Review for Pinehurst (No.2)

Reviewer Score:


I have played Pinehurst #2 three times and every time my appreciation grows for the course. I first played it on September 30, 1989 before the restoration by Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw, then on December 11, 2017 and most recently on May 29. 2020.

I do believe this to be the masterpiece work of Donald Ross, edging out Seminole and a few others. Although Mr. Ross was a prolific designer, when he had good ground he made the most of it. The land that Pinehurst #2 is on is not the best land other than the 30 feet of sand for good drainage and bunkering, yet it does have areas of lower and higher ground. The highest point of the land is the location of the clubhouse, so if one is somehow able to remember where that sits in relationship to a putt on the green, it might come in handy.

When I played it in 1989 it was the day of the annual caddie tournament so there were no teeing options. One had to play the tees laid out, which were just under 7000 yards. That day I recall the light drizzle to a decent rain that was present for the entirety of our round. I was not as impressed with the parkland course at the time, other than those magnificent greens. I walked away only remembering the greens and thick rough but only a somewhat dim memory of the course other than the fabulous fifth and thirteenth holes.

I consider the greens at Pinehurst #2 to be the finest in the USA, perhaps the world. Despite their size, and they are often appear very large, there is rarely an easy putt both in break and pace. It is perhaps the hardest course to putt without the advice of a good, knowledgeable caddie. Perhaps even more difficult is hitting the greens and having a ball stay on them or release to a desired area. The greens have high fall-offs, swales, depressions, spines and breaks in all directions. Therefore, what might look like a large green is actually reduced to half of the size. It is not uncommon to putt balls off of the greens or have a relatively short pitch or chip that will go through the green or not go anywhere near where one thinks it will. Options are available to recover near the greens through putting, chipping into a bank or onto the surface, trying to get a ball to check, or get a ball to roll out. There are always options near the greens with a decision to be made and then one simply must have confidence in their game to commit and execute a recovery shot.

I know of no other course in the world where the short game is as important as it is at Pinehurst #2.

When I returned in 2017 I walked away thinking that the course designed by Mr. Ross no longer existed, that instead it had become a Coore/Crenshaw course because it looks so much like what they would do, other than some of the “taller” raised greens. But now after having played it again, and having looked at photos of how it was built from the 1940’s, I consider it to be a fairly true restoration except for one part. The greens, after decades of top-dressing, are crowned perhaps as many as two feet higher than were built. Perhaps pictures of what was built are deceiving, but many locals “swear” it to be the case.

I very much like and admire the golf course and do not completely understand why some people consider too many of the holes to look similar. I think the holes look different unless one is simply stating at a high level there is sand or taller wire grass in sandy areas right and left off the tee, and pine trees to either side. Certainly the placement of fairway bunkers, length of the hole, and the greenside bunkers make each hole look different, especially when one considers the shape and size of the bunkers.

The greens are very different to each hole.

The tall, thick rough that was present during my first round in 1989 is now gone. There is grass on the fairway and greens. The previous “rough” has been replaced by sand, pine straw, and the tall, wispy wire grass off of the fairways in the sandy areas. Mr. Coore and Mr. Crenshaw did a masterful job of returning to the course to its “roots,” where the sand is ever visible and often is where one plays from despite the wide fairways. Many times in both 2017 and 2020 either my ball or one of my playing partners, in attempting to hit a recovery shot to a certain part of the fairway, found the ball running much farther than intended ending up in the sandy ground or in a bunker. Sometimes 50 yard wide fairways need to be 60 yards.

The course also reminds me of both Merion East and the Old course at St. Andrews in that the bunkers often come into the fairway dictating the line of play. Despite those wide fairways, due to both those protruding fairway bunkers and the contours surrounding and on the greens, Pinehurst #2 becomes a course where angles are very important. The course is long, yet one’s score on this course is going to be determined by how they come into the green and then what happens once one is on the green.

