With more than 100 years of history and nine golf courses cleverly routed through 2,000 acres of North Carolina’s sandhills, you’ll need to schedule a little more time than usual to fully absorb the incredible Pinehurst experience.
Donald J. Ross made the trip from his native Scotland to America in 1899 with the objective of introducing the royal and ancient game to a burgeoning nation. Shortly after his arrival, James W. Tufts, the visionary behind the Pinehurst Resort, commissioned Ross and he stayed on at Pinehurst for a further 48 years.
In the early days, Pinehurst had a simple rudimentary 9-hole course but that was soon to change. Ross cut his golfing teeth at Royal Dornoch and their domed greens were soon to become his hallmark. Pinehurst No.2 opened for play in 1907 and its green sites are the ultimate test, legendary and quite unique. These average sized putting surfaces have been known to reduce a grown man to tears. With wicked fall offs around the edges, these greens are actually much smaller than they look and they will hold only the best or the luckiest approach shots. Vivid imagination and the finest skill are required to negotiate these greens in regulation.
So, is Pinehurst No.2 all about the greens? The short answer is no. No.2 course has a few world-class holes (5th, 9th and 16th) and as a complete course it has to be one of the most finely balanced and most difficult courses we have ever played. It’s no wonder it was the chosen venue for the 1999, 2005 and 2014 US Opens. And we’re sure many people will recall with affection Payne Stewart’s remarkable final hole putt, which secured the 1999 title.
“Americans, unlike the British, are not given to playing in the rain,” wrote Robert Trent Jones in The Complete Golfer, “but at Pinehurst they make what is perhaps their one exception. I dare say that more people play in the rain at Pinehurst than at any other golf course in America. In fact, if you have a wind-breaker and an umbrella, it’s a rather pleasant thing to do, because the sand underfoot makes for relatively dry walking. In the rain, the pine trees seem to glisten, making each hole an individual jewel.” Maybe playing in the rain at Pinehurst is not a bad idea... the greens will be more manageable perhaps?
The design firm of Coore and Crenshaw was engaged at Pinehurst with a brief to return the No.2 course to its 1930s sandy character. The renovation work was based on old aerial photographs, which included increasing fairway widths, removal of turf in the rough with sandy waste areas and numerous bunker modifications. The work started in spring 2010 and completed in 2011. The renovated Pinehurst No.2 staged the 2014 US Open and it proved to be a formidable test for all but one player. Martin Kaymer coasted to an eight-shot victory after shooting a pair of 65s in the opening two rounds, carding a 72-hole score of 271, the second lowest in U.S. Open history. Only three players finished the tournament under par.
Pinehurst Resort is one of our Top 100 Golf Resorts of the World
A fantastic experience that i cannot imagine anyone regretting and quite an accessible place to play. Amazing greens and a lot of places to recover from not such great shots. Clubhouse with a lot of history and great feel. I never hear this course mentioned as a Top 10-20 and I don't think of it either in the vein but i really am not sure why. Id put it up there as one of the top few places to play with a group of buddies who want great golf and a really enjoyable experience.
I could go into detail on every hole, but I won't bore you. When I played it I loved every second of it. It is fun, it is tough, but you won't lose any balls and you'll always have a shot. You can't play it expecting to shoot your handicap, but you just need to enjoy it, which it's impossible not to.
The fairways are firm but relatively flat, so you won't find your ball bouncing sideways into the sand. The greens are firm and fast, and if you don't hit the middle of the green then your ball will roll off. I have never played a course than plays so well.
My only criticism is some holes are quite similar, but that can only be said for 2 or 3 of them. It's an experience unlike any other, and the best part is, it's public! Anyone can play here, and when you're in the area, make sure you play Mid Pines, Pine Needles and Tobacco Road!
