Proper Golf

Friday, February 18, 2011

Review: Pinehurst No 2

Pinehurst Golf Resort
Course No. 2 (1903 with renovations by Ross until 1935)
Arch: Donald Ross (Currently under renovation by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw)
Pinehurst, NC

Side view of #14 green late in the afternoon

Contrary to popular belief, Pinehurst No. 2 is NOT the place to go if you are looking to understand "classic/stereotypical" Donald Ross, or why his style produced so many great courses all over the United States. Although it had no grass on its greens when originally designed (no Southern golf courses during those days knew how to make Bermuda puttable yet), Donald Ross spent more time tinkering with No. 2 than other course that bears his name, and it is no doubt his best course. Over time the greens at Pinehurst No. 2 have evolved into what many experts recognize as the best green complexes in the world. Top-dressing myths, and "original intent of design" aside, the raised and crowned greens surrounded by short grass of No. 2 provide a world class test as well as great fun for resort guests.

Where Pinehurst No. 2 differs from most great inland golf courses is that it is relatively undefined by its trees, yet the towering pines that give the resort its name line both sides of every hole. Some like to criticize the home of American golf for lacking in aesthetic interest or beauty, but what few realize during the course of play, surely adding to the experience, is that very few golf balls are ever lost during a round. I have never played another golf course that is known to be a such a terror to professionals, hosting more championships than any other course in the country, yet virtually no time is spent by hackers looking for balls. Pinehurst No. 2 is a masterpiece of playability for all players, yet as Donald Ross tells us via plaque on the first tee, he plans to provide challenges for even the championship level golfer.

#1 Approach has a deep bunker left, and bunker short right for slicers.
Also note how close #2 Tee is to the green, Pinehurst #2
has remained a great walk for over a century.

From start to finish the No. 2 Course doesn't not have a single dull moment on it with 18 very different golf holes that are good and only get better; don't let any convince you otherwise with tales of how the course really starts on #2 tee. Yes #2 is a monster par-4 with a fabulous double-crowned green angled to the right, and probably the hardest hole on the course, but the first recovery shots around the notable domed greens are not easy. The first stretch of holes #1-5, is a word class opening phrase, but it is #3 and #5 utilizing the steep hill for greensites which steal the show.

Donald Ross lived in the house just left of #3 green

#3 is a short par-4 that requires accuracy from the tee, normally with less than driver, trying to avoid the sandy waste area on the right guarding the direct line to the green. Ross has contoured this green to sit high above the hill waiting to punish long shots, yet squeezes the opening of the green between deep bunkers and sharp ground contours asking the golfer to be bold with their approach. After a plunge down the hill on #4, which used to be home to the golf Hall of Fame (now in Florida), #5 is a long difficult par-4 which climbs back up the hill before settling back behind #3 green. The fifth hole must be approached from the right side of the fairway to utilize the fairway contours; because of its length and uphill nature most golfers are forced to attack this green with a running approach from either fairway wood or hybrid. The right side opens up the green this style of attack. Golfers who fail to recognize this and take on the left side of this hole often find their balls back at the bottom of the hill. Remember Donald Ross intends on having the golfer solve a variety of problems, you are going to have to be a little creative to hold some of the boldest greens in the game.

Plenty of room to bail out right on #5, very few birdies are made here.

The opening nine concludes with my favorite par-3 on the course, #9 . Normally not more than a mid-iron, #9 is all about club selection into the relatively shallow and horizontal green. The wide green which is split into two tiers requires an extra club when playing to a pin on the left side. Normally set as the shortest hole on the course, #9 is the most heavily guarded, a trait it shares with many of the games finest short par-3's in the game.

The back left pin has been made easier over time as the ball
flies higher and softer,but the false front on the right has
become increasingly difficult for the pros

The meat of the back nine comes between #11-14, four straight par-4s that play in four different directions. This interesting part of the routing essentially takes the golfer out and back, across flat terrain before making a left hand turn to go up and then back down a hill. It is the differences in these four holes, along with the other 14, that make Pinehurst No. 2 so great. Each hole offers a unique problem to solve, and even offers a variety of different style hazards, which is part of the mystery of the Ross style. Sandy waste areas, pot bunkers, figure-eight bunkers, and even bunkers with fingers, are found on these four holes, adding to the memorability of each individual hole.

Don't be surprised if you see more sandy waste area on #13 after
Coore and Crenshaw finish restoring No. 2 back to its original intent

The last chances for birdie on No. 2 come at the par-5 #16 and par-3 #17. The only water hole on the course #16 plays as a difficult par-4 in the US Open, but for most, a strategic lay-up on the second shot avoiding the hidden bunker on the left, can open up the green which is cut into a hill. Next is #17, another short heavily guarded par-3 on both sides, but easily accessible with a well struck mid-iron.

The downhill #14 has a variety of bunkers styles and
a very pronounced crowned crowned green

The finishing hole at Pinehurst No. 2 is obviously very famous. Playing back to the clubhouse, where Payne Stewart finished off his victory with the celebrated fist pump, is something a lot of golfers enjoy. Personally I don't feel like it qualifies as a great closing hole, but it certainly is no slouch, especially playing into a difficult setting sun.

If you stay away from the fairway bunker on the right, #18 is rather
straight forward up the hill, if you can get it there.

Pinehurst No. 2 is absolutely a world class golf course. It is no wonder some of today's best architects have spent tons of time studying Ross' masterpiece. While the Pinehills area of North Carolina offers many great golf courses, No. 2 is simply unmatched in the region. While it can be extremely expensive playing Pinehurst No. 2 during peak season, I highly recommend late Fall or early Spring seasons when the rates drop and the ground game is just still plenty interesting.

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