filled with a darker hue of sand) and the sandy roughs. “What I see is the attractiveness of a different palette of color,” Coore says. “Before, you had just one shade of green everywhere. Now you have everything from all shades of green and brown to all the stuff in between. That, in it and of itself, is an attractive picture.”

 

16thWater

Pinehurst No. 2 16th Hole

No. 7 The hazards it does not have, i.e., water

There is only one water hazard on No. 2 – the pond fronting the tee of the 16th hole – and it’s only in play for the high-handicap player prone to topping his tee ball. The pond was never conceived as a strategic part of the course; in the early days, it was merely a low-lying area that drained poorly and looked unsightly. Donald Ross and superintendent Frank Maples filled it with water so it would look better.

 

Pinehurst No. 2 2nd Hole

Pinehurst No. 2 2nd Hole

No. 8 The hazards it does have, i.e., pine straw and hardpan sand, two features indigenous to Sandhills golf

The key to recoveries off both surfaces is to make sure you hit the ball first. Play the ball back in your stance with your hands slightly forward at address. And be careful in the pine straw; it’s easy to dislodge your ball and incur a penalty stroke.

 

caddiephoto_11713

No. 9 Caddies

A round on No. 2 is infinitely more pleasurable in the company of one of the club’s caddies. Carts are restricted to sand paths that are set well back from the fairways; it’s difficult to get the feel for the course by walking at right angles to the line of play all day.

“Riding a cart here is like going to 31 flavors and ordering vanilla.” -Tom Harmicar

“This golf course was not meant to be played out of a golf cart,” says Tom Harmicar, who’s lived in Pinehurst since 2007 and doubles as a member and a caddie. “Riding a cart here is like going to 31 flavors and ordering vanilla.”

Those are just 9 reasons why Pinehurst No. 2 is special.

What are your reasons?

Tell us in the comments below.

 

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