Back-to-Back Backbreaker?

Continued (page 4 of 4)

"You just hope, around the world, people will look at this golf course and say, 'Golf doesn't have to be lush and green,' " Davis says. "It's a throwback to the old days. Spend less time and money on irrigation, fertilizer and fungicides in the rough."

Davis acknowledges that No. 2's sandy wiregrass areas are not maintenance-free. In fact, Farren says the maintenance that is needed to control the many weeds that pop up in the sandy grass requires different techniques, including removing them by hand.

Before the restoration, Pinehurst No. 2 had six heights of grass. Now it has only two: the greens and everything else. Except for the Opens, when it will have three. Davis is raising the cut of fairways a bit to slow down the run of the ball. The green surrounds (Pinehurst's famous chipping areas) will be a higher cut than the greens but slightly lower than the fairways, tight enough to putt on but not so tight as to discourage pitch or chip shots.

Davis and the USGA are also high on the fact that Pinehurst spends so little time and money on bunker maintenance. The natural sandy hardpan areas aren't raked at all. Those areas are played not as hazards but "through the green," so the clubface may be grounded when addressing the ball. No relief from footprints, though.

The formal bunkers have packed sides, and only their flat bottoms are routinely raked. In some spots, where a natural area bleeds into a bunker, it's hard to determine if a ball is in the bunker or not.

A year ago, Davis said the rule of thumb during both Opens would be, "If there are rake marks beneath the ball, treat it as a bunker. Otherwise, it's through the green." But with many bunker faces and corners not raked, he has abandoned that plan.

"If there's a depression, even if it's unraked, it's still a bunker," he says. "Besides, we're going to have a walking official with every group. That person ultimately can make the call if the player can't."

That will probably work in the Opens, assuming the officials are proactive, unlike what happened to Dustin Johnson in the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. But what about the everyday resort golfer at Pinehurst No. 2 who doesn't have the luxury of a rules official? Shouldn't the USGA be promoting simpler rules if it wants everyone to play within them?

That's the problem with this year's back-to-back U.S. Opens. It's turned Pinehurst into a pulpit, and the messages are mixed. Two heights of grass are good enough, except when they're not. Cutting irrigation saves money, except when it doesn't. Women can play the same course as men, relatively speaking.

The most egregious message of all? Well, the world's best men will be playing for an $8 million purse in this year's U.S. Open. The world's best women will be playing for a $3.25 million purse the next week. They'll be playing 88 percent of the same course for 41 percent of the money.

If the USGA really wants to elevate women's golf, and its national women's championship, it ought to be compensating the women more in kind.

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