Playing Golf In The Piedmont
The Resurrection Of No. 2
In 1907, when Donald Ross began to shape Pinehurst No. 2, it was hand-wielded shovels and mule-driven scoops that did the dirty work, laying his vision naturally over the stark sandy soil amid the pines. Never fully satisfied with what is considered his masterwork, Ross nurtured and tinkered with the course literally until his death in 1948.
The legend of No. 2 has manifested itself over the years as the course challenged, and often humbled, golf’s greats, hosting two U.S. Opens and a Ryder Cup. But the original design was diminished by time, evolving techniques and the misguided belief that lush is better – with some of the Ross commitment to offering tactical choices certainly misplaced along the way. In 2010, partners Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, who grew up in North Carolina, accepted the daunting task of returning No. 2 literally to its roots.
Key to the golf equivalent of an archeological exploration were period photos, including detailed aerials, revealing the features Ross would have studied from his home near the third green. Unlike today’s manicured layouts, No. 2 was a stark, minimalist landscape where sizable patches of naturally occurring sand and wire grass extended from beneath the pines to the edges of fairways and framed the greens. Crenshaw and Coore uncovered the iron pipes of the original irrigation system, which centered the fairways and revealed the original sweep of the holes. According to Crenshaw, the skeleton was still there, just buried and waiting to be resurrected.
Armed with this archival evidence and a sense of reverence, the duo began to turn back time. Nearly 35 acres of sod was stripped away, including all of the rough (yes, all of it). Now the fairways melt into untended sandy areas where over 100,000 clumps of native wire grass – unique to the Sandhills – were randomly spread as if carried by the wind. The needles that tumble constantly from the pines will remain where they land, which means a player missing the fairway may find a clean but sandy lie or the underlying crunch of hardpan – or his ball resting against a pine cone, perched precariously on a thatch of needles or nestled into wiry grass. Penal as intended, but virtually all allowing a fair opportunity for successful extraction. Bunkers remain scattered strategically throughout as Ross planned, their now jagged profiles offering guidance on the proper path to take. Fairways were widened, but intentionally left hard and fast. The vaunted and feared greens remain unchanged and, as Ross proclaimed, the course’s greatest defense, even against the pros who will converge on successive weeks in 2014 for the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens.
Such words as stark and scruffy have been used to describe the look that seems new but actually is as original as the land on which the course lies in wait. But for any golfer with a soul and respect for tradition, No. 2 is just plain beautiful.
By Gary Carter
By Gary Carter
added: March 2, 2011
updated: March 7, 2011