Photos courtesy of USGA
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They have names for their dishes at The Pinehurst Track Restaurant, a cozy diner within walking distance of a famous golf course that is drenched in history and on the verge of an event that is groundbreaking at its finest.
For instance, the Golfer's Scramble includes two scrambled eggs, ham, home fries and toast. As you partake, chances are good that, not too far from the front door, there will be horses being put through their paces on the 111-acre equestrian facility that has existed one year shy of a century.
Neither decades nor eons have experienced what is about to go down in this golf mecca.
The possibility of this historic event came to fruition inside Pinehurst Track Restaurant early in 2009, which was two years after the USGA announced the men's U.S. Open was going to be held at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2014. Pinehurst President Don Padgett II accepted the invitation to meet there with then-USGA Executive Director David Fay.
"First of all, David wanted me to meet with him off the property. I thought it was a little unusual that he wanted me to meet in private," Padgett says.
As Padgett dined on the Stallmate (pancakes and sausage), Fay served Padgett something else to chew on when he delivered a proposal that he hoped Padgett would find tasty.
"He said, ‘While I've got you here, I want to know if you'd be interested in hosting the Women's U.S. Open following the men's Open.' I thought I'd heard most ideas that had been contemplated, but I never had any thought like that pass through my mind," Padgett says. Padgett informed Fay that he would ask Pinehurst owner and chief executive officer Bob Dedman Jr., who responded by asking Padgett whether something like this — meaning back-to-back major championships, one week to the next, on the same golf course — had been done before.
No, sir, it had not.
"Bob kind of chuckled, then he said, ‘That's pretty cool. Tell him (Fay) we're in.' That was it," Padgett says.
The "it" factor definitely scales new heights with this one.
For two weeks this month, Pinehurst No. 2 and all of its crowned and undulating greens glory is front, center and everything in between when it comes to golf. The same Pinehurst where Annie Oakley oversaw the gun club in 1916, Amelia Earhart landed for a visit 83 years ago and Ben Hogan recorded his first professional victory in 1940.
Now, there is this: The men will hold their U.S. Open the 15th through 18th; the women then will do their thing the 19th through 22nd. The USGA is treating this as one event.
It sure looks, though, like the ultimate package deal.
USGA Executive Director Mike Davis (right) checks out Pinehurst
No. 2 with Bill Coore, who, along with Ben Crenshaw, did the course restoration.
courtesy of USGA
"This is clearly innovative. With innovative things, there's always a risk and we know that going into it," says Mike Davis, who became the USGA's executive director when Fay retired from the organization in 2011. "But we think that there's many more upsides to this than potential downsides."
Umm, you might guess that Pinehurst's director of golf course and grounds management, Bob Farren, CGCS, along with No. 2 superintendent Kevin Robinson, CGCS, and their crew, didn't schedule June vacations.
"I think our administration had enough confidence in us, along with our relationship with the USGA, that we could all do this together," says Farren, a 33-year member of GCSAA. "I think we will prove we can do it."
Why not ladies first?
Some LPGA players have been vocal about their concerns that the men will play first during this fortnight of activity at Pinehurst No. 2.
"It will be a disaster for us. We should've been first out," LPGA standout Suzann Pettersen says in the Jan. 10 issue of Golfweek. "We do minimal damage to the course compared to what the guys do."
Players such as Pettersen have been heard. One man in particular is motivated by their sentiments.
"That's going to be the challenge for us with the women, to preserve it (the course)," says Robinson, a 16-year GCSAA member who has been the superintendent at No. 2 since 2010. "We want to pull off the second week without a glitch."
The par-70 course will play to about 7,500 yards for the men compared with 6,600 for the women. Since much of the discussion about holding back-to-back tournaments focuses on whether the Open will provide a fair test for the women, Robinson intends for No. 2 to shine.
The predominant spokesperson on the issue from the USGA perspective is Davis, who in this scenario acts as much like a soccer goalie as he does an executive director.
More than once this year Davis has had to answer questions and defend decisions that the USGA has made on his watch — such as why hold back-to-back majors on the same course and why the men precede the women. Davis, in a way, simply is carrying the torch passed on to him by Fay, whose desire was to place the women players on a stage where they might gain maximum recognition.
"This was never about trying to make it operationally easier or to save money," Davis says. "I think there's a secondary kind of intent here. It's really to showcase women's golf because I'm a big believer — and I know others within the USGA are huge believers — that the women just don't get enough credit."
If the men need a playoff, it will start at noon Monday. The women will be able to begin their practice that morning, around 6:45 a.m., on Pinehurst No. 2 then continue to practice once the playoff is on its way.
Old school in the Carolinas
When the USGA first pondered back-to-back U.S. Opens, Pinehurst topped the discussion even before No. 2 underwent extensive restorations that were completed three years ago.
The spotlight shines on Pinehurst No. 2 this month.
