PINEHURST, N.C. — It might be tempting, but there won’t be a need to adjust the tint on your television during this week’s US Open, and your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. The contrasting greens will still be visible at Pinehurst No. 2, but they’ll be joined by shades of brown and tan usually seen at a British Open, not its American counterpart.
A few years ago, the US Golf Association embarked on a “brown is beautiful” promotional push, imploring golf courses in this country to consider turf conditions that visually contrast with the lushness synonymous with professional golf, and asking golfers to be more accepting of such an approach. Using less water cuts costs, but at what price? Viewers see green course conditions on TV, then want or expect the same where they play.
Golf wasn’t always like that, though. Good turf doesn’t have to be green. If a course is best suited for firm, fast conditions, then grass shades don’t have to resemble Augusta National, home of the Masters. Sometimes, brown is not only beautiful, it’s better.
That’s the decision the people at Pinehurst reached a few years ago. They wanted No. 2 to look and play as it did years ago, when Donald Ross was still tinkering with his gem, an architectural love affair that lasted from the time he designed the first nine holes in 1901 until his death in 1948.
It was a bold move by the resort’s owners, and the project needed the right team to lead it. When the successful design team of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore got the phone call asking if they’d like the job, they jumped.
Crenshaw, a two-time major winner, has an encyclopedic knowledge of golf history, including design. Coore, a North Carolina native, grew up playing No. 2, back when the course offered $5 day passes in the summer. Pay your $5, play as many holes on No. 2 as you’d like. Now, 18 holes on No. 2 will cost you $415, or 83 times the price of that day pass Coore utilized.
They have restored Ross’s masterpiece, and are eager to show it off to those who haven’t visited Pinehurst since the changes were made three years ago. If you’re familiar with No. 2 but haven’t been here in a while, it will look different. For the players who competed in either or both of the US Opens previously held here (1999, 2005), it will play differently.
“Yeah, it will look and play different,” said Justin Leonard, who tied for 15th in 1999 and tied for 23d in 2005. “I feel like there’s more room off the tee, but yet the golf course is longer, quite noticeable in some places.”
Tee boxes were added on 13 of the 18 holes. The scorecard yardage for the ’99 US Open was 7,175; six years later it was 7,214. This time, after Coore and Crenshaw made changes to every hole — some large, some small — the yardage will be 7,562, the second-longest course in US Open history. Par, as it was the first two visits to No. 2, will be 70.
At the heart of the restoration was eliminating the rough. All of it. More than 40 acres of turf was removed, replaced by a combination of sand, wire grass, and pine straw that should produce roll-of-the-dice recovery shots. Catch a good lie, advance it. Land in some wire grass, and an unplayable lie might be the best choice. Try to play it out of there, and we might even see a whiff or two.
There are now just two grass heights on No. 2: the greens, and everything else. Long a staple of the US Open, this one will be played without any rough, a point Coore and Crenshaw wanted to make sure the USGA would accept.
“It’s different, because you do have an element of recovery out of the rough,” Crenshaw said. “It will be fascinating. I think you’ll see all sorts of shots.”
The other big change came with bunker modifications. Instead of sand traps that feature well-defined edging, the bunkers on No. 2 now have a natural, rustic look. The hard part this week might be deciding what is a bunker (where a club can’t be grounded) and what is a waste area (where it can), since visually both are similar. Each pairing will have a walking rules official, ready to make that call.
What makes No. 2 such a challenge — what has always made No. 2 such a challenge — has largely been untouched, though.
“We know Pinehurst because of the greens,” said Matt Kuchar, who missed the cut in both 1999 and 2005, never shooting better than 74. “The rest of it changed, but I think the calling card to Pinehurst No. 2 is the greens. They remain the same.”
Almost. Slight tweaks were made to Nos. 15 and 17 so more pin locations can be used, but the greens on No. 2 still closely resemble the ones Ross designed in 1935, when the course converted from sand greens to grass.
Short games will be tested this week. Every facet will be, actually. That’s another calling card for a US Open.
“I really believe that this week is testing a player’s entire game, because it forces you to make good decisions, to choose the right club off the tee, hit solid iron shots into the green, and utilize your short game to save strokes,” said Phil Mickelson, who was second here in 1999 and T33 in 2005. “There’s no luck involved with the hack-it-out rough that sometimes we have around the greens.
“It’s just a wonderful test that is, I think, the best test I’ve seen to identify the best player.”
That wasn’t the task given to Coore and Crenshaw. They were asked to turn No. 2 into what it once was, and chose the period from 1935 until the early 1960s, when they thought the course established its reputation.
That meant a drastic visual change — in color, fairway width, bunkering, and sandy waste areas. Instead of a bright, vibrant brush stroke, Coore and Crenshaw opted for a color scheme that isn’t all that popular now. Someday maybe, but not now.
“The perception is going to be extraordinarily interesting, I think,” Coore said. “You have the presentation at Augusta, which is absolutely perfection to the ultimate. Then the second major of the year you’re going to see this, and people on television are going to go, ‘What is this?’
“This is what Pinehurst was intended to be, we believe it’s right for Pinehurst.
“There’s room in the world of golf for this. 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.”