Playing the new Pinehurst No. 2
I give everyone involved with the renovation of Pinehurst No. 2 a lot of credit: They took a top 10 public course in the country--one of the most unique golf experiences in the world--and by going back to the way it used to be, they made it better. On Friday, in preparation for my psychological scuffle with the latest version of the ultimate Donald Ross design, I covered my plate with fresh biscuits and sausage gravy at the Carolina Hotel's famous buffet. Thankfully my plate wasn't crowned like the greens I'd be putting on in less than an hour. As I scanned the room, I saw Rees Jones, the "Open Doctor" who was in town to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Pinehurst No. 7.
I interrupted a veteran of architecture reading his newspaper to ask his thoughts on the changes to No. 2. "There's more definition now," Jones said. He admitted he hadn't played the course, but he did take a peek. "This was where Ross lived when he died in 1947, so you have to figure this is the way he wanted it."
Jones reflected on the days when he was a kid, when his family used to stop at Pinehurst on their annual drive from New Jersey to Florida. "I remember all of the sand, wire grass and the chipping areas around the greens." *Right--the chipping areas around the greens. * I was late for my date with my caddie. We were supposed to spend time working on the bump-n-runs. I was already geeked up, and as I made my way through the hallway of the clubhouse--the short walk through history--where, in a glimpse, you'll see names of legends, Open trophies, and iconic images of champions, I got chills. The noisy floor adds to the drama, and as I went by the statue of Payne Stewart--behind the 18th green--and out to "Maniac Hill," which is the nickname of the driving range, I got an extra dose of jitters.
Another fortunate set of circumstances had Jim Hyler, president of the USGA, walking to the 18th fairway as I was headed to the first tee. I made sure we crossed paths, and I asked him for his thoughts on No. 2. "I came here with high expectations," said Hyler. "It has exceeded them." Hyler told me it was the first time he had been to Pinehurst since August, and that he loved the changes, which were made by the design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. "I think Pinehurst picked the perfect partner in Coore and Crenshaw," Hyler said. "They were so respectful of Ross." And as he pointed to the right side of the 18th fairway, he said: "Look at the way they were able to seamlessly bleed the waste areas into the bunkers. They widened the fairways, and yet it looks more narrow off the tees." Right--the tees. Which ones should I play today? Playing the right tees is one of the current hot topics of golf, which improves pace of play, not to mention increases the fun factor. I might be understating it when I say there was a decent breeze. At the very least, the flags were flapping. The pros will play it at more than 7,500 yards. No chance. The blues are 6,930 yards. Maybe. The whites are listed at 6,307 yards. Sounds about right for a course that puts a premium on approach shots and short game.
My host for the day was Bob Farren, who has been at Pinehurst since 1982, and who likes to say, "I'm in charge of everything green, except for the money." Farren is the Director of Golf Courses and Grounds. He oversees eight courses, four superintendants and a crew of 160 to 200, depending on the time of year.
Right--white tees it is!
As I played the course on Friday I took my Twitter followers all 18. I could tell they were begging for carts by the second hole, which is where I had this lie in the sand and the wire grass, to the right of the fairway:
When I said it's "better," I mean that there's so much more going on from tee to green; a more interesting trip from point A to point B. It's like the choice of using Interstate 5 or Highway 1 in California. No. 2 used to be Interstate 5--it got you where you want to go, but it didn't matter if you could see out your side windows. Highway 1 is the scenic route that runs along the coast of the Golden State, and you can't help but pull over along the way, take a breath and a few pictures of your surroundings. "What's so unique about this project," says Farren, "is that the changes in the past were made with the pros and the Opens in mind. These changes were made with the average golfer in mind." A refreshing concept, if you consider most of the people who play No. 2 are average golfers. And they're also the ones who pay to play. The "retro irrigation system," which runs down the middle of the fairways and will only shoot 15 yards in either direction, will mean, over time, that the better grass and thus, better lies, will be down the middle. Farren pointed out that the contrast of the sand and the grass gives the impression of flatter greens, more like my breakfast plate, and less like an upside-down version of my cereal bowl. In truth, the only significant changes to any greens were on the two par 3s on the back nine: they added more green to the back-right quadrant of the 183-yard 15th, and they lowered the collar in front of the 186-yard 17th six to eight inches. They also flattened the center of the green just slightly, which adds pin locations. These are pictures of No. 17 from the tee, and then a closer view of the new collar, which is still growing in:
*(You can follow more of my travels on Twitter: @Matt_Ginella.)