By Jeffrey A. Rendall; Photos by Jeff Rendall and Kevin Gaydosh
Note: Congratulations to Martin Kaymer and Michelle Wie for their dominating victories in the 2014 men's and women's U.S. Opens. In the overview below, we're happy to say we mentioned both Kaymer and Wie as players to watch! Pinehurst proved to be an excellent choice to host both Opens consecutively.
PINEHURST, NC – “This is the first time…”
It’s a phrase we hear a lot – people like milestones. And when it comes to a place like Pinehurst, North Carolina, the “first time” talk always brings a new meaning. Granted, for golfers, Pinehurst has been around for well over a hundred years, and has earned its reputation as the home of American golf.
|The first tee at Pinehurst No. 2, where both the men and women will be teeing it up during the U.S. Open.|
In other words, there have been a lot of firsts associated with Pinehurst.
But in 2014, Pinehurst truly deserves another “first time” mention, since it’s perhaps the beginning of something new – that being, hosting the men’s and women’s U.S. Open Championships on consecutive weeks on the same golf course. This year, Donald Ross’ masterpiece, Pinehurst #2, will test both sexes for America’s national championship, and people are raving about the possibilities.
But there are also questions. How will the course play after being completely restored by Coore & Crenshaw in 2010/11? Will people take to the less-than-manicured look of a traditional golf course? Will professional players have it too easy at a course with no rough?
(Click here for Bill Coore’s telling of the Pinehurst #2 restoration story.)
|This pin on the 18th green is located in the same spot as it was in 1999, when Payne Stewart rolled in his legendary final putt.|
Will the course hold up for the ladies after the men’s Open? Can the USGA make the greens suitable for the ladies’ style of play? Will the thousands of divots frustrate the women? Can the course boundaries sustain galleries for over fourteen days?
All serious concerns. Nearly everyone agrees Pinehurst #2 is perhaps the perfect layout to try holding the two events at the same venue. The “natural” areas to the sides of the holes certainly can sustain heavy play – you can’t ruin sand, after all, and pine straw is inherently durable. Further, #2 is a “core” golf course, allowing easy access for galleries to travel throughout the golf property.
And the USGA is about as good as they come in managing greens. I’m betting that any concerns with the putting surfaces will be answered well in the affirmative.
A healthy Tiger Woods would have been the heavy favorite to win, but he’s still recovering from back surgery. Commentators go back and forth as to the extent he’ll be missed, but there are still plenty of storylines to go ‘round at Pinehurst.
|Missing the green means tough recovery shots at Pinehurst No. 2.|
The most notable headline being Phil Mickelson’s quest for the career grand slam. Lefty’s surprise victory in last year’s Open Championship instantly added drama to this year’s U.S. Open. Add the fact that Mickelson finished second to Payne Stewart in Pinehurst’s legendary 1999 Open, and many are wondering whether he might finally be able to break through this year.
#2’s famous roll-off greens will demand a healthy dose of imagination from the players, and it’s a good bet the eventual winner will need to flash some crafty wedge shots to leave manageable pars. Naturally, when you think ‘wedge,’ you think Phil Mickelson.
In addition, a sizable European presence will also likely crowd the leaderboard, led by 2011 champion Rory McIlroy. Sweden’s Henrik Stenson (ranked #2 in the world) could also be a factor, along with Germany’s Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia of Spain and past champion Graeme McDowell (like McIlroy, from Northern Ireland).
How about Justin Rose of England, last year’s winner? Don’t bet against him in his quest to be the first repeat champion since Curtis Strange in 1988-89.
|The practice green next to the first tee will give players a few extra practice putts before starting their rounds.|
Australia will be well represented, led by the world’s top-ranked player, Adam Scott. Fellow Aussie Jason Day is also lurking near the surface, having fully recovered from some injury problems earlier this season.
The U.S. Open has a knack for producing dark-horse winners, so there will no doubt be a few surprises in contention on Sunday. It’s just another “first” that’s possible at Pinehurst.
For the women, the field would also seem to be wide open. 11 year-old Californian Lucy Li grabbed headlines by becoming the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Open. It’s hard to believe, but Li just finished up sixth grade, and now she’ll be competing on the same stage as the best players in the world.
Stacy Lewis and Lexi Thompson are the top-ranked Americans in the field, with Lewis recently reclaiming the #1 ranking. Both figure to be in the mix, having the short-game that will be so necessary at Pinehurst. Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer will certainly command attention as well, with their exceptional long-game and large galleries.
|The view from the tee of the 18th hole. Players will need to choose how much of the natural areas that they want to contend with.|
Teen phenom Lydia Ko heads a talented Asian contingent, along with last year’s winner Inbee Park.
There will be no shortage of drama with the women, and we’ll all be watching to see how they handle the Donald Ross greens (though the greens speeds will be slowed a tad to accommodate lower ball flight) in comparison to the men.
During and after the Opens
Local Pinehurst courses will be busy during the Open weeks, but it’s definitely worth a call to any of them if you’ve got the urge to play a round while taking a break from walking the grounds of Pinehurst #2.
|The par three third at Pine Needles. Beautiful views, outstanding golf.|
When the crowds leave, you’ll have to wait a couple months to try Pinehurst #2 for yourself (the course will be closed and re-grassed with newer and more heat resistant turf until Labor Day), but the resort offers eight other golf courses for your playing pleasures – including the newest, the Jack Nicklaus designed Pinehurst 9 (formerly known as National Golf Club).
We recently visited Pine Needles/Mid Pines, which offers two more original Donald Ross masterpiece golf courses. Pine Needles itself hosted two U.S. Women’s Opens in recent times and under the stewardship of Peggy Kirk Bell has long been connected to championship golf.
Like Pinehurst #2, Mid Pines was recently restored to reflect its Donald Ross heritage. Playing the course is pure joy – truly one of our favorite courses. Pine Needles also ranks up there on our favorites list.
Here is the website: http://www.pineneedles-midpines.com/
|Like Pinehurst No. 2, Mid Pines was recently restored to its original Donald Ross look and playability.|
We’ve made several trips to Pinehurst over the years and have not come close to covering all the region offers. The Pinehurst area may have the world’s attention for these two weeks in June, but remains available year-round for visitors.
Say the name “Pinehurst” and you think golf. It’s a place that every golfer should visit… then maybe you’ll be saying “it’s the first time that I really understood what golf is all about.”
For more information about the 2014 U.S. Opens, visit:
Pine Needles/Mid Pines:
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