When you think of the traits of a U.S. Open golf course, what is the first thing that come to mind? Fast greens and narrow fairways are typically synonymous with a U.S. Open track, but the likely first answer for most is thick, high rough. The second cut at a U.S. Open is often among the thickest and harshest you'll find in the world. That won't be the case, however, this week at Pinehurst No. 2. Not only is there not thick rough, but there isn't any rough at all. None.
Pinehurst No. 2 is a familiar venue for golf fans, and considered one of the historic homes of American golf. It's hosted its share of big tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1999 and 2005. But, the course the players will attempt to tackle this week won't resemble the course from '05 much after undergoing a major redesign in 2010. The lack of rough is just one of the major changes.
Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw bring back the original qualities
Opened in 1907, Pinehurst No. 2 was designed by the famed Donald Ross. Like all Ross courses, the greens at Pinehurst are extremely challenging. While they have remained the same over the years, the course itself underwent significant change, moving away from some of the original characteristics. Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore led a $2.5 million redesign to bring many of those qualities back. The course may not be as punishing from tee-to-green as it was before the redesign, but playing it successfully requires more strategy and creative shot-making abilities.
Goodbye Bermuda rough, hello native areas
The most notable change of the redesign is the lack of rough with 35 acres of turf removed. The course now has only two cuts of grass, greens and everywhere else. In place of rough are "native areas" featuring sand, wire grass, pine straw and other native grasses. The change will provide a unique element to the tournament as the playability from the natural areas will vary dramatically. A player might find a hardpan lie and have no issue advancing his ball to the green from out of the waste area. On the same hole, a ball might get stuck in some wire grass and the player will be fortunate to advance 50 yards (Graeme McDowell showed us one of those unfortunate lies on Tuesday). There will be a major element of luck involved for those who stray away from the fairway. Here's a before-and-after look at the 18th hole, via PGATour.com, that illustrates the changes and "browning out" to the original conditions:
Wider fairways and other changes
With the focus on opening the course to provide an array of strategic options and angles into greens, the fairways have been widened significantly with some up to 50-percent wider. Hitting a narrow landing area is no longer the objective. Now, the goal is picking a strategy to play a hole that works to whatever shot-shape suits the player and executing the plan. Players in the same group will likely approach and play holes differently. Creativity and shot-making is now king.
The bunkers were also transformed into a more natural state. Many bunkers don't have a defined edge and are built naturally into the landscape. The course was also lengthened by more than 300 yards, increasing from 7,214 to 7,565 yards. Concrete cart paths were removed, as were 650 irrigation heads. Overseeding was also eliminated during the winter, creating a faster, firmer course.
Donald Ross greens intact
Donald Ross designs are known for their undulating and difficult greens. While the course changed dramatically from tee to green, the greens themselves remain largely the same. Small changes were made to the greens on No. 15 and No. 17 in an effort to add more possible pin locations. The other 16 greens remain unchanged.
The course is always the main character at a U.S. Open, but it will especially dominate the discussion this week with the total restoration and overhaul since the last national championship at Pinehurst. There's also no Tiger Woods, the main draw at every golf event he enters, sucking up the oxygen that's devoted to assessing his chances and performance. So get used to hearing "native areas" and familiarize yourself with what the players will be facing at the season's second major.