Now that Adam Scott has been properly fitted for his Green Jacket, the eyes of the golfing world shift to Merion, site of this year's U.S. Open. Millions across the globe will watch on Father's Day as a new national champion is crowned. Except, that is, for the staff at Pinehurst.
They're kind of busy.
When the final putt is holed at Merion, the flag will once again be passed to this legendary golf resort in the sand hills of North Carolina and their famed No. 2 course. In unprecedented fashion, the Donald Ross masterpiece will host both the men's and women's U.S. Opens on back-to-back weeks in 2014. A historic undertaking, and one that has no doubt led to a few sleepless nights in this golfing mecca.
The preparations for hosting their third U.S. Open began a few years ago, when Pinehurst No. 2 was put through perhaps the most tranformative renovation of any major championship venue. Over the years, No. 2 had strayed from its original design, succumbing to the notion that a sea of turf grass was the best mark of a championship golf course. The sand dunes and waste areas which originally bordered the fairways were filled in with miles of thick, punitive rough; masking the true character of Pinehurst No. 2 and leaving behind what many called a dull and boring golf course.
Enter the renowned team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, who were charged with the noble task of returning No. 2 to it's original grandeur. The spirit of Donald Ross was no doubt close at hand, as these modern day versions of himself set to restoring what some might call his Mona Lisa. Countless acres of turf grass was stripped from the course and replaced by the hard pan waste areas and wire grass that, along with its infamous crowned greens, were once the trademark of Pinehurst.
And therein lies the second mark to be made at Pinehurst in 2014: for the first time in the 112 year history of the U.S. Open, the tournament will be played without a single blade of rough. There will be no highlight reels of the game's best players, lashing violently at their ball only to advance it a mere 5 yards. The notion flies in the face of everything we've come to expect from a US Open venue, and could even bring a debate that the course will be too easy for our national championship. That is, until you take a walk on the fairways of Coore and Crenshaw's finished product.
Of course, the credit truly belongs to Donald Ross, and the opportunity to play this legendary venue as he intended it adds a certain level of mystique when stepping on the first tee. The initial impression is that the fairways are extremely generous in width, enticing the golfer to give it a good rip with the driver. This is exactly how Ross originally set up the course, however the penalty for missing the fairway requires the Golf Gods be firmly on your side.
The waste areas and their "love grass" -- a nickname whose definition isn't suitable for grandmothers or small children -- are simply a flip of the coin. At one point, yours truly drew a beautiful lie and was able to hit 3-wood into a par 5. At another, the ball came to rest directly behind a clump of "love grass" requiring a 40 yard hack into the fairway. One thing is for certain, the champion that emerges from Pinehurst won't have just been the best driver or putter in the field, but also the luckiest.
Assuming the player is able to find the fairway or a good lie in the sand dunes, now they must content with No. 2's infamous greens. Johnny Miller once said these beauties were "like trying to hit a ball on top of a Volkeswagon Beetle." Their upside down bowl design requires an incredible level of precision, and one quickly learns that no shot is deemed safe until the ball comes to a full and complete stop. All told, the greens combined with the unpredictable nature of the waste areas make for a stern, but fair, one-two punch at Pinehurst.
And yet, some may still argue that a course with wide fairways and a lack of rough will be a walk in the park for the world's best players. Consider then that No. 2 last underwent an aeration in November of 2012, and will not see another until after the U.S. Open. The result will be fairways and greens harder than the runways of LaGuardia. Drives off target by the smallest of margins will run out into the waste areas where, by the way, thousands of additional tufts of "love grass" will be waiting come tournament time.
Make no mistake, the new Pinehurst #2 -- or old, depending on how you prefer to look at it -- is both an absolute dream for purists of the game, and a nightmare for those that fail to pay their due respect. The dual U.S. Opens and the layout of the course will provide an untested, yet historic event for the game. This much can be said for certain, however: by the end of it all, the only one still laughing will be Donald Ross.