With all of the excellent information provided by reviewers below, I thought I would deviate from my normal pattern of discuss standout holes and instead elaborate on what I call the “secret sauce” at Pinehurst #2. I wholeheartedly agree with James Ward’s comment that it is unfair to rate Pinehurst #2 after just one round. The genius in the course becomes evident after a few loops.
Many writers inaccurately describe Pinehurst #2 as being “classic Ross,” when in fact, the course was unique from virtually any other of his designs. For starters, since he lived off of the third hole for large portions of the year, Ross spent significant time tinkering with the design in a way that he never could at his nearly 400+ other courses. Additionally, the course had sand greens until just a few years before his death, so the development of the greens we see today actually came later in his career. Finally, it is worth mentioning that there are far better tracts of land for golf in the Sandhills, even at Pinehurst resort. Similar to his other designs, though, Ross’ genius as a router shined through here. Pinehurst #2, in effect, has influence from the early, middle, and late Donald Ross, making it a unique architectural masterpiece.
What then, are the subtleties that make Pinehurst #2 so wonderful?
Perhaps the most important, in my opinion, is Ross’ artistry in the visualization of each hole. In theory, there are four types of golf holes. Easy holes that look easy, hard holes that look hard, easy holes that look hard, and hard holes that look easy. From an architecture standpoint, many modern architects have tended toward the prior categories, and quite frankly, this is not difficult to accomplish (think about the 18th at TPC Sawgrass – a hard hole that looks very hard). It takes true skill, however, to accomplish the latter two categories, and Ross does it exceptionally well with deceptive holes at Pinehurst #2.
Take, for example, the 3rd and 13th holes. Shorter par fours with fairly wide fairways, each of these holes seem to be relatively straightforward from the tee. This could not be farther from the truth. Going for the greens with a driver, if possible, can lead to big numbers if missed on the incorrect side. Furthermore, hitting a proper yardage is critical as each green is extremely severe. I once laid up to the middle of the 13th fairway and had roughly 145 yards into the green. Between clubs, I accidentally hit my approach just slightly off the back right. I walked away with a snowman!
Conversely, Ross actually provides wonderful options on shots that seem nearly impossible. Take for instance, the 5th hole. Though it is now played a par five, I will always consider it one of the greatest par fours in the world. A properly placed tee shot will leave a sidehill-downhill lie to a green that can devilishly reject shots. However, on this very compelling piece of the property, Ross leaves an opening to approach the green from the right side. While the approach may appear near impossible to stop on the green from the sidehill-downhill fairway lie, it actually is not so complex if you hit a low running draw (or lefty fade), the natural shot shape from the lie anyway.
The other components of the secret sauce which make this visual intimidation strategy possible, then, are width, firm playing conditions, and short grass. The game at Pinehurst is meant to be played on the ground in many places. With this in mind, having wide playing corridors to emphasize attack angle into the green is essential. Making a player think about bouncing a ball in and avoiding bunkers that cut into the putting surface is beguiling. In a world dominated by narrow fairways and lush Bermuda rough, Pinehurst #2 is a reprieve that honors the history of our sport. Even the best players must carefully consider tee shots as firm, short grass often runs off into wiregrass waste areas.
Pinehurst #2’s routing favors no one, and the variety from tee to green in terms of direction and length is simply outstanding. While one may be quick to judge the property after their first visit, I would urge anyone to give the course another chance. It may be one of, if not the most playable major venue on a day-to-day basis for amateurs out there, yet still offer incredible challenge to the world’s best. This combination, reflecting the entire lifetime of Donald Ross’ style and work, is one-of-a-kind.
What a golf course with the original Ross design being brought back to life by the talented Coore and Crenshaw partnership. the fairways are fast running and not too difficult to find and if you do run off into the pine needles you stand a good chance of having a shot into the green but that is the real test of this course hitting an upturned saucer green which is firm and fast is a real challenge and your clubbing will need to be spot on. I took a caddy and definitely benefited from his insights and green reading skills.
