USGA & Pinehurst Find “Middle” Ground

Vintage Hole No. 9 (2)
USGA Executive Director Mike Davis goes more in-depth about Pinehurst No. 2 setup for the back-to-back U.S. Opens

By LEE PACE

It was at the USGA’s annual meeting held at Pinehurst in February 2010 that incoming USGA President Jim Hyler spoke of the association’s initiative to promote more natural looking golf courses, groomed with less water and chemicals and fewer man-hours.

“Our definition of playability should include the concepts of firm, fast and yes, even brown, and allow the running game to flourish,” Hyler said. “We need to understand how brown can become the new green.”

“You just hope around the world, people will look at this golf course and say, ‘It doesn’t have to be lush and green.’” -Mike Davis

Four years later, the USGA is on the cusp of staging back-to-back U.S. Opens on a Pinehurst No. 2 course that will perfectly illustrate those concepts. The 1907 Donald Ross-designed course was restored from 2010-11 by architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and the removal of some 35 acres of Bermuda rough and 700 sprinkler heads has resulted in a course more representative of a mid-1900s course than a modern one groomed to perfection with water, fertilizer and staff labor.

Mike Davis, USGA executive director speaks at the USGA news conference during the 2014 Annual Meeting at the Pinehurst Resort in the Village of Pinehurst, N.C. on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014. (Copyright USGA/Chris Keane)

Mike Davis, USGA executive director speaks at the USGA news conference during the 2014 Annual Meeting at the Pinehurst Resort in the Village of Pinehurst, N.C. on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014. (Copyright USGA/Chris Keane)

“It’s a throwback to the old days and the idea of ‘maintenance up the middle,’” Executive Director Mike Davis said Saturday at the USGA’s annual meeting, back again in Pinehurst. “This is a major focus of our Green Section. Maintain the middle of the golf course and spend less time and money on irrigation, fertilizer and fungicides in the roughs. Go back to the way golf used to be played. You use less resources and you reduce the cost.

“You just hope around the world, people will look at this golf course and say, ‘It doesn’t have to be lush and green.’ Maintenance up the middle is a great message for the game.”

Pinehurst No. 2 9th Hole

Pinehurst No. 2 9th Hole Today as compared to the 9th circa 1940s (Top photo)

The Open Setups

Davis addressed a number of issues relating the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open at a press conference Saturday morning. He credited former USGA Executive Director David Fay with the idea to play both Opens on consecutive weeks on the same golf course; the concept was hatched in the spring of 2009 and announced in June.

“With any innovation there is always some risk,” Davis said. “But we thought there was more upside than potential downside. It would be an opportunity to showcase the best men and the best women in back-to-back weeks, and there is a secondary interest here in showcasing women’s golf. I’m a big believer the women never get enough credit. They can really play. I have come to realize how very, very good they are. This will give them an opportunity showcase their skills, and I think playing the week after the men on the same golf course will draw some people to watch that wouldn’t otherwise.”

“I’m a big believer the women never get enough credit. They can really play. I have come to realize how very, very good they are.” -Mike Davis

Davis said that scheduling the men first was an agronomic issue only, that the USGA wants the greens to play with a slightly firmer bounce for the men than the women and that it’s easier to go from firm to less-firm than vice versa. The greens will roll at approximately an 11.5 pace on the Stimpmeter for both championships (the same speed as the two previous U.S. Opens played at Pinehurst).

He also said that by having the driving zones on most holes further down the fairway for the women than the men, that the worry of the women having to play through divot-pocked fairways is overblown. The course will be set up at approximately 7,500 yards for the men and 6,700 for the women.

 

Pinehurst No. 2 18th Hole

Pinehurst No. 2 18th Hole

“First of all, Bermuda grass divots are not as big an issue as with bent,” Davis said. “At other Opens, we’ve had the public playing Pebble Beach right up to the championship and there are divots all over the place. In reality, they’re just a part of the game.”

Another element of course set-up at Pinehurst in 2014 is that the fairways will be mowed to a height of one-half inch versus the one-quarter inch that has become commonplace not only for championship golf but day-to-day club play. Davis said he used the longer fairway height at Merion in 2013 and that it, like the concept of “maintenance up the middle,” is good for the game.

“The members at Merion love it,” he says. “The average player can get his club under the ball. We have gotten into an arms race like we have with green speeds—faster speeds and tighter fairways. Both are more expensive, more time-consuming and in some cases compromise the architecture. The higher cut actually leads to faster fairways—you don’t to water them as much because the longer plant is healthier.”

These U.S. Opens will be played on a course with no long rough and fairways that Davis estimates will be 40 to 50 percent wider than in 1999 and 2005, when the Open was played on No. 2. One day you’ll see Justin Rose defending his 2013 Open title and perhaps the next day spot Inbee Park beginning practice to defend her title.

The nuances and angles to Pinehurst 2014 know no bounds.

Lee Pace’s book, “The Golden Age of Pinehurst,” is available in the golf shop and gift shops throughout Pinehurst Resort & Country Club.

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