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A Photo Journalist's Review of the 2005 US Open's Pinehurst #2 - by JW Farquhar

The 2005 US Open will be played in the Carolinas June 13-19 at the venerable Pinehurst #2.  It was here only several years ago in '99 that Payne Stewart sank the putt that edged out Phil Mickelson by a stroke in a dramatic finish.  But it was only last year that myself and other members of the Carolina Golf Reporters Association were invited to review some changes made to this Donald Ross classic.  The course was lengthened by 100 yards and some bunkers were changed.  At a new length of 7217 yards and a slope of 75.3/133 this is no patsy.  While we were there we were invited to play the 18 and check out the improvements.   

Pinehurst #2 course has had some mixed reviews.  There are some who have written that Pinehurst #2 is ordinary, since they say it has no water holes, is fairly flat, and does not have any distinguishing standout holes.  It is probably true that it does not have the scenic glory of a Pebble Beach or a Cypress Point, but beauty is in the mind of the beholder.  There are two sides to everything and Pinehurst #2 has for years attracted many supporters. It is golf the way it was meant to be played, "the fairest test of championship golf" ever designed by Ross, in his own words.  It is no coincidence that in 2004 Golf Digest awarded Pinehurst #2 second place in the list of 100 Americas Greatest Public Courses and 12th overall. I might add that the photos here have not been enhanced even though the sun played tricks hiding behind the clouds from time to time.  

This course has relatively wide pine bordered fairways where each hole is a separate entity to itself.  There are no houses cluttering the sidelines and there is sufficient pine trees between each hole to give it isolation from any other hole.  With the recent lengthening of the course there are now five par fours that are 470 yards or greater.  The new length of this course does not come from the par threes or par fives, but from the par fours.  Donald Ross has given the golfer sufficient room as far as the bordering trees are concerned, but no doubt the fairways will be narrowed for the Open. 

The Penn G-2 greens are generally crowned and average in size about 5500 square feet.  But only about 1/3 is pin-able, that is to say that only 1/3 is flat enough for pin placement.  The word usually used to describe these greens are "turtlebacks" because they are somewhat  bell shaped.  This means that an iron approach or even a pitch shot that is not strategically placed will roll off the green.  Because the fringe and rough around the greens are tightly mowed the balls have a predilection to roll in them, sometimes more often than not away from the green. After playing these greens I would say that many are more like upside down cereal bowls covered with a light layer of moss.  I was introduced to the first green after my second shot landed only about 5 yards in front of the green. The pin was located in the front left so my plan was to just throw up a short pitch and one putt for par.  Wrong!  What happened was the pitch landed just a little short and was only several degrees left of target.  The ball, instead of stopping 4 feet from the pin, took a left turn and continued to roll sideways.  It then picked up speed, headed down the left side, traveled through the fringe,  meandered through the tightly mowed rough, and finally fell off a cliff stopping in the deep trap to the left of the green. I was dumbstruck with disbelief.  After gathering my composure I managed to get down in six.  It was then that I decided to leave scoring on this 18 to the pros and instead concentrate on my photography.   

According to Pinehurst Superintendent Paul Jett as reported by Ron Green of the Charlotte Observer conditions for Pinehurst #2  will change for June 13-19.  First the greens are targeted for a speed of 11.5 on the Stimpmeter.  This is very quick, and coupled with the dangerous curvatures that change with each green, there is sufficient reason to place each approach shot below the pin.  Because of the cooler growing season this year, the Bermuda grass has taken longer to recover from the winter dormant condition.  But the rough is targeted to be 3 inches high, less than other Opens.  This length is intentional to allow players to shoot for the green instead of pitching back to the fairway.  Care is also being given to the condition of the fringe areas around the green in order to provide consistency for playing shots that miss the green.

