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The Pinehurst Experiment

THERE is much to reflect on from one of the game's more experimental fortnights.

AS the dust settles, literally, in the wake of the 114th Men's and 69th Women's US Open championships at Pinehurst there is much to reflect on from one of the game's more experimental fortnights.

The notion of holding opposite gender major championships on consecutive weeks on the same course grabbed the imagination, and headlines, of the golf and non golf public alike.

But in reality it was the USGA's other experiment, the one which saw the world's best playing off baked out firm fairways with visibly brown edges and rough that had never seen a mower, which will ultimately prove more important to the game in the long term.

For decades golf, particularly in America but increasingly in other parts of the world, Australia included, has been obsessed with course “conditioning”.

Some refer to it as the “Augusta Effect”, the demand by golfers that they get to play their shots on perfectly manicured fairways and greens just like we see on TV every April. The expectation even extends to rough and bunkers

But that sort of golf is expensive in more ways than one. Aside from the manpower required to produce and maintain such pristine surfaces there is the not insignificant issue of the amount of water involved as well.

At Pinehurst the renovation team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw ripped out 36.2 acres of Bermuda grass which for many years, including two previous US Opens, had served as the iconic layout's rough.

They also removed 500 sprinkler heads with irrigation now only provided down the centre lines of most fairways.

Where once there had been grass there are now sandy waste areas, complete with native vegetation, to catch off line tee shots.

This new look, which is the polar opposite of the narrow fairways bordered by hack out rough which had come to symbolise America's national championship, wasn't popular with everyone.

Real estate mogul Donald Trump was particularly critical of the set-up, posting on Twitter: “I'd bet the horrible look of Pinehurst translates into poor television ratings. This is not what golf is about!”

Many who've grown up in an era of wall to wall green courses agree with Trump but the reality is that Pinehurst's back-to-the-future look is something all golfers probably need to get used to.

Whether we like it or not diminishing supplies of both water and money in most parts of the world will see more courses begin to look more like Pinehurst than Augusta in future.

Pinehurst uses 40 million gallons (151 million litres) of water less per year than it did prior to the restoration. It's hard to imagine anybody arguing that's a bad thing.

Randy Wilson from turfnet.com gives his take on the Pinehurst effect in the video below

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