We had a bad weather day this time. We were supposed to play #4 but a thunderstorm of almost biblical proportions started three hours before our tee time. We switched our days for each round as well as times. Instead of teeing off on #4 at 10:50, we went off on #2 at 1:50. There had already been two inches of rain and many bunkers had become small ponds. Once the rain stopped, there was a ninety-minute rain delay which we used to play the Cradle. Once we started our round on #2, we played three holes before the heavens opened up again with heavy rains and thunder/lightening. One of my friends gave up and went in while the remaining three joined others at a shelter at the fifth tee for a 50-minute rain delay. In total, there was just over 3 inches of rain that day. However, by the time we made our way back to the fourth tee, the rain had stopped and the sun eventually came out, leaving behind a wet course playing much longer than the yardage as well as even bigger ponds in the bunkers. Anyone hitting into a bunker with a pond was unable to find the ball given the depth of the water. Instead we declared no penalty and a free drop.

I like everything about Pinehurst #2 and do believe it is certainly a top 100 World course, as high as in the top 50.

We played the white tees given the rain after considering a set of combo tees. The U.S. Open tees are 7588 yards, par 70, and rated 76.5/138. The Blue tees are 6961 yards, par 72 and rated 73.7/133. The White tees are 6307 yards, par 72 and rated 70.7/126.

The round is slow here due to the difficulty of the greens. Expect a round between 4:20 and 5:45 (per my caddie). At 5:45 I would likely walk off the course never to return no matter how good a golf course is. There are no rangers to speed up play. The group ahead of us played the blue tees so I had a chance to watch them. Their tee shots ranged generally from 275 to 300 yards. Yes, they were slow players but thankfully only added about half a hour to our round. As is typical in a group like this, there is always one person who takes too long on the green being unprepared for their turn, and then dallying to the next green. I call these people “pros” who think “people want to be me.”

As I thought about the course changing almost 600 yards longer from the first time I played it to now, I admit to being dismayed about what this means for the future of golf. I do not yet have the answers but simply know that I feel very disconnected to the professional game except at the green site. While I marvel at the length the top professionals can hit a tee shot, especially on courses that can run firm and fast, I do worry about the cost of building and maintain these courses, as well as what it means for the length of time to play a round.

1 – par 4 402/393/376. A wide fairway greets the player with the longer hitters wanting to come in from the right side as the green is angled right to left, raised higher at the back. There is a 5 feet long, bunker on the left side. The “sandy” area begins at about 225 yards with a single bunker on the right about 30 yards short of the green. From 175 yards I hit what I thought was an excellent shot to near the center of the green with a back right pin. Once on the green I saw I was only about 15 feet on and had a 60 feet putt to a green that is also fairly narrow. I did manage to successfully two putt, making the second from 3 feet right. The first hole wakes one up immediately with regards to what to expect from future greens.

2 – par 4 507/439/411. The sandy areas and very much in play on both sides off the tee with a green angled left to right, the opposite of the first. This time one wants to play in from the right. The green has substantial fall-offs to either side and rear. There is a large, raised bunker about 70 yards from the green on the left that can come into play for the longer hitter playing too far up. On the right there are two large, deep bunkers right of the green about 15 yards short. This fairway has some wonderful contours in it, almost like little plateaus that can result in a ball ending up in an unexpected position. This is a very difficult green to hold due to the crowned nature making this green act about 1/3 its size. Shots hit either too short into the bank or slightly too long will not find the green with the right side having a longer slope off the green with the higher left side being very difficult to come back onto the green and hold it.

3 – par 4 387/350/330. Perhaps the weakest hole on the golf course, yet the sandy area of wire grass and pine straw is evident on both sides as well as the trees. There is a large, deep protruding bunker coming in from the right about 220 yards off the tee that cuts the fairway to half of its size. At the green there is a large bunker fronting it and a slightly smaller one on the right as well as one on the left. This is another crowned green that is placed off to the right making the left side of the fairway the desired side to come in. The green has a pronounced back to front and left to right slope. Going off of the back of the green will face an even higher “wall” of green to run up, chip up, or pitch onto without the ball going far past the pin.

4 – 529/474/434. The first time I played #2, I felt this to be one of the prettiest, yet weakest holes on the course as it was then a shorter, downhill par 5. Now it is a par 4. It is amazing how changing par on a hole changes one’s mindset when one tries to make a par, rather than trying to make a score. This is now one of the better holes on the golf course, due to the excellent visual of the fairway falling some 30-40 feet below you. The right side is a long waste, sandy area with staggered bunkers while a large and deep bunker awaits on the left. The hole turns to the left with additional deep, long bunkers flanking the fairway on either side. The green is angled left to right with higher ground at the back and right, yet will fall-offs here as well. The green is rumpled, tilted overall right to left and back to front. It is the most attractive green site on the course. For me, this went from one of the weakest holes on the course to possibly the best hole.

