Pinehurst's 'new' look an homage to its roots
June 09, 2014
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
- The 13th hole at Pinehurst No. 2 shows the sandy area that was emphasized in the course's restoration. (Courtesy of Pinehurst Resort)
PINEHURST, N.C. -- Bill Coore knows he is dating himself, but when he was a student at Wake Forest in the mid-1960s, he and his buddies would often pile into someone's car and head down to Pinehurst to play some golf.
"You could come and get a day pass for $5," Coore recalled on a sun-kissed April Monday while standing on the first tee at the resort's famed No. 2 course. "We would start carrying our bags at daylight, play three rounds on this golf course, and we would go back home."
So to say Coore, one of the game's most respected golf course architects, was humbled four decades later when he and his design partner Ben Crenshaw were given the chance to restore Donald Ross' signature creation would be an understatement.
"He was one of our heroes," Coore said simply.
At the same time, though, the opportunity to reclaim No. 2 was a little intimidating.
"Bill and I had some real soul-searching moments," Crenshaw said recently on his Sirius/XM radio show. "This is one of our great golf courses in the United States. We had to think long and hard about what we would do and whether we wanted to be that bold because we knew some things needed to be done that might shock people.
"But we tackled it, and we're so happy that we did because it had lost its natural character, its rustic beauty."
Ross, who came to Pinehurst from his native Scotland in 1900, designed the first four courses at the resort, as well as nearly 400 others in the United States. But while many have made top 100 lists along the way, none drew the acclaim of No. 2, which hosts the U.S. Open this week and the U.S. Women's Open the following week.
Ross' vision of the No. 2 course, which opened in 1910 but was under his near-constant supervision and fine-tuned until his death in 1948, was very different than the well-manicured version displayed to the world at the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Opens. To Crenshaw and Coore, their task was obvious.
"We could see that it basically had too much grass," Crenshaw said.
Ross didn't design No. 2 to have wall-to-wall Bermuda or 3-inch rough framing the fairways, as had been the case since the early 1970s. Ross relied on the natural challenges of hard-pan, pine straw and wire grass, sometimes called love grass when nothing could be further from the truth, a species of ground cover that grows only in the Sandhills of North Carolina.
"Mr. Ross ... was Scottish, (and) he comes across as very frugal and frugal being not just in terms of money, but in terms of how to most efficiently and effectively present a golf course," Coore said. "He truly believed that sand and golf went together. He said that many times.
"I think the old photographs that we saw of this course, and hopefully the golf course that now lies behind us, is reflective of his belief that in terms of turf, for example, you use it in the most efficient fashion, you use it for interesting golf, but you also showcase the natural landscape, the natural vegetation. ... sand, wire grass, pine straw, and those elements."
So Crenshaw and Coore began the restoration in February of 2010, eventually removing 35 acres (40 percent) of turf and rendering 650 irrigation heads esentially obsolete. In 2013, when 61 inches of rain fell on the Pinehurst area, only nine million gallons of water were used on the course -- some 41 gallons less than before the restoration.
The rough was eliminated in favor of the sandy, natural areas and more than 200,000 wiregrass plants were added, supplemented by "volunteer" vegetation that took hold. In fact, a research team from N.C. State has worked with Pinehurst and identified 75 different species of plants on the course, helping to select which ones should remain to be cultivated.
Ross' trademark turtleback, or convex, greens, were essentially left alone but the fairways were widened, some by as much as 50 percent, and 13 new tees were added. The course will play to a par of 70 at a length of 7,562 yards -- compared to 7,175 yards at the 1999 U.S. Open and 7,214 yards during the 2005 national championship.
Coore and Crenshaw did considerable research before embarking on the year-long project. Some of it was done at the Tufts Archive in the nearby Village of Pinehurst, which houses many of Ross' orginial blueprints, as well as a fascinating collection memorabilia and photographs from the family that developed the resort.
Aerial photographs dating to 1943 that were taken from military planes stationed at Fort Bragg, located about 35 miles away in Fayetteville, N.C., were also helpful in modifying bunkers and realigning the fairway on the seventh hole. The original irrigation lines also helped identify the layout of the course.
"It was on a crystal clear day in which you can see these figures playing golf," Crenshaw said. "What you can interpret from an aerial photograph like that is so many different things. You can directly see how wide the fairways were, where the green outlines were, where the bunkers were in proportion. It was a wonderful guide to look back."
Coore said the USGA has been supportive from the get-go, even though the restoration has eliminated what is essentially a trademark of a U.S. Open, the graduated rough that can reach to 4 inches in its outermost layers. Mike Davis, the USGA's executive director, simply asked for input into the widths of some of the fairways, as related to the driving areas.
"He just said, guys, you do what you truly believe is right for No. 2 -- for the tradition, the history, the future of the No. 2 course and Pinehurst -- and we will play," Coore said.
Early reviews from the pros who have come to Pinehurst on reconnaissance missions in advance of the U.S. Open have been very positive. Phil Mickelson, who notched the first of his six runner-up finishes at the national championship there in 1999, visited on Monday and Tuesday prior to last week's FedEx St. Jude Classic.
"The redesign at Pinehurst was sensational, I think incorporating the native areas was just so well done," he said. "It is an extremely long golf course. I was shocked at how many tees were moved back and how far they moved them back and hitting 4-, 5- and 6-irons exclusively into those greens became very, very difficult to the point where not many people are going to hit greens.
"Certainly I had a hard time hitting it on the surface. But, I liked it because the short game becomes a factor. I feel like if we all miss every green, I feel like I've got the best chance."
Over the next two weeks, Coore knows some fans may "wonder what the heck happened," particularly when No. 2 is viewed against the scrupulously manicured layouts on the PGA TOUR, or the ultimate in such presentation, Augusta National, which hosted the last major championship.
"But there's room in this world of golf for this," Coore said. "This may look like golf of the past with the presentation of the course (but) in so many ways this is golf of the future. In today's world, with water issues, environmental impact issues, cost associated, ... the majority of courses are going to have to go more in this direction.
"What we hope is this presentation for our two most prestigious national championships ... will showcase that and somehow convey that to those of us who love golf around this country and around the world, that this is okay. Perfection does not have to exist on every course."
Below are flyover videos of Pinehurst No. 2's 18th hole from 2014 (top) and 2005. Notice how the rough lining the fairway has been replaced by sandy soil and native grasses:
The 18th hole at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2014
The 18th hole at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2005