PINEHURST, N.C. — A decade’s worth of collective groans from professional golfers over the severe manipulation of U.S. Open set-ups might go by the wayside this week.
This week, the major theme at historic Pinehurst No. 2 for the 114th U.S. Open is restoration.
As a result, top-drawer United States Golf Association officials, primarily executive director Mike Davis, still get the color in the course conditions they strive for – brown – meaning the course should play fast and firm, from start to finish.
But for a change, the golfers will see the new rustic-colored shades and won’t think, ‘Unfair.’ They'll think, ‘Cool.’
“It is a little bit of a trend, I guess,” PGA Tour golfer and 2011 FedEx Cup playoffs winner Bill Haas said. “Fifteen years ago, you’d be like, ‘No, why would you want a brown golf course … because brown golf courses don’t look nice, and are not nice?’
“But now, everybody wants them to be more natural. This is obviously a very neat look, and somewhat unique. We don’t play many golf courses that look like this.”
Shortly after the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, won by New Zealand’s Michael Campbell, course officials began analyzing how their layout had changed over the years.
“We looked too much like everybody else in the game of golf,” said Bob Dedman, the owner and chief executive officer of the Pinehurst Resort and Country Club. “It was wall-to-wall green. It was really monochromatic out there. I think it had become really part of the homogenization of the game of golf.”
It had lost a lot of the luster and character from Donald Ross’ original design in 1907. So nearly a century later, partners Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were hired to perform a restoration project.
Immediately, 40 acres of Bermuda grass and close to 700 trees on the outside of fairways were replaced by sandscapes and sandy-wire grass to join whatever other native weeds grew to serve as the new blotchy rough area.
Fairways were widened. Bunkers were lengthened, reshaped and restored to their natural look of the 1940s when Ross died.
By the time the project was completed in March of 2011, Pinehurst No. 2 no longer looked like a color-polished postcard. It looked more like a natural, less-defined piece of golf property cut from the Carolina Sandhills.
“On TV, I’m sure it won’t look to great to the person who doesn’t know golf, maybe,” Haas said. “As a player, I am sure we will find out it plays very nice.”
Many inside the USGA have intimated that brown is the new green in golf. “Less water … less maintenance,” as Davis puts it, is one of the USGA’s new directives in course care.
“It’s looking back to the past,” Davis said, “but it’s really looking forward to the future, too.”
A year from now, who knows what Chambers Bay will look like for the 2015 U.S. Open. Davis isn’t sure how bronze-colored the links-style gem in University Place will get by early June, adding much of it depends on how wet or dry next spring is.
Josh Lewis, the course superintendent at Chambers Bay, has visited Pinehurst No. 2 since Friday. He is awe-struck by not only the conditions and playability of this layout for this week’s tournament, but by its restored look.
“Seeing what single-row irrigation has done here, and how the further you get to the outside of the fairways, there is a blending effect in some of the pitted areas, and then getting to the natural areas – it is really a cool look,” Lewis said.
“This is … what Donald Ross and this course was intended to look like since the 1920s. I hope people see it on TV and fall in love with it, because that is what the golf industry needs – people who embrace this style of golf and start focusing on firmness and smoothness, and less on perfectly straight lines and edges.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442