Pinehurst, and the next decade of championships

BY LEE PACE

With the official announcement that the USGA will conduct its fourth U.S. Open on Pinehurst No. 2 in June 2024, Pinehurst is set for a run of USGA events over the coming decade that further solidifies its place in championship golf.

In 2017 there is the U.S. Men’s Four-Ball Championship.

In 2019 there is the U.S. Amateur.

And then the Open five years later—yet another chapter that spans a story stretching more than a century, from Walter Hagen winning at Pinehurst in the 1920s to Ben Hogan crashing the victory barrier in 1940 to Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson collecting titles in the 1970s.

“There’s just so much history to this golf course,” Michelle Wie said in June 2014 after winning the U.S. Women’s Open. “And just the fact that I can be part of that history, it’s just so cool. I feel so honored to be part of that history. I think No. 2 is spectacular, and I think winning on the same golf course that Payne Stewart won means so much to me.”

Twenty-two years ago at an announcement at Baltusrol Golf Club at the 1993 U.S. Open, Pinehurst was flung back into the consciousness of championship golf and awarded the Open for 1999. After having hosted the 1936 PGA Championship, 1951 Ryder Cup and a half century worth of North and South Opens (an elite entry on the pro golf tour the first half of the 20th century), Pinehurst had withered to a fuzzy profile within golf’s governing bodies.

“How can we not go the extra mile to see if it will work at Pinehurst?” -Grant Spaeth

There was a National Amateur in 1962 and a decade of second-tier PGA Tour events in the 1970s. For two decades in the 1950s and ‘60s, Pinehurst owner Richard Tufts eschewed the professional game, and bad dates, bad greens and bad financial health doomed the pro golf initiatives of the next owner, the Diamondhead Corp., in the ‘70s and early 1980s.

That changed beginning in 1984 when new owner Robert Dedman and top executives Pat Corso and Don Padgett Sr. believed that Pinehurst’s rightful place in the golf world was to provide an elite golf facility and experience to members and resort guests and to have a seat at the head table of world-renowned competitive venues. They found sympathetic and encouraging ears in USGA officials such as David Fay and Grant Spaeth in the late-1980s, and a thoughtful examination of the golf course, the community’s infrastructure and the state’s corporate resources and appetite for golf ensued.

“How can we not go the extra mile to see if it will work at Pinehurst?” Spaeth, the USGA president in 1990-91, said of the due diligence between the club and USGA.

“I said before we came in ’99 that the Open at Pinehurst could be Tracy and Hepburnesque—a match made in heaven,” said Fay, the USGA executive director from 1989-2010. “That’s certainly been the case.”

“I said before we came in ’99 that the Open at Pinehurst could be Tracy and Hepburnesque—a match made in heaven. That’s certainly been the case.”

Indeed it has been. Stewart in ’99, Michael Campbell in 2005 and Martin Kaymer in 2014 have hoisted the Open trophy. Contestants and observers have lauded the challenge and playability of architect Donald Ross’s tour de force, even more so one year ago with a presentation that harkened back half a century ago, when tees, fairways and greens were meticulously maintained and the rest of the course and surroundings were left to their natural devices.

After three Opens played on bent grass greens, the 2024 event will be waged on a course featuring Champion ultra-dwarf Bermuda grass—modern agronomy’s most recent answer to the age-old question of how in the mid-Atlantic region to provide smooth, healthy, firm and quick putting surfaces for 12 months a year, with minimal interruptions to resort and club operations, and insure their health the third week in June.

“You get that golf course firm and fast with Bermuda greens, I think the next winning score in the Open will be closer to even-par,” Don Padgett II, the resort president and COO from 2004-2014, said after the 2014 Open. “Martin Kaymer’s 9-under was one for the ages. It was just a dominating performance. The fact that one player was able to distance himself like that speaks wonders to kind of golf he played that week.”

“No. 2 has always been demanding on the short game. Now it’s even more demanding.” -Tom Pashley, Pinehurst President

“When you stand on Bermuda now versus standing on bent greens, these are so pure,” adds Tom Pashley, who replaced Padgett last October. “Visually, they’re perfect. They roll true. But they are harder to play from a short-game perspective. It’s a little more interesting with the Bermuda greens because the ball doesn’t check quite the way bent checks. No. 2 has always been demanding on the short game. Now it’s even more demanding.”

Now to figure out where technology will be in nine years, both on the course and off it, and how many majors Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy will have accumulated.

Lee Pace is a regular contributor to the Pinehurst Blog. He latest book, “The Golden Age of Pinehurst—The Rebirth of No. 2,” is available in all retail shops at Pinehurst.

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