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
The one thing I will say about Pinehurst #2 right off the bat is that it is the most enjoyable golf course to walk I've ever trotted. It looks hilly and harsh to walk on television, but it is such a joy to walk underneath the tall pine trees on the dried out bermuda and sand. Most tee boxes are mere steps off each green; something I give out massive points for and just isn't done often enough.
Now then, playing the golf course. Straight up... it is by far the hardest golf course I've ever played. There were several different occasions where off the tee, and with my approach shots into some greens, I thought I was in perfect shape or going to be in great position to have par on the hole at worst. Instead, the ball had either trickled into sand, or into one of the course's famous collection areas as a result of the punchbowl greens. Not all that dissimilar from links golf, I suppose. You simply have to be very exact all across the course, and have a little luck go your way. After the restoration, it's pretty well known how the waste areas have sand and those clumps of wired grass. If you avoid that grass, it's usually a very doable shot. Find the wired grass, and you're going to make bogey at best.
Compared to other major layouts I've played, luck hasn't had that big a role, but that doesn't take away from the fact #2 is magnificent. I love this quote from Nicklaus: "Pinehurst is the only course I've ever played that's tree-lined, but doesn't have a single tree come into play." Nail on the head. The scenery throughout all 18 holes is top class and as pretty as any I've ever seen. Like I said at the beginning, walking around this joint is a pleasure. The golf course could be substituted with a park, and the walk would still be just as enjoyable. I really can't say enough adoring things about it. I hope to return one day, having some knowledge of the golf course and try to get some revenge after I exited the course spanked.
This is my favorite course on the planet. I find it extremely fun to play and set among gorgeous pinetrees with sand waste areas along the fairways. These are among the best greens in the world.
Having gone to college in South Carolina I had the good fortune in making a number of visits to Pinehurst. The complex is impressive -- but the town is even more so. The issue with the legendary #2 Course is that one round fails to really itemize all the fascinating aspects the course provides from a design perspective. As much credit that rightly goes to architect Donald Ross it is the talents of the present day design duo of Ben Crenshaw & Bill Coore who really have played a major hand in bringing back to life the true presentation dimension that was lost for a number of years. C&C restored the original "look" and "feel" of the course -- eliminating the inane contrivances that were allowed to seep in over time. The world at-large was able to see that "new" style when #2 hosted in consecutive weeks the men's and women's US Opens in '14.
Some golfers did not fully comprehend the embracing of "brown" areas and firm and fast turf. Case in point, President Donald Trump who opined ignorantly following the event that the '14 US Opens were simply horrific.
The golfer who plays #2 for just one round may likely walk away and scratch their head and ask, "Is that all there is?" The Ross brilliance comes in having subtle movements - but collectively these situations can only be fully appreciated with multiple rounds. In many ways, #2 is akin to The Old Course at St. Andrews.
Much of modern design today is reminiscent of films today. Such films concentrate on providing endless car chases, mindless explosions and a drumbeat of never ending action. You can see such designs today with the over abundance of water hazards -- where putting greens feature movement akin to a stormy day on the Atlantic Ocean. #2 is a refreshing alternative -- the dialogue is the central dimension -- the margins are not about draconian outcomes but shades of grey and nuance.
The sad part about #2 is the massive cost to play the course over the last several years has truly skyrocketed. It's not uncommon for fees to go beyond $400 -- and that does not include a caddie when playing since power carts are verboten. Turf conditions used to be an issue as well. Fortunately, that's changed so that when playing #2 you can truly get the sense of what the design entails. Given the fees involved -- it's more than likely that many will only play the course once and it's just as likely they may wonder what all the fuss is about.
Ross was smart enough in providing generous fairway widths but the demands certainly elevated themselves on any approach at #2. The turtle back greens fall-off to different sides and the "effective" landing area on any green is almost always much smaller than the total square footage provided.
C&C did a masterful job in getting rid of mindless cultivated Bermuda rough -- the kind where one simply hacksaws one's ball out and back to the fairway. Now you can play off the pine straw and the range of lies and types of shots you can play is truly varied -- utterly dependent on the player to determine what works best for the situation at-hand.
