Pinehurst - the smell of golf

The return to Pinehurst for this year's US Open, and the US Women's Open immediately following, will again bring into focus on one of the world's great golfing destinations.

Despite its high quality, the Donald Ross designed layout, Pinehurst No 2, one of now nine at the resort, has only twice previously hosted the US Open, the first of those coming in 1999 when Payne Stewart won his second US Open.

Just four months later Stewart was dead the age of 42 the result of a Lear jet accident when it depressurised over the USA while en route between Florida and Houston, with all six on board being killed.

Then, in 2005, New Zealander Michael Campbell became just the second ever New Zealander to win a major and the first to win a US major when he fought off Tiger Woods and others to win an historic victory.

Pinehurst No 2 had also held a PGA Championship in 1936, in 1994 was the venue for the US Senior Open and in 2008 was the home of the US Amateur Championship won, interestingly enough, by Campbell's fellow New Zealander, Danny Lee.

In 2011 the course underwent a restoration and refurbishment when Ben Crenshaw and his design partner, Bill Coore, restored the layout resulting in the creation of a more natural look including sandy waste areas and wider fairways and the reduction of rough although the turtle back or upside down saucer shape greens have remained.

To a large extent it was an initiative to return the layout to its original appeal, a growing trend for golf courses worldwide as they try and recreate the feel those that created them initially had in mind all those years ago.

The appeal of the layout and that of the surrounding area however has not been lost with Pinehurst a little similar to St Andrews in Scotland because of the 'smell' of golf in the area, the history of the game there and that it has become one of the 'must visit' golfing destinations of the USA just as St Andrews is to golf in Great Britain.

It is not only the golf course which give the destination its appeal but the picket white fence style township that sits amongst the pines of the sandhills of north Carolina with its restaurants and boutique and at times old fashioned bars.

The length of the golf course for the men will be around 7560 yards while the women will play the layout some 900 yards shorter.

The greens are currently Penn-G2 bent greens, having made the initial change to Penncross Bent in the late 1980's and to Penn G-2 in the 1970's after, earlier, warm season bermuda grasses were the only option. The extremes in heat during the summer months were significant and without the systems to manage bent under duress back then, it was only when the newer strains of bent grass became available that was bent even considered.

That then opened the door for the staging of the US Open as, given the green speeds required for iconic US event were generally felt to be unobtainable with the strains of bermuda being used in previous years, Pinehurst was continually overlooked by the USGA.

Intriguingly however after the staging of both Opens in 2014 the grasses will revert to some of the new strains of bermuda, relieving no doubt some of the heartache of the superintendents who must have many sleepless nights fighting to keep even the more heat tolerant strains of bent alive in the summer months.

My first exposure to Pinehurst was in 1979 when, caddying on the PGA Tour, I caddied in the Colgate World Golf Hall of Fame, so named because the original World Golf Hall of Fame, established in 1974, was based at Pinehurst. It is now of course in St Augustine in Florida.

I certainly liked what I saw but fifteen years later and armed with a far greater appreciation of the art and subtleties of golf course design I returned to caddy at the 1994 US Senior Open.

Having taken a three week break from my role in the marketing of the design company of Graham Marsh I headed to the US to caddy for 'the boss' in three events in what was his rookie season on the then US Seniors Tour.

Having been in Nashville and then Dearborn in Michigan in the two previous weeks it was clear Marsh's game was in good shape and after flying from Detroit to Raleigh we drove across to Pinehurst where we stayed at the magnificent Pinehurst Hotel (the Carolina). What a treat for a former caddy whose regular gigs when on the road were bed and breakfast or lesser motel chains.

At around 4.00 pm I decided that I wanted to get over the have a look at the course and called Graham, who had decided to relax that afternoon, to say that I would head over and do the yardages on the front nine and meet him back at the hotel around 6.00 for a drink and then an early dinner. I would then do the second nine early the following morning.

Once I had set foot on the golf course however I was captivated. The USGA set ups always hint of class but you could feel, taste and smell the quality of the golf course and the next hour and a half or so were some of the most enjoyable I had spent on a golf course in 'caddie' preparation for an event.

Through nine holes of walking the course and taking physical and mental notes I found a public phone on the golf course and called Graham (Marsh) at the hotel to say I was enjoying myself so much that I would not be back for another couple of hours and continued on my way to complete the mapping process.

I felt then that is was a golf course that might well suit Marsh's very strategic game, the golf course then considerably different to that the respective fields will face over the next two weeks.

And so it was to be with Marsh on the edge of contention all week until he made up a six shot 54 hole deficit on Zimbabwe's Simon Hobday and as the pair stood on the 72nd tee they were one shot clear of a field which included Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Weiskopf, Raymond Floyd, to name a few.

Both players found the middle of the fairway before Marsh, perhaps caught between two clubs, eased off on a 5 iron, missed the green right and took bogey and Hobday, seemingly falling apart at the seams to that point, found a way to two putt from 40 feet and the title was his.

It was a dramatic and perhaps disappointing conclusion to what otherwise had been one of the most enjoyable weeks of my times caddying.

Despite the setback, Pinehurst No 2 and the beautiful township of Pinehurst had taken a place in my heart which remains to this day.

I, for one, cannot wait until the action begins on Thursday and we get a chance to see for the first time how one of America's great layouts has been returned to its former glory.

Bruce Young
About The Author : Bruce Young

A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of and background in the game of golf comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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