November 20, 2014
One of my most cherished golf memories was formed over a full week in Pinehurst, North Carolina. When people say Pinehurst is a special place, you hear the words but it is hard to understand just what those people mean unless you have been to the city and the golf resort. I had always heard how special "The Cradle of American Golf" is, but I never fully understood just how special a place it is until I walked the halls of the hotels and clubhouses, until I strolled down main street and visited Old Sport and Gallery golf shop where I chatted for a good hour with Bob Hansen, the owner, until I stood next to the Putter Boy and Payne Stewart statues, and until I teed off on Pinehurst No. 2.
Pinehurst No. 2, the centerpiece of Pinehurst Resort, remains one of the world’s most celebrated golf courses. In 1996, Pinehurst was designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the plaques designating it as such can be found, among other places, in the lobby of the Carolina Hotel where I stayed.
Pinehurst No. 2 has served as the site of more single golf championships than any course in the U.S. The first major hosted at Pinehurst No. 2 was the PGA Championship in 1936, won by Denny Shute. In 1951, the resort hosted the Ryder Cup, and in 1991 and 1992 it was the venue for the Tour Championship. In 1999, Pinehurst staged its second major, the U.S. Open, won by Payne Stewart at the No. 2 course. The U.S. Open returned in 2005, won by New Zealand's Michael Campbell. The USGA brought both the men's U.S. Open and the U.S. Women's Open to Pinehurst No. 2 just five months before my visit.
No. 2 opened in 1907 and was designed by Donald Ross, who called it “the fairest test of championship golf I have ever designed.” Ross was associated with the course for nearly a half-century, building his house, the Dornoch Cottage, next to the 3rd green, so he could live next to his masterpiece, and improving the course continually until his death in 1948. No. 2 is best known for its crowned, undulating greens, which are some of the most complex and widely hailed in the world. Ross believed in providing golfers with strategic choices, and Pinehurst No. 2 was intended to epitomize that philosophy.
In February of 2010, the design firm of Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw began to restore the natural and strategic characteristics that were the essence of Ross’s original design. The project included the removal of about 35 acres of turf and the reintroduction of hardpan, natural bunker edges and native wire grasses. In 2011, Pinehurst No. 2 completed the $2.5 million, year-long renovation. The goal was to revert the course back to the original Donald Ross design and it appeared to have done just that. After walking the halls of the various buildings on the resort property, seeing numerous old photos, and then playing the course, I can attest that the restoration was a huge success.
During my visit, the weather was pretty good, with only one day out of the seven canceled because of rain. Granted, there were one-hundred year old record low temperatures broken. Some mornings that I teed off, it was as cold as 22 degrees Fahrenheit; nothing that winter gloves, three layers of clothes, and a winter skull cap couldn't combat. On a positive note, crisp, cold weather also makes for fantastically blue skies and great photos.
Before my round, I visited the famous Putter Boy statue. Afterall, a person can not visit Pinehurst and not visit the Putter Boy statue. It is iconic.
|The famous Putter Boy statue.|
Pinehurst No. 2 appears in both Fifty More Places to Play Golf Before You Die and The World's 500 Greatest Golf Holes and receives quite a few accolades. Among them are:
- Hole 5 is listed as one of the top 100 holes in the world.
- Holes 2 and 10 are listed as two of the top 500 holes in the world.
- Hole 5 is listed as one of the most difficult 18 holes in the world.
- Hole 5 is listed as one of the 18 hardest-to-putt greens in the world.
- Hole 5 is listed as one of the best 18 greensites in the world.
- Hole 5 is listed as one of the best 18 holes in America.
- Holes 2, 5, and 10 are listed as three of the top 18 holes designed by Donald Ross.
- Hole 5 is listed as one of the best18 holes you can play in the world.
I played Pinehurst No. 2 on my fifth day of my week-long stay. I was paired with Mark Legg from Tampa and a friend of his that I believe was from New Jersey. The golf gods smiled on me as they provided completely clear, crystal blue skies and not a cloud in sight. It was also the warmest day of the week. After introductions, and watching the group in front of us walk off the first green, we walked onto the first tee box.
|The starters box located next to the first tee.|
|The plaque mounted to the front of the starters box.|
|A look down the fairway from the 1st tee box.|
This hole also foretold of things to come. I generally have, at most, one three-putt a round. On the first green, I three-putted - the first of nine on the day! Part of the difficulty was likely caused by frozen ground and the ball sliding across them like they were ice, or bouncing off of them on an approach shot as if they had bounced off a cart path. But the domed shaped greens are very difficult to putt and even moreso to read.
Hole #2 is a par that plays to 411 yards. A drive favoring the left side of the fairway is best on this slight dogleg to the right. Bunkers guard the left side, but this position offers the best look at this green, which sits at an angle and is protected by a bunker on the right. There are several good hole locations on this green, in particular the one back-right, as an approach that comes up slightly short will roll back off the green, and an approach hit long or right will easily bounce away from the green.
