PINEHURST, N.C. — Rarely has a major championship golf venue undergone a visual transformation like the one Pinehurst Resort and Country Club’s No. 2 Course has for the 114th U.S. Open.
Golfers have raved this week about the new outlying terrain — changing from Bermuda grass rough to sandscapes and natural vegetation. But when it comes to discussing the signature element of this historic site, all of them still point to one thing: the long-standing turtleback-shaped greens.
Whoever navigates them best the next four days should be crowned U.S. Open champion late Sunday afternoon.
“What’s on the greens and what is off the greens is so much a part of the golf course,” said Ben Crenshaw, a two-time Masters champion who was hired for Pinehurst No. 2’s latest restoration project.
“I still think that the movements and the undulations and the hollows and the swales off of these greens are some of the prettiest I’ve ever seen — so, so natural and not man-made. They’re so much a part of the integral play of the golf course.”
If you immediately think they will be the most frustrating part of this U.S. Open test, you are right. Players will miss them with their approach shots. They will watch chip shots roll off the other side of them.
Heck, some might hit putts that will roll off them completely.
But they give the golfers options, especially around them, on the types of shots they can play — chip shots, bump-and-run shots or even with the putter. That is all that can be expected.
As 14-time major championship winner Tiger Woods once said: “Fun golf is Pinehurst.”
The greens certainly have evolved this way over the years.
When the Donald Ross-designed layout opened in 1907 — some pundits consider it his finest work — the greens were curvy but not extreme. And the surfaces consisted of a mixture of sand and clay.
Ten years later, Ross relocated many of the greens in an effort to take more advantage of the property’s natural swales and dips — and to make them more challenging.
In 1935, all 18 greens switched to Bermuda grass and were elevated higher — but still not to their height today.
Over the years, through constant top dressing, the greens have been raised to their current state.
Crenshaw and partner Bill Coore chopped off a few inches of thatch on many of the greens during their 13-month renovation (2010-11), but they only made alterations to two greens — both par 3s, at Nos. 15 and 17 — to add pin-location flexibility.
“(An approach shot) hole high is something to be cherished. Something just underneath the hole is to be cherished,” Crenshaw said. “If you go long or you go to the sides, you’re asking for trouble.”
The greens certainly have the attention — and respect — of the field this week. If golfers can hit at least 60 percent of them in regulation, that would be an impressive feat.
Especially considering what 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson said about them during his pre-tournament news conference Wednesday.
“(On) … some of the holes, you’re not trying to hit the green,” Simpson said.
Simpson pointed to the 15th hole as an example. It has one of the smallest greens on the course — with a tiny landing area playing at 202 yards.
“A lot of guys will hit it just short of the green,” Simpson said.
Earlier in the week, Puyallup’s Ryan Moore talked about devising a unique game plan: not playing at pins from the fairway and not playing for birdies.
“The greens are not incredibly fast, but they are firm,” Moore said. “There is one spot on each green you have some space and some depth where you can keep it on, and you putt from there.
“This golf course is very much a game of chess. It is about putting it in the right place. It is very extreme. It is very difficult in every aspect. And honestly, there is not one shot on the whole golf course that you are finally like, ‘A* * * * *
.’ There is always somewhere you cannot hit it — every single hole.”Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 email@example.com