Photo courtesy of USGA
Designers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw restored much of the natural look that Pinehurst No. 2 was intended to have when it opened in 1907 behind the guidance of legendary architect Donald Ross.
The project cost $2.5 million and the results include fairways that are about 50 percent wider on average and bunkers that have been restored based upon aerial images from the 1940s. The wall-to-wall green appearance that prevails today at some courses is gone as well. Sandy waste areas have been reintroduced and bunkers have been eliminated or restored with the addition of approximately 200,000 wiregrass plants and numerous varieties of native species, giving Pinehurst No. 2 the more natural appearance it had when Denny Shute captured the PGA Championship there in 1936.
One such native species, prickly pear, has been around for decades on No. 2. It also provides a challenge of its own kind.
"The prickly pear (a type of cactus) is beautiful, but I wouldn't want to play my ball out of it," says Danesha Seth Carley, Ph.D., associate professor of crop science and sustainable landscapes at North Carolina State University.
Players such as Phil Mickelson, who is seeking a U.S. Open title to complete the career Grand Slam, will encounter what Pinehurst No. 2 was meant to be in the first place.
"We felt like No. 2 had lost its identity, in the last 40 years especially," says Farren, who refers to a 1979 article by golf writer Charles Price that later appeared in Lee Pace's book "The Golden Age of Pinehurst" with this: "The best golf course is a golf course that fits the land you've got. What Donald Ross had to work with in the Sandhills might be the most naturally endowed stretch of golfing landscape in America."
Farren adds, "I'll stand behind it — and Bill and Ben got it."
Let's play the numbers game to accentuate the drastic changes that were made to make Pinehurst No. 2 old school.
40: That is the total acres of irrigated areas that have been reduced.
450: Remaining number of irrigation heads, down from 1,125.
55: Acres of turf that cover Pinehurst No. 2 compared with the previous number of 90. Tees, fairways and green surrounds are Tifway 419 bermudagrass.
2: Heights of cut. "We don't have intermediate rough, so that eliminates a lot of tasks," Robinson says.
0: Rough, in acres. For the last U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 2005, that number was 50. That alone helps make for a fairly seamless transition from the men to the women.
"Back then, there was bermudagrass rough everywhere," says Davis, noting how that would have been an issue this time. "There was enough difference that, practically speaking, we just couldn't get the roughs right from one week to another."
Robinson, who was the superintendent at Pinehurst Nos. 6 and 7 before taking over at No. 2, says the no-rough scenario was a major move.
"It was a culture change. Now there's more focus on right down the middle," Robinson says.
That won't be an issue this time.
The crew at work, preparing for the first-ever back-to-back majors on
the same course.
Photos courtesy of John Gessner
"This will be the first U.S. Open and, really, the first Women's U.S. Open, where we're not playing with long rough grass. Think about that," Davis says.
Farren imagines that Ross, who died in 1948, would be pleased. Price offers the following additional insight into Ross's hopes for No. 2, as recited by Farren from Pace's book:
"Donald Ross interpreted rough to be broken ground, and it was intended to stay that way, not simply overgrown fairway turf. The term fairway meant to Ross the same as it would a ship's pilot. It refers to the navigable channel for a ship to leave and enter the harbor. That's what Ross felt the fairway was intended to do, to take you safely from tee to green through the broken ground."
Larry McWane, who served on Pinehurst No. 2's greens committee for seven years, says: "Playing history is neat."
Don't expect any huge alterations to the game plan from one week to the next. The USGA's hope is for players to hit the same clubs, although the men and women may be hitting from different distances.
Much preparation went into determining landing areas to make it work. "We plan to set it up exactly the same way both weeks," Davis says. "The idea was, on a given hole, if the men are hitting drivers, we want the women to hit drivers. If the men are hitting 6- to 8-irons for their approach shots, that's what we want to see the women do."
A key reason for why the women follow the men?
"Simply put, agronomics," Davis says. "It really gets down to the putting greens (Penn A-1/A-4 bentgrass), that they're going to be the same green speed for both weeks. But the first week, and if Mother Nature is cooperative, they're going to be slightly firmer. We felt we could go from very firm greens to slightly — underscore slightly — less firm greens that second week, and it just agronomically was much easier to do than the reverse."
The greens will roll in the 11 to 12 range on the Stimpmeter; they will be watered as needed to create the desired speed for the women, who tend to spin the ball less than the men. USGA officials plan to replicate hole locations in the same spots for both championships and plan, if possible, to use the same quadrants on greens, mostly untouched in the restoration except for Nos. 15 and 17, where additional pin placements were added.
In preparation for the Opens, Robinson instituted the use of turning boards a few years ago. They are placed on green collars to protect and preserve those areas around the greens when mowers are turned. "We haven't had to sod around the greens hardly at all the last three years because of that," Robinson says.
The divot patrol will be on high alert in the fairways, which Robinson says have not been overseeded since 2009, to enhance their firmness. Obviously, divots are part of the deal; they will have Robinson and his crew's full attention.
