Some 200 media members, USGA officials and Pinehurst staff members gathered in the St. Andrews Room at the Pinehurst Resort Clubhouse on Monday to look ahead seven weeks to the unprecedented running of the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open on consecutive weeks, the venue being the renowned No. 2 course.
The thread running throughout: There is going to be a different taste, feel and flavor of Open championships in June 2014.
- The prospects for the third Open to be held on No. 2 following Payne Stewart’s win in 1999 and Michael Campbell’s victory in 2005 were discussed. “I think one of the older players, a guy with some maturity who can let the bad breaks roll off his back might have a good chance,” said Bill Coore, who along with partner Ben Crenshaw restored the course in 2010-12. “Patience will be a very important quality to have the week of the Open.”
- The logistics of ending the men’s competition on Sunday June 15, perhaps staging an 18-hole playoff on Monday and then transitioning into the Women’s Open week were addressed. Ben Kimball, the USGA official in charge of the Women’s Open, said that a playoff in the men’s championship would begin at Noon local time on Monday and the course would be open for practice rounds for the ladies at 6:45 a.m. “A Monday playoff will set up the possibility of the men’s and women’s competitors hitting balls side by side, which will only add to the excitement of this event,” Kimball said. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens come this June.”
- The nuances of the Coore & Crenshaw restoration project were considered, and prime on the speculation docket is the prospect of how competitors will think their way around the course and how they’ll address the infinite variety of recovery shots from sandy waste areas dotted with wire grass, pine straw and all manner of “volunteer vegetation,” as Coore likes to call the assorted plant life that pops up unannounced. “Pinehurst No. 2 had come to look like every other golf course—wall-to-wall green, a monochromatic look,” Pinehurst owner Robert Dedman Jr. said. “It no longer reflected that it was in the Sandhills of North Carolina. Bill and Ben have brought that look back and have re-introduced strategy to the golf course. They’ve restored the width of the fairways to give players options on where to aim from the tee and how to best attack the hole location.”
- Adds USGA Executive Director Mike Davis: “The lies the players get when they venture off the fairways will be fascinating to watch. From a shot-value standpoint, it’s going to give the best players in the world some shots that they simply haven’t had to make in past U.S. Opens. So it’s exciting.”
Sustainability – A New Age in Golf?
And they talked quite a bit about the issue of “sustainability,” how a course with some 40 less acres of manicured turf that is not overseeded with ryegrass during the winter is less expensive and more environmentally friendly to maintain. Davis says that the cost and availability of water is threat No. 1 to the future of golf.
“I think that this is a great, great story of what Pinehurst has done to say, ‘We don’t have to irrigate 150 acres anymore. We can cut that down,’” Davis said. “We can get drier, firmer fairways and we hope that this shows the golf world that this can be done other places, too.”
“It can be a huge statement. Superintendents from California to the East Coast want this to work.” – Bill Coore
The irrigated area on the course has been reduced from 85 acres to roughly 45 acres, and the 1,100 sprinkler heads that watered the course for the 2005 Open have been reduced to 450, with half of those covering greens and tees. There are now just two mowing heights on the course—the greens and everything else—thus simplifying the daily mowing regimen. Bob Farren, Pinehurst’s director of golf course and grounds maintenance, says the water consumption on No. 2 has dropped by 65 percent and that seed and fuel costs have been reduced by not overseeding No. 2 , as well as courses 1, 3, 7 and 8, and not overseeing the roughs on No. 4.
“We have extended some of these maintenance practices on No. 2 to our other courses,” Farren says. “Overseeding is primarily a cosmetic practice. It actually retards our ability to cultivate a firm and fast playing surface. Bermuda fairways are at their finest during the fall if they’re not competing with the rye that you’ve overseeded with. Then in spring, the Bermuda comes back faster if it’s not competing with the rye.”
Coore says he has talked with course superintendents from across the nation who have said they’ll be watching the Opens with interest. They are hoping that two weeks of television and media saturation of an “old school” look to a modern golf course will help their clubs adopt the idea of using less water and chemicals.
“A lot of people have their fingers crossed that this is well-received,” Coore said. “It can be a huge statement. Superintendents from California to the East Coast want this to work. They want course owners and green committees and club members to recognize that the maintenance level of wall-to-wall perfection is no longer realistic and sustainable going forward.”
Lee Pace’s book, “The Golden Age of Pinehurst,” is available in golf and retail shops throughout the resort.