2005: Fierce greens taxing test at No. 2

Pinehurst, N.C.

Pinehurst No. 2 is all about the greens. Those contoured, turtle-back putting surfaces devised by Donald Ross confounded golfers when the U.S. Open was played here in 1999. There is no reason to think things will be any different when the 105th U.S. Open, scheduled for June 16-19, returns to the No. 2 course.

Just how difficult were conditions at Pinehurst in 1999?

Payne Stewart was the only player to break par for 72 holes. And he did so by a single stroke, which also was his margin of victory over Phil Mickelson. The average score for the field was 74.54 on the par-70 layout. Seventeen holes played over par, including all the par 3s and par 4s. Only the 566-yard, par-5 fourth was played in red numbers – barely – with an average score of 4.92. No. 10, the only other par 5, played to 5.09. The average scores on Pinehurst’s two longest par 4s, the 482-yard fifth hole and the 489-yard 16th, were 4.55 and 4.50, respectively, making them the two most difficult holes on the course. Even the short par 4s gave players headaches.

And it rained on three of the four tournament days, which should have made holding the greens a little easier. If conditions are dry this year, scores could go even higher.

Those greens, which average 6,000 square feet, have changed some through the years because of sand build-up from aggressive topdressing and bunker play. Because of the severe contours and speed of the greens, which will roll at 11.5 during the Open, only 37 percent of the putting surfaces, on average, can be used for pin placements. Those steep areas on the putting surfaces and outflowing green surrounds that kick wayward shots farther afield remain Pinehurst’s best defenses against par. Imaginative short game recovery will be crucial to this year’s Open champion.

Although the course has been lengthened by 39 yards to 7,214 yards to keep pace with changing technology in balls and equipment, No. 2 should play a little shorter because average driving distance (282 yards) on the PGA Tour, even in this rain-plagued year, is 10 yards longer than it was in 1999.

No. 2, which is ranked No. 10 on Golfweek’s America’s Best list of top 100 Classic Courses, also will be narrower this year. Fairway width will be reduced from 28-32 yards in 1999 to 24-28 yards, according to Brad Kocher, CGCS and vice president of grounds and golf course management for ClubCorp, which owns Pinehurst. The Bermudagrass rough will not be excessively punitive. As was the case six years ago, it will be cut to 3 inches to encourage golfers to take aim at the green rather than pull a wedge from the bag and bail out back into the fairway.

Ross’ plan was for this course to be wide open for resort golfers but demanding in terms of iron play and recovery around the greens.

Although it is tied with Bethpage Black as the longest Open layout, Pinehurst No. 2 isn’t especially long by PGA Tour standards, nor does it have many forced carries over hazards. In contrast with many modern courses, Pinehurst emphasizes the ground game. Its test is in its firm, fast fairways and tight, well-draining green surrounds and putting surfaces, where the ball moves along three dimensions and where what happens beyond the hole is as important as what happens in front of it.

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