Pinehurst's new sixth tee shows USGA’s flexibility
PINEHURST, N.C. – Here’s how far the USGA has come under executive director Mike Davis. Seven weeks ago, he and architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw decided to add 31 yards to the 219-yard, par-3 sixth hole. As Bob Farren, Pinehurst’s director of golf course and grounds management, explains it, they built it Monday, sodded it Wednesday, and Hunter Mahan played it Friday in a practice round.
In an earlier incarnation, such last-minute tinkering would have been unthinkable. After all, they’ve printed the programs with the scorecards and maps. Network television had completed its aerial flyovers. And now at the last second they’ve decided to make a long, tough par 3 even harder.
Is this taking things too far? Or simply more evidence of restoration? After all, back in the 1936 PGA Championship at Pinehurst No. 2, the hole played 209 yards. At that length in those days, it would have required a 4-wood or a 3-iron. Now 78 years later, it’ll be the same clubs. And with the 1936 PGA Championship serving as a guidepost for restoration of this Donald Ross gem, the argument made sense. Until 1935, the course had sand greens. It also didn’t have its current routing that included the present fourth and fifth holes. The 1936 PGA was the first championship at which modern-day Pinehurst No. 2 was completed – grassed greens and its full, existing routing in place.
So why the last-minute change? Turns out that in bringing back an old tee to create a dogleg angle for the par-4 fourth hole, the tee shot would have come a little too close to the resort’s halfway refreshment stand/bathroom building. Besides, the little structure blocked crossover traffic at a crucial juncture on the front nine. So out came the building, and when it was gone, there was a nearly ideal platform left that would enable the par-3 sixth to be stretched. The ground was leveled, raised just a bit – but not so much as to create an uncharacteristic pimple in the ground, and – voila! – Pinehurst had a new back tee for the hole.
It’s not Davis’ intent to drive the players crazy or to determine a particularly high score – as if to engineer an above-par winning score. Davis knows these guys are capable of great shotmaking. This week they’ll have a chance to show it. And now on the sixth hole, they’ll get to prove it during two rounds, probably.
Sure the green is notoriously elusive. It’s elusive when us mortals hit 4-metals and long irons into it from 190 yards. So now we’ll get to watch the best players in the world try the same shots we do. The difference: They can do it.