U.S. Women’s Open: Pinehurst No. 2, hole by hole

A view of hole No. 5 from a little less than 300 yards out on Pinehurst's No. 2 course, host of the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open in 2014.
A view of hole No. 5 from a little less than 300 yards out on Pinehurst's No. 2 course, host of the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open in 2014. ( Tracy Wilcox )

Monday, June 16, 2014

PINEHURST, N.C. – And now, the women. Enough talk of unprecedented doubleheaders. It's time to start week two of these back-to-back championships, the U.S. Women’s Open. For all the wondering about whether Pinehurst No. 2 will stand up to two weeks of play, the place is off to a great start for the second half of this marathon.

The wear and tear from the men has been remarkably subdued. Credit to the greens staff for going into the first week with strong, healthy turfgrass. It helped that it didn’t rain and that the crew could carefully control and measure every aspect of the setup. For the women, it already looks like it’s going to be sweltering hot, with temperatures in the mid-90s. That will take a toll on the golf course, as well as on the players. And with that heat comes dead-calm air.

Ultimately, what counts is that 156 women will deal with confounding greens, scruffy sandy waste areas and all manner of ground game. The church bell that tolls on the hour and half hour as golfers play the first hole isn’t playing a funeral dirge. It’s one of those reminders, along with the wind and the occasional toot of a railroad, that golfers are playing one of the game's shrines.

Here’s what they’ll face, hole-by-hole, on Pinehurst No. 2, the Donald Ross masterpiece restored in 2010-11 by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Par is 70, with the scorecard indicating 6,649 yards, though the daily setup will be closer to 6,450. Green speeds will be 12-12.5 on the Stimpmeter, with the notoriously sloped, turtleback greens playing a bit less firm and more receptive for approaches than they played for the men. The stated goal of USGA championship officials is for the women to be playing “the same clubs” into greens as the men. That’s no easy achievement, because in some cases, to get the women into approach zones requiring equivalent clubs to the men they’ll be playing past where the men landed and to areas where the fairway necks down into tight spots. A worthy goal, one that’s easier said than done.

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Hole No. 1: Par 4, 366 yards

The prevailing wind at Pinehurst in June is out of the west-southwest at 8 mph. That means this seemingly gentle opener will play to a breeze that’s helping and left-to-right. The newly expanded fairways here look generous but neck down in the landing areas, on this hole pinched by bunkers left and scrub waste right at 270 yards off the tee. Most players will lay up off the tee, allowing for a full shot with a short iron into one of Pinehurst’s characteristic domed greens. With steep sand left of the putting surface and open ground to the right, the natural bailout is to that right side, though that leaves one of those delicate little bump-and-run shots back. It’s one of many chipping areas throughout the course from which players will have options – from lob wedge to hooded 8-iron to rescue clubs and putter.

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Hole No. 2: Par 4, 432 yards

Now the hardest hole on the course, thanks to newly restored fairway bunkers and an offset angle for the tee shot. The fairway seems to come in from left to right. The ideal drive is a fade set off a quartet of bunkers on the far left side. The inside right line is wide open but leaves no angle to a diagonal green that opens up on the left side. A very deceptive front-right bunker appears to be tight to the green but in fact occupies a ridgeline 30 yards short. The tendency here is to come up short, just over that bunker, into a low swale, or to fly the approach shot all the way back to the back-right Sunday hole location and wind up 20 yards over the green. The smart line is to play short left into the putting surface and, if necessary, simply play a long chip to this hard-to-judge, up-and-over green.

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Hole No. 3: Par 4, 330/244 yards

Maybe some of the players will give a symbolic nod to the late Donald Ross as they play this hole; the two-story colonial plantation house that the transplanted Scotsman occupied sits just left of the green. The baseline setup for the hole has it playing as a layup par-4 to one of the more elusive, deflective greens on the course. The tee shot, at 200-220 yards, needs to steer left alongside a pair of fairway bunkers in what is another example of fine design whereby the ideal approach line is the one most heavily defended. A tee shot wandering right into sandy scrub leaves at best an uncertain lie and stance. At least once, probably twice (as they did during the U.S. Open) the tees will be moved up to 244 yards so the players can have a rip at it. That’s when the front-left bunker looks like a pretty good target line. There’s almost no chance the green will hold a driver, and hitting it long or right leaves a dicey recovery – though in this case with a free shot with which to play.

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Hole No. 4: Par 4, 451 yards

This was the easiest hole on the course in previous U.S. Opens. No more, because the tee has been moved up and par reduced to 4 – and the hole has been given back its original dogleg left configuration to a green that is among the most receptive on the course. The downhill tee shot appears to be wide open, though the ideal line is in fact to the right, contrary to a cross slope that carries the ball low left. The green occupies a natural amphitheater that’s ideal for spectator viewing. Run-up shots are cut off here, thanks to a front-left bunker that needs to be carried and an approach slope that feeds everything low left rather than forward.