Hole #3 is a par 4 that plays 330 yards. The fairway is pretty narrow on this hole, making you decide to either lay up between the bunkers on the left and waste-area on the right, leaving a short wedge approach shot, or go for it and try to clear all the sand by attempting to drive the green. This well-crowned green is sloped back to front and protected by three green-side bunkers. If you miss your shot long, it will keep rolling well past the green.
Hole #4 is a par 4 that plays 434 yards. Hitting the fairway is a must to get to this green in regulation. Avoiding the large fairway bunker on the left is crucial, so you should aim for the right side of the fairway. The fourth green is less "crowned" than many others on the course so this is a real chance to drop a stroke.
Hole #5 is the fist non-Par 4 on the course. It is a Par 5 that plays 462 yards. According to a caddie I talked to, Ross considered the approach to this green the most difficult shot on the entire course, as it has to be hit with a long iron with the ball above your feet. You should aim your approach shots for the right side of the green. Any missed shot to the left will leave a very demanding up and down.
|A look into the 1st green from 100 yards out.|
|A closer look onto the 1st green.|
|A look down the fairway from the 2nd tee.|
|A look into the 2nd green from 150 yards out.|
|A look onto the 2nd green from 50 yards out.|
|A closer look at the 2nd green.|
|A look down the fairway from the 3rd tee box.|
|A look onto the 3rd green from 125 yards out.|
|A look onto the 3rd green from 60 yards out.|
|A closer look at the 3rd green.|
|A look down the fairway from the 4th tee box.|
|A look towards the 4th green from 200 yards out.|
|A closer look at the 4th green.|
|A closer look at the 4th green.|
|A look down the fairway from the 5th tee box.|
|A look towards the 5th green from 200 yards out.|
|A look onto the 5th green from 100 yards out.|
|A look onto the green from the 6th tee box.|
|A closer look at the 6th green.|
|A look down the fairway from the 7th tee box.|
|A look towards the 7th green from 175 yards out.|
|A look onto the 7th green from 50 yards out.|
|A closer look onto the 7th green from the right side.|
|A look down the fairway from the 8th tee box.|
|A look onto the 8th green from 50 yards out.|
Hole #9 is a par 3 that plays 148 yards and is the shortest hole on the course. Shot selection from the tee critical because there is trouble for any shot that misses the green. Two deep bunkers flank the front, punishing you if you come up short. A steep slope and two more bunkers lie in wait over the green. This two-tiered green is wide and shallow, sloping from left to right, with a ridge running from back to front.
|A look into the green from the 9th tee box.|
|A look down the fairway from the 10th tee box.|
|A look into the 10th green from 200 yards out.|
|A look into the 10th green from 50 yards out.|
|A look down the fairway from the 11th tee box.|
|A look onto the 11th green from 75 yards out.|
|A look onto the 11th green from the right side.|
|A closer look onto the 11th green.|
|A look down the fairway from the 12th tee box.|
|A look onto the 12th green from 120 yards out (right green is the 12th).|
|A closer look onto the 12th green.|
|A look down the fairway from the 13th tee box.|
|A look onto the 13th green from 120 yards out.|
|A look down the fairway from the 14th tee box.|
|A look onto the 14th green from 150 yards out.|
|A closer look onto the 14th green.|
|A look into the green from the 15th tee box.|
|A closer look into the 15th green.|
|A look down the fairway from the 16th tee box.|
|A look into the 16th green from 200 yards out.|
|A look into the 16th tee box from 100 yards out.|
|A closer look at the 16th green.|
|A look into the green from the 17th tee box.|
|A closer look at the 17th green.|
|A look down the fairway from the 18th tee box.|
|A look into the 18th green from 120 yards out.|
|A closer look onto the 18th green from the right side.|
|A look into the 18th green from 75 yards out.|
|A closer look onto the 18th green.|
|The iconic Payne Stewart statue.|
As I had read about in various books and blogs, and strongly suspected before I started the round, Pinehurst No. 2 has the most difficult greens I have ever putted on. I generally have one 3-putt in a round at most. On my round this day, I had nine. I also wasn't hitting the ball poorly. I struck most shots pure. The greens are just that tough. I am hesitant to say that I didn't enjoy Pinehurst No. 2 as much as I thought I would have, but the difficulty of the course did put a damper on the experience. However, it definitely deserves to be ranked among the best in the world. After experiencing it first hand, I understand why it is the perfect course to host a U.S. Open. As Donald Ross advised, “the fairest test of championship golf I have ever designed.” With all that said, I can't wait to go back (when it is 50 degrees warmer). It was a lifetime memory that I will cherish forever.