The first hole is a relatively uncomplicated straight 403 yards with a wide enough fairway to grip it and rip it.  The only serious trouble is the out of bounds beyond the boundary fence bordering the left side.  The trap on the left of the first green awaits anything that is a little off direction.   hole01a.jpg (112500 bytes) hole01b.jpg (84852 bytes)
Number two is a little more difficult and lengthened from 449 to 471 yards there must be a big drive.  It is a slight dogleg right and the best position off the tee is left of center.  But there are four traps on the left plus an out of bounds which must be avoided.  The curvature of the green lends itself to several pin locations that will require an exacting approach.    hole02a.jpg (69403 bytes) hole02b.jpg (102893 bytes)
The third hole is a slight dogleg right and a relatively short par four at 327 yards.  With a narrow fairway and an out of bounds on the left the golfer must make a decision to lay up in front or try to clear the fairway bunkers. But again the green poses a challenge as it has a steep back to front slope.  hole03a.jpg (109513 bytes) hole03b.jpg (67222 bytes)
This elevated tee is a good thing on the long uphill par five 4th and is an advantage to gain the green in two.  Otherwise a second shot can be placed between the fairway bunkers and the bunkers guarding the green.  This green is not as tricky as most are here for it is not crowned as most are.   This is a birdie hole for the pros. hole04a.jpg (105115 bytes) hole04b.jpg (110539 bytes)
Number five is a long 483 yards and qualifies as #1 handicap as the longest par four.  This green is intimidating for the traps in front must be carried with a long iron.  The green slopes right to left and will send any shot to the front or left side of the green further left into the bunker.  Par is a very good score for this hole. hole05a.jpg (59152 bytes) hole05b.jpg (54020 bytes)
On the par 3 6th there are traps on both sides of the green so the front is open to a shot played to land before the green.  However most pros will probably play a high iron to land on the front half, since the back of the green slopes away.  Pin position will dictate either strategy. hole06a.jpg (86391 bytes)
It is possible to cut the corner on the sharp dogleg right hole 7 with an aggressive drive over the pines towards the green.  The inside of the corner has multiple fairway bunkers so the other conservative approach is to clear them with a slight fade.   The green is small and protected with a traps on both sides.   hole07a.jpg (94534 bytes) hole07b.jpg (95301 bytes)
Number eight is a long 470 yard par four with out of bounds on the left and a long waste bunker on the right.  The approach shot is uphill to a green with a left sided fall off.  That is any shot landing on the left of the green will probably kick and or roll left off into the fringe area.   hole08a.jpg (84915 bytes) hole08b.jpg (54783 bytes)
At 175 yards this par three 9th is the shortest hole on the course but it is heavily defended by traps in front and both sides.  The only way to the green is to fly the traps in front, but there is trouble behind for shots that do not hold.   hole09a.jpg (95639 bytes)
Number ten is the longest hole on Pinehurst #2 at 607 yards.  Because it is a relatively straight hole there is no short cut to this par five green.  Players take a risk by going for the green in two because of a bunker that extends into the fairway about 110 yards from the green.  Those without the long ball must lay up to avoid a difficult approach shot. hole10a.jpg (64728 bytes) hole10b.jpg (99003 bytes)
Hole eleven is 477 yards tee to green.  A large fairway waste bunker borders the right side of the fairway so the drive should favor the left side.  This green has many undulations and is guarded on both sides by traps.  Pin placement on either side of the green dictates the drive should be opposite side to take the traps out of play. hole11a.jpg (56008 bytes) hole11b.jpg (99816 bytes)
At the end of the 446 yard par four 12th is a green guarded by six traps.  This is a very difficult approach shot to hold the green if not from the fairway.  Not only are there six traps guarding the front and sides of this green, but the green is crowned, which means that the iron shot must not stray from the center. hole12a.jpg (64858 bytes) hole12b.jpg (91717 bytes)
At 378 yards the 13th hole is classed as a relatively short par four with fairway bunkers that can be cleared. But there are five traps surrounding an elevated green with a false front.  The slope is severe enough in the front that it will not hold a ball to the front of the green from rolling back off and then down the fairway with the short cut fringe. hole13b.jpg (100723 bytes)
The 14 hole is a straight par four and at 471 yards most players will use a drive and a mid iron.  But the green has a series of swales both in the middle and edges sloping away to give it a crowned effect.    hole14a.jpg (63220 bytes) hole14b.jpg (102183 bytes)
The traps on both sides of this 203 yard par three 15th do not seem threatening.  But this is one of the most severely crowned greens and when the fringe and rough is mowed tight, and gravity does what gravity does, the rolling ball can easily find its resting place in the bottom of the sand trap.  hole15a.jpg (90321 bytes)
The 489 par four 16th has the only water on the course, but the water in front of the tee on this hole should never come into play.  However there is a bunch of sand traps around the green and three more fairway bunkers.  The fairway bunkers are high lipped and will penalize distance since getting out is the only priority. hole16a.jpg (85910 bytes) hole16b.jpg (100142 bytes)
The 17th is a187 yard par three with a green having some severe undulations.  Surrounding this green are five sand traps plus swales to cause problems for inaccuracy off the tee.  However the elevated tee and green make this a picturesque golf hole. hole17a.jpg (87115 bytes)
Finally the uphill 445 yard 18th is where Payne Stewart sunk the winning putt in 1999 US Open. A statue stands beside this green commemorating this event.   Several levels in this green will just add to the tension with the crowds and media attention.  The ideal position off the tee is on the opposite side of the fairway from the pin position.  The approach is uphill requiring an extra club.   hole18a.jpg (58769 bytes) hole18b.jpg (57280 bytes)
After a review of this course it can be seen that by far the most important consideration for scoring is knowledge of the idiosyncrasy of each green.  Whoever knows these targets and masters the short game will prevail on June 19th.  On your ordinary golf course the problems can be seen--the woods on the right or left, the creek or lake, and for the most part the bunkers that guard the landing areas and the greens. But this course is different in that the main problem lies in subtle humps and depressions in the fast greens and on the fringe areas.  Consider the upside down cereal bowl which has a small flat center area.  This area represents only about 1/3 of the target when firing the iron shot.  Knowing the pin position in relation to this small target area on each green and controlling the approach to befriend the pin will be the primary factor for the 2005 Open Champion 

Last modified: May 23, 2005

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