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Hole No. 5: Par 5, 503 yards

This is the other hole converted from the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Opens. The fifth green is notable for how it steers anything away except for a perfectly struck shot played to the right middle. Long feeds away, and anything coming into the center or left of the putting surface is inevitably dispatched low left into a messy patch of bunkering. In fact, the principle of this hole from tee to green is “left is dead; right is safer, if longer.” From the tee, players face an upslope of sandy waste and an imposing bunker on the left side that’s 215 yards to carry, into the prevailing wind. In fact, that line is a fool’s paradise, even if the bunker is carried because everything just collapses on that left side. So the tendency is to play right, sometimes too far right, which brings out of bounds into play here. Suddenly, there’s a lot to think about off the tee. And on the second shot, too, because there’s not much room for a bold play into the green for long hitters trying to reach in two. And the layup has to be 20 yards farther right than what it first seems to be, given the ground slope 100 yards short of the green.

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Hole No. 6: Par 3, 175 yards

This was one of the more elusive greens for the men: They only hit it 44 percent of the time, compared to 56 percent for the entire course. Greens that are 6,000 square feet never seemed smaller. Here’s another one of those convex surfaces that puts pressure on middle-iron/hybrid shots to find the proper landing point – ideally 5 yards on, right of center. Forget the hole location here. The proper play is to hit Point A, two-putt and run. Birdie hunters to the back-left flag run considerable risk of going through the fall-away green and running onto the next tee. And players who miss their approach shot right (easy to do, given the depth of the front-left bunker) will find themselves with a delicate little downhill shot from the yawning bunker on that side.

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Hole No. 7: Par 4, 389 yards

This is the one really awkward hole on Pinehurst No. 2 – that rare instance in which Ross seems to be forcing play one way when the hole invites play the other. It’s a sharp dogleg right. A veritable minefield of bunkers and waste on the inside of the turn seems to force players to lay up left – or perhaps try something deranged like a full-bore driver that carries trees and, 270 yards in the air, stops before rolling across the narrow neck of fairway into more trouble on the far side of the turn. NOT! The advantage is minimal – a flip wedge with no spin instead of a short iron approach. Few women would toss the strategic rulebook that cautions against risk without the commensurate reward. That means viewers will be watching players hitting hybrids and fairway metals left of center and playing in from there to one of those maddening greens that accepts a shot flown short left but repels everything hit longer than that outward and away.

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Hole No. 8: Par 4, 429 yards

A big, long chicane of a fairway, one of the course’s most elegant holes from tee to green, with everything evident to the player and yet maddeningly hard to figure out. There’s a simple rule on the uphill approach, usually from about 180-200 yards out: Don’t hit it left; don’t hit it long; don’t even think of landing it past midway deep on a green whose back half gives way to a monstrous slope. And it was from here, in 1999, that John Daly famously hockey-sticked his golf ball back to the green after his second (or was it his third?) recovery attempt failed to make it up the hill to the putting surface.

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Hole No. 9: Par 3, 155 yards

The green here looks like the glue beneath it is failing and the putting surface has started to slide off the rise upon which it sits. Good luck hitting and holding this green, pinched between sand short left and long right – and nothing to hold a shot that runs deep or slides right. Got it? And once the player is on the green, good luck trying to putt with the dominant thought being whether the ball will ever stop rolling. This is the least receptive green on the course and the one that is most difficult to handle with a draw or with a hybrid club – which can be needed if the combination of teeing ground and left hole location stretch this to 170 yards. In all likelihood, they’ll keep the hole on the shorter side, as little as 125 yards, depending upon how the green is reacting. There are only two small circles of about 300 square feet each on which to put a hole location here: middle left or front right-center. If conditions threaten to get out of hand in terms of firmness and green receptivity, this is the hole where it will register first.

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Hole No. 10: Par 5, 571/455 yards

Wide open, fast running and easily within reach in two when they move the tee up – one days or two (more likely just one). The only real trouble comes if a player has missed her tee shot and finds an uncomfortable lie for advancing the ball more than 100 yards. There’s also the tendency for layup second shots to steer so far clear of the tree line on the second dogleg left that the ball winds up on the outside, where the fairway bleeds into native scrubby sand. From here, even with what looks like a good lie, it’s often hard to control the quality of contact enough to impart spin and distance control (that’s a euphemism for blading it across the green).

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Hole No 11: Par 4, 447 yards

This starts what might be as strong a run of par 4s as found in championship golf – akin to the last five at Winged Foot's West Course. From the new back tee, players can’t see much more than a field of sandy waste and wiregrass. In fact the ideal line is left of center, near (or past) a deep bunker that’s 250 yards out to reach. But that’s precisely where the fairway starts necking down. And the right side of the fairway is lined with some of the gnarliest broken ground on the course.

