Pinehurst’s Back-to-Back Opens – and what they mean for the game of golf

Martin Kaymer

Martin Kaymer celebrates after winning the 2014 U.S. Open on Pinehurst No. 2. (Photo by the USGA)

When the USGA’s Mike Davis looks back on the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst, what does he see? Two of the most important weeks in the long history of the U.S. Open and the USGA

By LEE PACE

USGA Executive Director Mike Davis is a keen historian of golf and says when asked to talk about the most memorable and important U.S. Opens in history, he thinks of 1900 at Chicago Golf Club, where Harry Vardon won his first Open—“That was the one that took the Open from a small, mostly regional event into a national and international competition,” Davis says.

He thinks of 1913 at Brookline, when American Francis Ouimet bested the top players from Great Britain —“The game had been dominated by players from the U.K., and here an unknown American wins. It was the kickoff of the great American golfer,” Davis says.

He thinks of Arnold Palmer winning at Cherry Hills in 1960, beating an aging Ben Hogan and a young Jack Nicklaus; of Nicklaus and Tom Watson winning at Pebble in 1972 and ’82, respectively; and of Tiger Woods’ playoff win over Rocco Mediate on a broken leg at Torrey Pines in 2008.

“In a few years from now, I think we’ll look back on the 114th U.S. Open and the 69th Women’s Open and say that in a lot of ways, it was a seminal moment in the game of golf.” – Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director

And he’ll now think of the two weeks in June 2014 at Pinehurst No. 2, when Martin Kaymer and Michelle Wie won back-to-back the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women’s Open.

“We saw this year we don’t have to have real narrow fairways, we don’t have to have to have long, rough grass to have successful U.S. Opens,” Davis says. “In a few years from now, I think we’ll look back on the 114th U.S. Open and the 69th Women’s Open and say that in a lot of ways, it was a seminal moment in the game of golf and championship golf and sustainability of the game. These two weeks will rank right up there with the best ever.

“We have to celebrate how well Martin Kaymer played and how Michelle Wie won her first major championship. It was a great story on water use and a great story of the restoration of one of the great golf courses in the country—in the world, for that matter. It’s going to be hard to give these two weeks enough accolades for what they’re going to mean to the game.”

Michelle Wie 2014 U.S. Women's Open

Michelle Wie holds the trophy as she poses for pictures after winning the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst Resort & C.C. in Village of Pinehurst, N.C. on Sunday, June 22, 2014. (Copyright USGA/Matt Sullivan)

Pinehurst’s third U.S. Open has now come and gone, and the most recent one had a news hook that elevated the interest level from competitors, golf architects, superintendents, green committee chairmen, course owners, the news media and, of course, the rank and file golf populace.

The No. 2 course underwent a major restoration effort from 2010-11 under the direction of architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and the course lay in stark contrast from the one played in 2005. There was no Bermuda rough. The fairways were wide, reset at the dimensions left when architect Donald Ross died in 1948, and the edges were burnished with buff, cream and brown shades thanks to six weeks of dry weather and an irrigation system re-contoured to water only the same centerlines that Ross laid down when he completed the routing in 1935. The fairways ran hard and quick.

“It’s certainly the most dramatically different presentation of championship golf we’ve seen in many years. This look is more in keeping with the origins of the game. Golf was meant to be played in nature—not in a pristine garden.” -Bill Coore

“It’s certainly the most dramatically different presentation of championship golf we’ve seen in many years,” Coore said at the beginning of the Open. “This look is more in keeping with the origins of the game. Golf was meant to be played in nature—not in a pristine garden.”

Kaymer was the one player over two weeks whose game was so razor sharp that he left the field behind. He shot back-to-back 65s to open the competition and cruised to a eight-stroke win and nine-under total.

Davis reflects on the 2000 Open at Pebble Beach, where Tiger Woods bolted to the fore with a first-round 65 and then cruised to a 15-stroke win, shooting 12-under with Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez tying for second at three-over.

“People immediately asked us, ‘Will you ever take the Open back to Pebble after a winning score of 12-under?’” Davis says. “They completely missed the point. You had a guy lap the field because he played so incredibly well. Who cares what the winning score was? And oh, by the way, the best the other 155 players could do was 3-over.

“Here at Pinehurst, some will look at 9-under winning and say, ‘Is it too easy now?’ They forget the fact of 155 other players, only two broke par.”

Martin Kaymer

Fans applaud as Martin Kaymer celebrates winning the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. (Photo by the USGA)

Davis spoke at length after the two weeks of competition about how the concept of “maintenance up the middle” should be in the lexicon of every green superintendent, green committee chairman, course owner, developer and, indeed, each individual golfer.

“It’s a throwback to the old days.  … Go back to the way golf used to be played.” -Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director

“It’s a throwback to the old days,” Davis says. “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 fewer 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.”

Davis also highlighted the bunker-maintenance practices on No. 2—grooming and raking the bottom-center of the bunker and leaving the rest to its own devices. It’s a practice that Don Padgett and Bob Farren of the Pinehurst staff saw watching the President’s Cup at Royal Melbourne and thought would fit in well on No. 2.

“This is a great statement for golf in that the second-most expensive thing in a budget for a golf course is the bunker maintenance,” Davis says. “But think about that, it’s a hazard. And golf courses are spending huge sums of money, just beyond the putting greens, on maintaining bunkers.”

Davis says the intent is not that all American courses should look for twelve months like a British Open venue. But if the domestic golf market accepts that fairways can run and perimeters can be less than lush, then the industry can save considerable sums of money on water, chemicals and labor.

It is, he hopes, the nascent stage of a “movement.”

“So if the average golfer can be accepting of firmer conditions, of conditions that maybe aren’t as perfect out in the periphery, that’s what’s going to start this movement,” Davis says. “And I think that if you get outside of the United States, you go throughout Europe, you go to South America, you get to Africa, Australia, there is a different mindset for golf there. People are more accepting of that mindset. And here in the United States it seems like lush conditions are celebrated. And all we’re trying to say is firm conditions probably are the future of the game.”

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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