Why Pinehurst Got A Doubleheader
As the guy who came up with the idea of playing the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open on back-to-back weeks on the same golf course, I have had no shortage of questions/comments/accusations coming my way. The initial reaction when the announcement of the doubleheader was made in 2009 was overwhelmingly positive. But as the championships draw closer, most of the comments are of the "What the hell were you thinking?" variety. I expected it. After all, schadenfreude is no stranger to a game where it has been said that every shot makes someone happy. Let's see if I can answer some of those questions.
How did the doubleheader idea come about?
In February 2009, the USGA had no Women's Open site lined up for 2014. The country's financial condition and mood were lousy. In early 2008, there had been discussions with the Pebble Beach Company and Ridgewood (N.J.) Country Club, site of a successful Senior Open in 1990, but both places, once they studied the Women's Open financial records, concluded that the money earned by hosting wasn't worth the strain.
The payout to a Women's Open host club—tickets, merchandise, corporate hospitality and general food-and-beverage sales—is a fraction of what a typical "men's" Open site makes, and considerably less than the Senior Open, which also tends to draw much larger money-spending galleries. The internal financials for the three Opens are the USGA's answer to "national security interests," but I will say that each year the Women's Open loses $4 million to $5 million—money that's well spent—and the men's Open is responsible for more than 90 percent of the USGA's revenue.
The few invitations we had for the 2014 Women's Open were mostly from private clubs that were nice-enough places, but none had the men's major-championship pedigree of places like Oakmont, Baltusrol, Cherry Hills, Colonial and Crooked Stick, just to name a few of the outstanding Women's Open sites to which the USGA and the players had become accustomed.
As we were discussing alternatives in February 2009, my mind turned to Pinehurst. In 2007, we had signed Pinehurst No. 2 for the 2014 men's Open, making that three times in 16 years. The decision-making rested with one person, owner Bob Dedman Jr., who I knew relied heavily on the opinions of Pinehurst president Don Padgett II.
I worked up a detailed pro-con memo and shared it with USGA Championship Committee chairman Jim Hyler and my key staffers: Mike Davis (golf-course issues) and Mike Butz and Pete Bevacqua (operations gurus). No one saw any deal breakers. Of course there would be cost efficiencies by having both championships on the same course in back-to-back weeks. But the driving force was the opportunity to have the Women's Open played on one of the great courses in the world.
I met with Don Padgett in Pinehurst for breakfast—The Track Restaurant; great blueberry pancakes—fully prepared to hear Don decline the idea. If Pinehurst didn't already have the men's Open, there would have been no chance it would have taken the Women's Open. But with the infrastructure of the men's Open in place and another week to promote the resort, there were opportunities. Don asked plenty of questions and became a believer. He pitched the idea to Dedman, who made the decision. Bob is an astute businessman, but he and Don are also students of golf's history, and both understood the role top women's competitions had in Pinehurst's legacy, going back to the first North & South Women's Championship, in 1903. It was a go.
After Pinehurst gave us the OK, I called LPGA commissioner Mike Whan and made one request: follow the Women's Open with a three-day, 54-hole LPGA event (Friday start) in case we got behind schedule with the two championships. He followed through on his promise.
Will the greens hold up for the consecutive Opens?
Of course they will. The outstanding Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw restoration has made a number of the greens less severe and will offer more hole locations. I'm guessing the greens for the men will end up having slightly less firmness than normal. End result: I think the men's winning score will be lower than in 1999 or 2005.
What about the LPGA players' concerns that they'll be playing from a lot of divot holes left by the men?
I suspect that Ben Kimball (responsible for the Women's Open setup) will be looking carefully at the second-shot landing areas on the two par 5s and make yardage adjustments, if necessary. The third hole, a short, potentially drivable par 4? Yup, that could be an issue.
Let's have a contest! Have the grounds crew differentiate the color of the divot mix for the two championships. That would allow the naysayers to keep score on the number of times Women's Open players end up in week-one divots (men) versus fresh divots made in week two. I'll bet the week-two total wins—handily.
Did you consider having the Women's Open on one of the Pinehurst Resort's other courses, or perhaps returning to Pine Needles up the street?
The other courses at the resort are swell, but none of them is No. 2. Also, if I had asked Don Padgett to keep two courses out of commission and erect two infrastructures, he would have dumped his blueberry pancakes in my lap. As for Pine Needles, I hope and expect it will host its fourth Women's Open in the future. But to have Pine Needles and Pinehurst compete for dollars and attention in the same year would have been a disaster.
Will there be another Open doubleheader for the championships, or do you see this as a one-off?
This is the only venue and ownership that could pull it off—and I believe the 2014 championships are going to be so successful that Pinehurst is going to want to do it again.
Editor's note: David Fay was the executive director of the USGA from 1989-2010.