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Hole No. 12: Par 4, 417 yards

This hole plays down breeze, if there is any breeze. But the fairway is awkward because it necks down 265 yards out and makes it hard for some of the women confidently to hit driver. Yet if players lay back, they'll be 180-200 yards out and going at this green with a hybrid club – a lower-flighted club from longer distance than the men had here. A deceptive front-right bunker 30 yards short of the green creates a narrow opening into a green that is best approached from the left side – once again, nearest the bunkers. There’s very little room to work the ball in on the ground, as the left side of the approach zone feeds sharply down and away; the right side provides more support, except that a ball landing outside of it to the far right leaves an awkward up-and-over recovery shot to a green falling away.

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Hole No. 13: Par 4, 348/242 yards

Most of the time for Tour-caliber players, this is a layup off the tee because the fairway dead-ends 250 yards out on the left; the right side of the fairway is so fraught with sandy waste, bunkers and trees that the risk of carrying it all and staying in the narrow part of the remaining fairway is hardly worth the trouble. From there, it’s the steepest uphill approach shot on the course, about 115-140 yards to a slippery green with a false front and a steep downslope at the back. At least once during the U.S. Open, tees will be moved up so the hole will play 242 yards, inviting the field to have a whack at it. The trick is to carry the tee shot all the way onto the green surface, plus another 10 yards to clear that false front. Anything landing on the false front rolls back down the slope, and its steepness is such that drives landing short will not make the climb and stay. Good luck with that one; it should be fun watching.

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Hole No. 14: Par 4, 419 yards

Like so many holes at Pinehurst No. 2, this one demands a strategic choice: Hit driver to the narrow neck of the fairway for a shorter iron in, or lay back to a wider, safer spot and hit a middle/long-iron or hybrid to the green. Very tough driving hole, with a skimpy waist of a landing zone 250 yards from the tee. With the prevailing wind helping (over the right shoulder), many players will hit less than driver here just to keep it in play. The green has plenty of size. But so much of the putting surface is sloped away that the effective landing zone is less than a third of the total green.

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Hole No. 15: Par 3, 156 yards

Another elusive surface, though the middle-right part of it was flattened ever so gently by Coore and Crenshaw during the restoration to recapture an old hole location that had gotten overbuilt with sand splash and rendered unusable. The trouble here is that the green provides little support or backstop for an approach shot. Anything less than a perfectly spun approach tends to run through the back. Figure it this way on this 30-yard-deep green. The first 8 yards form an upslope that’s part of a false front. The back half tips away from the line of play at a 2 percent slope. That leaves a swath of green exactly 7 yards deep and running across the green perpendicular to the line of play. Good luck hitting it. Better luck holding it.

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Hole No. 16: Par 4, 458 yards

One way to make a course difficult is simply to change the par on holes, which is about what they have done here on the longest par 4 on the course, with a green that will be the hardest to hit in regulation all week. The hole drifts steadily leftward, with the bold, shorter line of play to challenge the left side. There’s very tight ground here, with pine trees and that sandy waste looming the entire way. Anything right of center will reach bunkers 220 yards out, or drift through the outside of the dogleg into more of that scrubby stuff. For all the emphasis upon Pinehurst’s mind-bending greens, the course plays U.S. Open tough because the landing areas have been narrowed at points to define the ideal line of approach.

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Hole No. 17: Par 3, 184 yards

From this dramatic launch-pad tee, it’s a hybrid or long iron to the only other green on the course that Coore and Crenshaw tweaked. They removed much of the sand that had accumulated at the front of the green – thanks to protective bunkers there – and that had led to the loss of the front hole location. Officials couldn’t use it in ’99 and ’05, but it makes for the best pin position on the green – because it's the tightest, and anything beyond it is a lightning-quick downhill putt. That’s why they used it during Sunday’s final round, and the expectation is that they’ll replicate those hole locations for the women Sunday as well. The green tends to tip ever so slightly from right to left – the same direction as the prevailing wind. Recovery is possible from the left side, but from the right side, it’s as much a matter of luck as skill.

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Hole No. 18: Par 4, 419 yards

Uphill all the way and into the prevailing wind, which makes the 225-yard carry over the yawning cavern of a bunker down the right side not quite automatic. Players can carry it, but at that distance the fairway starts narrowing, with more sandy areas right (as well as trees obtruding on the second shot), while the left side ends pretty quickly and runs into thickets of wiregrass and native plants anchored in the sand. The humpback nature of the fairway makes driving difficult, and yet a layup into the upslope will leave an approach shot that’s semi-blind from 200 yards or more. The green, famous for the 14-foot putt that Payne Stewart sank to win by a shot over Phil Mickelson in ’99, repels any approach that comes up short or on the outside (either side).