5 – 576/508/462. After my first visit, I thought this hole, then a par 4, to be the best hole on the course due to its combination of length, the location of the green set off to the left. The green is certainly one of the more terrifying as the left side is sharply sloped to take a ball into the deep bunker on the front left. One must hit the center right of the green and hopefully not miss too far to the right to a pin anywhere left center. As a par 5, the challenges remain at the green but now one has an extra shot to try to accomplish par. It makes the hole “feel” easier, even if it is the same score one might normally get. Playing the fourth and fifth in nine shots is always a good score for better players. For players of my ability, playing it in ten shots is acceptable and even eleven shots should not break one’s spirit for the remainder of the round. This hole is uphill all the way, getting back close to the higher ground of the fourth tee. Off to the left of the fairway is the widest area of waste/sand area on the course. The very wide fairway tilts to the left leading to a hook stance for many, which is the preferred line to attack the hole because I believe the ball coming into the green has a better chance of staying away from that left side of the green. While the left side of the fairway leads to a semi-blind view of the green with the right side offering what seems to be a good angle and view of the green, I think the right side can bring a more difficult approach shot. There are two bunkers right of the green that have to be avoided unless the pin is in the back right of the green. There are two bunkers left of the green, the first one beginning about 40 yards from the front and the second one being the deep one that actually is not a bad place to miss. It is a genius green complex because it is crowned throughout. About 40% of this green is what is puttable, the rest is likely going to lead to a ball going off the green. In my three rounds here, I have parred the hole each time (4,5,5) which is my biggest accomplishment on the course.

6 – 242/203/178. The first par 3 is a good one, although not the best on the course. It is defined by a green with a substantial false front, lots of undulations and large bunkers left and right with a smaller bunker as well on the right. Visually, this is a “plain” hole until you arrive at the green and you see how crowned it is.

7 – 424/393/385. This sharp dogleg right allows the biggest hitters to try to carry the dogleg although the fairway narrows at the turn. There are three raised bunkers on the right side to carry as well with a ball landing in them likely to get close to the sharply raised faces. At the green there are three bunkers left and one on the right with the one on the right being bigger than the three left combined. This is one of the easier greens on the course and one of the real opportunities for a birdie or par.

8 – 502/469/440. The fairway snakes on this long par 4 although it is essentially a straight hole. This hole has two bunkers well short of the green on the left and a single one set back from the front of the green on the right. This green is smaller at the front then widens. There is a substantial fall-off on the left side and back of the green. It is a good hole but the primary difficulty is in its length, the fall-offs, and the back to front speedy green. It other words, there is a lot of challenge to the hole.

9 – 191/174/148. From an elevated tee, one hits down over a valley to a green that is raised with a substantial penalty for being short. There is a large bunker on the front left, another front right and the most difficult bunker is back of the green. The bunker in front can lead to a blind recovery shot as it is about seven feet deep. This green tilts back to front and left to right with various shelves and depressions in it. This green is wide, but shallow. This green has tremendous breaks in it. The back left plateau has less break but is very small while the center right side has substantial slope and speed. I consider this to be the second-best par 3 on the course as it is visually attractive, challenging, yet fair.

10 – 617/580/455. We played this one at 580 as we felt 455 to be too much of a break from the intent of a challenging par 5. It is basically a straight hole yet a fairway cross bunker on the left converts it into a dogleg left. The two sets of back tees have a long, uphill forced carry. This is a narrower fairway with staggered, deep bunkers on the left and two bunkers grouped together on the right. The second bunker left changes the angle into the green making the shot into the green become a dogleg left. A mound on the right in the waste area makes a recovery shot play difficult. There are flanking bunkers at the front of the green which is sharply raised going from front to back with various spines in it. The back of the green falls off sharply due to the rise. I found this green to be one of the most difficult to read both for pace and slope. For me, this is the second best par 5 on the course.

