There are fortunate opportunities in life. To play a golf course that was the latter life’s work of the pre-eminent golf course architect is one. To play it a year after it was restored to its original state by the pre-eminent working architect is another. To play it little more than a year before it hosts the USGA Women’s and Men’s Open championships in consecutive weeks is another. Our trip to the Carolina sandhills closed with a tour of the fabled #2 course at Pinehurst, the life’s work of Donald J. Ross
For a bit of history, after Ross did not receive the commission to design Augusta National with/for Bobby Jones, he poured his efforts into the #2 course at Pinehurst. Its greens and their surrounds are unlike his work anywhere else and are debated by experts in the field. The resort changed owners multiple times over the years and the scrubby sand wastes that lined the fairways were replaced with thick, showy grass. A few years back, the resort opted to retain Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to restore the course to its original, native look. The resulting effort is miraculous.
I had once played Pinehurst #2: as a 16-year old in 1982. The course was in its lush state then and was an even more demanding challenge. Balls in the rough were difficult to advance, so the hope for a wayward tee shot lay in finding its way under the pine trees, atop the fallen needles, on a clean lie. Remember that those were the days of laminated wood heads and less-forgiving irons, so that teenager had a number of wayward shots. The layout I found 30 years later was unchanged in its trajectory, but the playing field was oh-so delightful in its rustic, rough feel.
The notion that sand must be soft, melting around the golf ball, is disposed of at the Deuce. Balls that end up in the waste areas sit along the sandy scrub, at times threatened by the pinions of wire grass that dot the waste areas in a drunken pattern. Despite their aura, the tufts never impede a clean whack at the ball. It’s a shot that has all but disappeared from inland golf courses set on farmland; perhaps it was never there to begin with. In Pinehurst, it’s the norm.
Pinehurst Numero Dos has its heroic holes. The 4th hole, minus the great crossing hazard on Long Island, is reminiscent of the same number at Bethpage Black. A launch from an elevated tee is followed by a run up a valley, to a reclining green set against a hillside. It plays as a par five for you and me, but will serve duty as a two-shot hole for the pros in June of 2014. The next hole will play well into the 600s of yards as a par five in the same tournament. As can be seen in the photo, there is ample width for holes that demand driver off the tee. The decision that remains is, do all holes demand driver from the golfer?
We played number 13 into a stiff breeze and were still able to reach the green with driver-short iron. Well, we would have reached the green had a certain caddy not underestimated our strength and not overclubbed us. We compared recovery chips and pitches from beyond the putting surface; it’s pretty back there
I almost forgot about the putting surfaces. This is a shot of the 15th green, a par three, from the tee. The green is roughly 30 yards deep but guess what? You won’t hold half of it. You need to get the ball at least 30 feet onto the front to hold the mesa (and not run down the false front.) If you’re too bold, you’ll face a similar conundrum at the back, and off you’ll slide into another chipping hollow. At P2, it’s rarely about taking dead aim and mostly about finding the green and trusting your putter. Of course, if you’re too bold with the flat stick, you’ll slide off the green, into the vales and bunkers that adjoin.
Beyond the 18th green, a garden of statues is taking shape. The Putter Boy (symbol of the resort), Payne Stewart in the famous, awkward pose, Donald Ross, James Tufts (founder) and Robert Dedman (owning family) grace the acreage between putting surface and clubhouse.
I almost forgot. Remember that restoration? Take a look at this picture from 2009. It mirrors the first image in this story, with one extraordinary distinction.