"It's something that we'll focus on, not that we weren't before," he says. "We might take it to another level. (Divots) might not be straight sand-filled. We might have a little topsoil in it (divot repair mix) to help compact it a little better."
Since drive zones on most holes will be different for the men and women, that should mitigate the divot issue, Davis believes.
Chris Hartwiger, USGA director of course consulting services, exudes optimism about pulling off this twin bill. He knows the women's event has received enormous attention, but he is anything but apprehensive.
"We've considered the repercussions of doing this, and we're very confident we're going to be able to give excellent golf conditions for the Women's U.S. Open," Hartwiger says. "It's a unique opportunity to really elevate two of our championships and link them together as one big golf event. It works at Pinehurst because the proper grass is in place to do it."
For all of the changes that have gone down at Pinehurst No. 2, says Brian Powell, CGCS, president of the Carolinas GCSA, its place in golf lore remains the same.
"A renovated Pinehurst No. 2 is still Pinehurst," he says.
Tee for 2
Pinehurst No. 2 assistant superintendent Alan Owen has worked two previous U.S. Opens at the course. Owen, an Englishman, was a college intern who also got to be part of the crew for the 1998 British Open.
You could say he is a veteran at this. On second thought …
"One week is challenging. Two weeks? Who knows," Owen says. In most U.S. Opens, the superintendent invites those like him from throughout the country, sometimes even from across the pond, to serve as volunteers. As previously stated, however, this isn't your typical U.S. Open.
"It's a paid opportunity for our guys," Farren says.
Translated, that means most of his crew comes from the Pinehurst Resort, which features eight golf courses (in all, that entails 222 full- or part-time employees, including nearly 40 at Pinehurst No. 2). Some outside help, particularly in case of weather-related issues, will come from golf courses not too far away, such as Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh.
It will be business as usual for the other courses at Pinehurst during the U.S. Opens. Pinehurst Nos. 6, 7 and 8 will be open each day for play during the championships. Nos. 1, 3 and 5 will have limited holes open for play.
Farren and Robinson plan to do everything possible to keep the crew fresh over the two-week haul. Their staff may work two shifts then be off three.
"We're trying to involve our own talent. We've got three other very qualified superintendents (Kyle Brown, Nos. 1, 3, 5; Steve Wilson, Nos. 4, 7; and Jeff Hill, Nos. 6, 8) and several high-level assistants we can involve, along with our crew, so they can feel some ownership with it," Farren says.
Robinson hopes to conduct something similar to time trials in advance of the U.S. Opens to serve as practice.
With the U.S. Opens on the horizon, Farren has had plenty of opportunities
to meet the media.
Photo by John Gessner
"You try to condition yourself now on how to react to situations, how you get from Point A to Point B," says Pinehurst No. 2 assistant superintendent John Jeffreys. "Come that time, you will have to do it with 35,000 spectators. We'll be ready for it. It'll take a daily effort. A team effort."
Actually, this opportunity is comparable to every day at Pinehurst No. 2, Jeffreys says. Luminaries, sometimes those who are rich and famous, have tested their golfing skill there for years.
"We know people spend a lot of money to play here. The golf experience could make or break their whole trip," he says. "It puts pressure on you to perform."
Pinehurst equipment manager Andy Caddell, who has been on the premises more than four decades, understands the get-it-done mentality at a course where rounds totaled 40,000 in 2013.
"We keep it close to tournament-ready all the time. We try to be the best every day," says Caddell, who has worked there since 1972 and noted how his staff of 24 will run split shifts for the U.S. Opens. "This is Pinehurst. You never know who is going to walk through the door. This isn't going to be much different."
Not necessarily the same old song
Ben Kimball, USGA director for the Women's U.S. Open championship, recently used a line made popular by the rock band Phish to get his point across about what soon unfolds at Pinehurst No. 2.
"It's been perfectly planned. It's completely insane. It's a revolving cast but it's the same old game," Kimball recited from Phish's song "Show of Life" in front of a large group in March during the USGA Green Section Regional Conference inside Pinehurst's Carolina Hotel.
Farren, son of a superintendent, beams for multiple reasons. These will be the third and fourth U.S. Opens since 1999 at Pinehurst No. 2 but the first for the remodeled version (the last one occurred in 2005).
"We went from using 55 million gallons of water a year to 15 million in the new model," Farren says. "From a sustainability standpoint, we have a great story to tell" (see "Conservation act," Page 42).
Whether the USGA attempts to stage back-to-back U.S. Open championships again is unknown. If Pinehurst No. 2 hopes to set the bar for such a massive undertaking, Owen feels honored to be part of a feat that will have the world watching — and seeing double. The NCAA has March Madness in basketball. In golf terms, June Madness seems appropriate for what is on the horizon in the Sandhills of North Carolina.
"Not many opportunities come around like this in your lifetime," Owen says. "No matter how it turns out, I know we will have given it our best shot."
Howard Richman is GCM's associate editor.