My No. 2 experience was probably different than many among the patrons of this site, but that unfortunately means I am rating it as such. I only played the course once, well prior to the Coore & Crenshaw reconstruction when fairways were enlarged and rough was eliminated in favor of sandy natural areas. At that time, it played like a parkland-style layout, rather than its more appropriate current state; on top of that, the rough areas weren’t fully grown in during the time of year I played, leading to some inconsistent lies. Often, balls way off line in the rough proved to be sitting better than those which barely missed the very narrow fairways. That made the course feel quite unfair, increasing the frustration throughout the round. Additionally, I was surprised at how little elevation change there was, for a course that was purported to be in the “sand hills” of North Carolina.
The only positive was that the greens were their typical selves, leading to some interesting shots thanks to the firmness of the turf. I recall putting from off the green about as much as I had anywhere to that point in my life. However, due to the lack of interest in the rest of the aspects of the course, it felt like it all bled together a bit. In fact, I only remember a handful of individual holes - #5, a par five which caused me extreme angst due to multiple good shots bouncing into thick pieces of bermuda rough less than a foot off the left side of the fairway, and #11-14, a series of solid par fours navigating the hillier portions of the site.
I look forward to someday returning to No. 2; doing so will likely change my view of it as the recent renovations look awesome. That said, to this point it’s probably the most disappointing and unmemorable course I’ve played compared to its reputation.
Played March 31, 1999
A little bothered by this writeup, Jeff. I've met many golfers who have come away disappointed from No. 2, so that's not so much the issue. But by acknowledging that you're reviewing the course as it stood during 1999—and not the acclaimed renovation you mentioned—you undercut the relevance of your argument. The rankings attached above to this course—NC, USA, World—are tied to its identity circa 2018. You're typically a well-spoken reviewer, so I wouldn't question your logic in the least if the circumstances were fair. Here instead I question the ethics of your review, not so much the content. If you decide to storm out of the house and play No. 2 tomorrow, just to spite me by confirming your 1999 thoughts, so be it!
Jeff: I read your review of Pinehurst #2 via your one time visit -- and that such a visit took place prior to the Crenshaw / Coore updating. Frankly, many proponents of #2, including myself, said as much when Pinehurst was under the control of Diamond Head then. But, that is truly old news.
I sincerely appreciate your comments at the end of your review in looking forward to returning.
You need to return and see firsthand what's there now. Candidly, people who have come to #2 and play only once or even twice cannot fathom what makes the layout so incredibly fascinating. #2 is akin to The Old Course at St. Andrews. Limited exposure likely means not fathoming all the subtle nuances that impact one's play. The simplicity that many people decry is really masking the complexity that lies at the heart of the Ross gem.
Appreciate the feedback, guys. Admittedly, I did consider not reviewing due to the differences between my round and the course's current state, but came down on the side of reviewing as the site's review guidelines did not specify anything about reviewing the current or recent state of a course.
As I see it, a review is a review and a ranking is a ranking - and the two are distinct. While the site's rankings do tie to the course's current identity, as Ryan cites, a user's individual review reflects his/her own experience on a course. I wrote the review honestly with full disclosure of the time frame, so it's up to the editors of the site to determine whether that experience should be considered towards the overall course ranking; I would be the first to agree that it shouldn't go towards any rankings. However, that decision shouldn't negate my experience on the course, which was underwhelming.
I think the easy answer is that I definitely need to play No. 2 again, preferably more than once. Now who's going to sponsor my $400 greens fee and convince my wife that I'll be gone for few days? ;)
Donald Ross crowning achievement. Course is so much better after the Coore/Crenshaw renovations.
A really good golf course and obviously great facilities, but alas I feel not worthy of the merit it seems to get.(golf course only)
When you are in the clubhouse you can really feel the history and the place is definitely special, however the golf course left me a little underwhelmed.
I would give the caveat that I did play very badly and this may have added to me feeling a little disappointed.
