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
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.
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