As vibrantly green as Pinehurst No. 2 was for Payne Stewart’s unforgettable 1999 U.S. Open duel against Phil Mickelson and Michael Campbell’s out-of-nowhere triumph over Tiger Woods in 2005, Ross’ vision was decidedly not that.
Restoring Ross’ masterpiece created somewhat of a dilemma, not so much from Coore and Crenshaw’s perspective, but for the golf public that had come to expect certain requirements of U.S. Open venues, including swaths of green and thick, penal rough. Pinehurst No. 2 would have neither of those things by the time Coore and Crenshaw had completed their work.
Coore and Crenshaw wanted to take advantage of the region’s natural topography. The thick rough was replaced with native sandy areas studded with the area’s trademark reddish wiregrass and other indigenous plants.
“Mr. Ross felt that sand was an integral part of golf,” said Coore in 2014. “The roughs were intended to look like what you’d see naturally in the surrounding areas of the Sandhills.”
Additionally, 700 sprinkler heads were removed, creating a strikingly different visual from the course’s previous iteration, with the fairways and the surrounding acreage taking on a more natural look.
A U.S. Open with less than verdant fairways and no rough? Why? There are several million reasons why.
“We went from using 40 or 50 million gallons of water per year on No. 2 to 12 million,” said Bob Farren, Pinehurst’s director of grounds and golf course maintenance, in 2014. “The word sustainable is overused. But that’s exactly what this is. And people are embracing what they see.”
While Pinehurst No. 2 may have borne little resemblance to the U.S. Open venue from nine years prior, reducing the carbon footprint of golf courses is critical to the industry, both environmentally and economically.
Coore and Crenshaw successfully restored Ross’ vision from 80 years prior and trimmed the club’s water use by 73 percent, both success stories in their own right, but now came the hard part. As the new-look Course No. 2 set out to test the best golfers in the world, Coore and Crenshaw would also be graded based on the golfers’ reactions. So, how’d they do?
Ask Mickelson, the 1999 runner-up who has played in all three U.S. Opens at Pinehurst.
“I just loved the golf course, the setup, how it played, how fair it was,” Mickelson said after the final round in 2014. “What surprised me is how pure and perfect the greens were. I thought with this heat, bentgrass, I just didn't think they would be as perfect as they are. They're just amazing.”
“I love the golf course, I love the way you have to think your way around,” said Stacy Lewis, who finished as runner-up to Michelle Wie in the Women’s Open. “It’s position golf… and that suits my game.”
Pinehurst No. 2 showed it was still a U.S. Open course to be respected, and did so with a new aesthetic that benefitted the environment and the resort’s bottom line. Coore & Crenshaw’s successful restoration showed the world that color is relative and sometimes less is more; you can create a test worthy of the game’s ultimate championship and still be thoughtful about the environment.
Now, it’s up to others to follow their lead.
Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.