The greens were upturned saucers and anything other than accuracy was punished by rolling off the edges, added to this I really struggled with working out the grain of the greens.... running things 8 ft past on one hole and then 8 ft short on the next !
I have a feeling if I played it again I would feel differently, but for me not at the top of my list for heathland courses worldwide, all be it a very very good course.
For whatever reason, No. 2 appealed to me more so than many of the other top courses I've played and is, without question, one of the three greatest courses I've had the privilege of playing.
Coore and Crenshaw did a wonderful job restoring this Donald Ross gem to its sandy roots with wider fairways which allow for (and require) more strategy off the tee. This led to a very fun round for my dad and I despite out varying levels of skill.
I was never a fan of Ross courses early in my golf life, but grew to appreciate the nuances he built into them and the different skills needed to be successful on them. Pinehurst #2 is one of the very best examples of all his design prowess being utilized on one course. The restoration by Coore & Crenshaw brought back the design elements that necessitate strategy from tee to green again and, of course, the greens are still among the toughest in the U.S.
The shame of #2 is that people expect something from U.S. Open courses - be it views, tighter fairways, more water - than it presents. Instead, #2 simply presents great golf. Either you beat the course, or it beats you. As a result - and because of the fact that understanding #2 takes more than one round - too many golfers never fully appreciate it.
One example is the long 2nd hole. While it is a slight dogleg right that most players want to attempt to cut the corner on to achieve a shorter approach, the proper shot off the tee is to the left corner of the fairway. While this leaves a longer second shot, it also provides the golfer with a much easier approach and multiple options to reaching the green. Strategy like that is everywhere, but not always obvious from the tee (which makes springing for the extra $ for a caddie well worth it.)
The 5th and 6th holes are incredibly difficult (esp. when the 5th is played as a par 4 as originally designed) and the 9th is deceptively difficult for a short part 3. All the par 3s are excellent.
While there are "breather" holes in terms of length on this course, you can never let your mind wander or you will pay the price. Every shot needs to be well thought out as to where you want to land it for best approach to green, where to hit it on the green and then, of course, the putt! And if you miss the green, creativity plays a big part in your day due to the variety of shots one can use to try and reach the putting surface from the sandy areas and grassy collection areas.
Overall, one of the very best courses there is for a complete and true test of golf. Everyone should try it at least once.
The last time I played #2 was 2003. The retro redesign has had significant impact on the overall experience. I think the greens are easier but the layout tougher. The first hole, in true Donald Ross fashion, welcomes you in. The 2nd is a demanding long par 4. I think it plays easier to come in from the left. The 3rd looks easier than it is. Be wary of the fairway bunker and gunch on the right. Facing the green on your left is the Donald Ross house. The 4th is a tough long uphill par four. The number one handicap hole on the course. The par five 5th is a good unpretentious golf hole. Aim further right on all of your shots than you think. Everything rolls hard left to the waste bunkers and bunkers. Additionally, the green slopes hard left with some hellacious breaks. The par 5 8th is a reachable par 5. The par 3 9th is a lot trickier than it looks. Well protected, but there is also a bunker behind the green.
The par 5 10th is also reachable, aim a little right when approaching the green.The par 4 13th is devious. A well protected elevated green with bunkers left and right. If the pin is up, be extremely careful on your putt. Both of us putted off the green. The par 5 16th is a good risk reward hole and can be reached. However, you really have to hit two fantastic golf shots. The par 4 18th is a super finishing hole. Trouble left and right on both your tee shot and approach shot. Your tee shot should favor the left side.
We were first out and finished in less than 3 hours. If you are not so lucky, be prepared for a 5 hour round
#2 is an amazing course and venue. I have voted with my wallet and played it multiple times
I too voted with my wallet and stayed and played at Pinehurst. Its really is America's home of golf. I played #2 prior to the renovation and found myself above the hole on too many occasions to really enjoy the course.