Q&A: Ben Crenshaw on Pinehurst No. 2
June 07, 2014
By Mark Williams, PGATOUR.COM
- Ben Crenshaw said it was an honor to be involved with the restoration of Pinehurst No. 2. (Getty Images/Andrew Redington)
How did you return Pinehurst closer to its original design?
Pinehurst is blessed with probably the best archives of anywhere, any course in North America. The Tufts Library, it’s a public library and it houses most of Donald Ross’ blueprints, is just astounding. They do a great job of chronicling not only the golf course, but the town. We had all of this wonderful photographic evidence of how the golf course changed throughout the eras. It was fascinating to us to know 1935 was when they put grass greens in. I had read that, but it’s unbelievable to see the actual evidence. They had the PGA Championship very closely after that. That’s when Ross got to do all of his work on the greens and around the greens.
The way he moved the terrain off of the greens, he made these dips and hollows and swales. They’re great art forms. The 1962 U.S. Amateur is when the course, to us, really looked wonderful outside of the fairways. We wanted to see as much evidence as we could about what the rough looked like.
Two things helped us tremendously. There is a mainline irrigation system, just a single line. It’s 75 years old. It’s still in service. We marked that. It makes marvelous swings through the holes. The two previous Opens – the Payne Stewart Open in 1999 and the 2005 U.S. Open that Michael Campbell won – the fairways were cut very straight and they remained so. They just did not appeal to us.
The golf course, it has more curves and elliptical movements. So we marked the mainline irrigation and marked equidistant on each side. Then we took out almost 40 acres of turf, because the rough was irrigated Bermuda rough and we didn’t think that represented what Pinehurst was. The aerial photography we had was wonderful. We had an aerial from 1945 on Christmas day. It’s the clearest aerial you’ve ever seen. You could see where the greens’ edges were, the bunkers, fairway edges.
We reworked the bunkers too. We didn’t change the positions of them, but through maintenance they weren’t as vibrant as they were. We didn’t change them as much as we sort of illuminated them. We added probably three or four bunkers. It’s brilliantly bunkered. It’s one of the great strategic golf courses in the world. We gave wider corridors off of the tee so you can play to one side of the fairway or the other.
It was so much fun. We were so honored to do it. And there was a lot of pressure because it was going to be a shock, what we were going to do. I'm sure people were wondering, 'What are they doing out there?' The archives were par excellence. I’m so keyed up. So is Bill Coore. My wife, she's coming. She came over in 1999. I told her, sweetheart, you’re going to see a different golf course. It’s very natural.
How will the sandy, natural areas play differently than the rough we saw in 2005 and 1999?
Charlie Price, the great writer, he’d say Pinehurst in his day was fairways, and the fairways were oases within sandy country. The wispy rye grass, pine needles and sand, the little tufts of ground, that’s what Pinehurst was.
It will be pot luck out (off the fairways). You can have a recoverable lie, or you can get a poor lie and have to chip out. It's all natural, though.
It will probably make you try a lot of shots that you wouldn’t have been able to. If you can put the club on the ball, you can try a lot of things. I think that’s going to be exciting for a lot of people and obviously different for a U.S. Open. I think that’s especially exciting because people who know Pinehurst and have played it forever know it’s one of the great second-shot golf courses in the world. How you maneuver your ball up onto those greens is a lot of playing Pinehurst, knowing when to try to get a ball a little bit closer and when to play away from a flagstick.
Did you make any changes to the greens?
We took out a couple inches of thatch across most of the greens. We brought the perimeters out just some.
What excites you most about the U.S. Open coming to the restored Pinehurst?
It’s such a great honor for Bill Coore, my partner, because he grew up 40 miles from there in Thomasville, North Carolina. He played Pinehurst as a youth. Pinehurst to so many people is one of our landmark golf courses. It was a leader from the turn of the century for North America. People would come to the resort and then they’d go off and organize clubs. The test is very unique when you really start thinking about the championship golf course because of its sandy nature. That’s what Donald Ross was drawn to. Sandy, wispy ground is what fascinated him from the beginning, and that’s why he worked so hard. Pinehurst No. 2 was his pet. He was always working on it, up until his death in 1948.
The illusive nature of those shots going into the greens is the essence of Pinehurst. Players who played it in 2005 will say they have a little more leeway out here, but I think it places the proper reward for playing one half of the fairway or the other. That’s what Ross wrote about. He had that in mind when he built it. U.S. Opens, as we all have known, have been a very stringent driving test, no question. Pinehurst, to us, what we tried to do was for the longevity of the resort, from an architectural standpoint, and for its longtime legacy, not just the U.S. Open. We just didn’t think the rough was necessary. There’s tremendous water costs there.