11 – 483/455/375. This hole has another green set off to the right that is fronted by a small mound on the right. There is a single small bunker on the right and two on the left. This hole plays as a dogleg right given the location of the green. The green is slightly raised, feels large for the length of the hole, with the caddie telling me this is one of the more difficult greens on the course even if it did not look like it. The slight false front on the right is difficult to judge a putt off of the green.

12 – 484/419/360. The one bit of “sameness” I saw to the golf course is with the eleventh and twelfth holes as both have green set off to the right, even if the greens are very different. There are three bunkers down the left and then two on the left and one hard against the right side. The second set of left bunkers narrow the fairway and become a navigational issue. The green is crowned with substantial movement making the green play about half of its size. The route into the green, much like the previous hole is down the left center of the fairway but I did not find it overly difficult coming in from the left if one can hit a high approach shot. From the 419/360 tees I feel this is the weakest hole on the golf course.

13 – 385/375/358. I love this hole with its dramatically elevated green set atop a hill. This hole seems to play as a double dogleg but if one plays straight they will be fine. The right side of the fairway offers the better line into the green. There is a large bunker front left and then three narrower, bunkers set below the green on the right side. The approach shot is blind to this green which is very sloped and undulated. Missing long over the green is the preferred miss and likely as the green is not very deep. The front of the green falls off sharply. This is my favorite hole on the course.

14 – 473/433/419. The view from the elevated tee is nearly as good as the one from the fourth tee. This longer hole is a gem and for me is the second-best set of consecutive holes on the course with the fourth-fifth being the best consecutive holes. I consider this to be one of the top five holes on the course. The waste area to the right is wide. For the longer hitters, a bunker on the left narrows the fairway and leads to a difficult recovery shot. There are two bunkers left and one right, all 70-20 yards in front of the green that must be avoided. A single bunker is right of the green. This green is more crowned than it appears from the fairway and is another one that is difficult to hold unless you find the small middle of the green.

15 – 202/183/170. Large, long bunkers are on either side of this green which offers another false front and roll-offs as it is crowned. Once on the green, this is the easiest green to read and one that should not be a potential three putt.

16 – 528/513/478. We really did not get to play the hole the way we wanted given the flooding that increased the size of the pond by about 40% eating into the fairway. Normally there is about a 200 yard carry from the 513 tee but in our case it was 235 yards with only a sliver of the fairway near the tree line on the right available to an average length hitter. Following the pond is a large, deep bunker with a severe face on the left side which the longer hitters must avoid. The hole then falls downhill with another bunker coming in from the left to a valley fronting the green with three bunkers right and one left followed by one at the rear. That second left bunker is somewhat hidden as is in placed below the ground level. The three bunkers on the right snake back and forth with the farther right one is in them the lower the probability of a successful recovery. This green has tiers to it and small plateaus in it. The first two times I played the hole I dismissed it as the least of the par 5’s but I consider it a good hole.

17 – 205/185/162. This green complex has all sorts of eye candy surrounding it due to the prevalence of bunkers. The green plays as a slight redan from back right to front left with a rear bunker. It is a good hole but not in class of the other par 3’s.

18 – 451/415/366. The uphill finishing hole plays as a dogleg left with a large and very deep bunker complex on the right side. If in them, you will have a blind shot as you will be seven-eight feet below the surface. The green has a large and deep fronting bunker, a large bunker left and a small one on the right. The green has everything – a false front, a middle swale, smaller plateaus, a large fall-off left, right and back. For me, the miss is to the right side where one can putt a ball onto the green. This is a speedy green if one is above the hole. The only negative to the hole is the size of the massive clubhouse which can be distracting yet it is also fun to have others watching how one does. I got up and down with a putter to a back right pin up a steep slope from 10 yards right of the green and received some scattered applause.

I really like Pinehurst #2 and appreciate it more every time I play it. I hope to play it sometime when the weather is excellent.

Pinehurst #2 has the most interesting green complexes in the USA and the routing leads to a good variety of holes. While there are several “flat” holes, there are numerous holes with elevation changes such as #4, #5, #13, #14 and #18.

For me this is easily a top 100 golf course in the world and one that should be played regardless of the fee.

Date: June 02, 2020

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