One of the interesting aspects for the '14 Men's Open was the switch in pars for the 4th and 5th holes respectively. In earlier Opens -- in '99 and in '05 the 4th played as a par-5 and the 5th a par-4. The reasoning was that the long approach shot to the devilish 5th green was simply too demanding to remain as is. I believe the switch was thought out properly and makes both holes better for it.
Pinehurst #2 is one of those few layouts that are "must" plays for the architectural cognoscenti. If one can secure permission -- it pays to walk the course prior to any round and really see the manner in which the "small details" really add up to what's ultimately provided.
When Pinehurst #2 was created it was clearly signaling a desire to move away from penal architecture as the defining measuring stick. Angles matter when playing #2 -- being in position so you can play the highest percentage shot possible. A one round visit makes the full appreciation of #2 a heavy lift for nearly all and I can completely understand how others may view the course so differently. #2 is number one in my book for any design student to view first hand. If the opportunity allows to play enough rounds the discerning elements will only add to your enjoyment in playing this iconic layout.
by M. James Ward
Pinehurst is the spiritual home of golf in the United States, and everyone should play the Donald Ross gem of No. 2 and stay at one of the three in-town properties: the Carolina Hotel, the Holly Inn, or the Pine Crest Inn; it is one of the top golf courses in the world, and walking the fairways at dawn or dusk with the smell of pine in the air and the sound of church bells ringing softly in the village is magical.
I am a big fan of the two opening holes which play away from the clubhouse and set the tone for the day with the inverted greens. It is amazing how much more difficult it makes your approach show when you know if you don’t hit a perfect shot it will bounce off. The fifth hole is particularly difficult and dangerous, especially left of the green.
I have not played Pinehurst #2 since Coore and Crenshaw have made revisions to it and look forward to doing so.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
Visually if I were being really critical I would say my initial reaction was that a lot of the holes kind of blend into each other for me, based on a single play. That’s just personal of course but mention worthy IMO. There are no weak holes but given the seemingly lack of variation in the setting, all fairways lined with trees and waste area etc I really struggled to recall all the holes. In most cases I can remember nearly every hole on the world’s best courses. It only depends on how important visual variation is for you. The holes certainly offer strategic variation, which is of course far more relevant to the game itself.
In this respect Pinehurst might fall slightly into the category of something like The Old Course at St. Andrews. However, from a pure architectural perspective it’s sheer genius with some of the most interesting greens you may ever see coupled with great strategy off the tee and plenty of width to increase playability.
I’m certain it’s a course that only gets better the more you play it, that is if you can get past the overcrowded touristic part of the experience and the 5+ hour rounds of golf. Much like Pebble Beach or TPC Sawgrass extremely long rounds are par for these courses as they are full of people that bite off more than they can chew, play the furthest back tee they are allowed and look at ever putt from every single angle before debating with their caddies.
Ross is probably the most prolific designer who ever lived; he designed more than 400 golf courses, a third or a quarter of which he never set foot on. At the peak of his career, he employed approximately 3,000 people. Eleven of his courses are on the Golf Digest Top 100. Eighteen U.S. Opens have been played on Donald Ross courses. Although he was bitter after losing the bid to design Augusta National, he then devoted himself to making Pinehurst No.2 the greatest golf course in the nation. He lived at Pinehurst for many years, and he was constantly tinkering with the design of No.2. Most people say it is his best design. I have played several of his other courses (Oakland Hills and Salem Country Club) that I liked much more, but I am clearly in the minority.
The price to play Pinehurst had not yet skyrocketed, so we played it two days in a row. The rough was dormant in the fall so it was not particularly scenic. No.2 is not only challenging from tee to green, but almost every green is crowned, so even a well hit shot onto the green may roll off into a collection area, and there are many of those, which can become frustrating. If you’re a good chipper and putter, then you can score well on this course, because you’ll be doing a lot of chipping. If not – well, have a nice day. Larry Berle.