PINEHURST, N.C. -- As the saying goes: "It's a beautiful day at Pinehurst." Well, that's an understatement. The golf is second to none, and the resort defines "the lap of luxury."
I recently stayed so I could play Donald Ross' historic Pinehurst No. 2 for the first time since the stunning restoration by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. I played it exactly one year after No. 2 hosted both the U.S. Men's and Women's Opens. The only difference from what everyone saw on TV those two weeks was that the golf course was beautifully lush and green. Yet, incredibly, it still played as the firmest, fastest course I've ever experienced anywhere in the world.
Those conditions make Pinehurst No. 2 so demanding. When hitting approach shots into the very firm greens in regulation, the actual landing areas are much smaller than the size of the greens. If you don't hit your approach into the proper spot, with the proper trajectory, your ball is bound to run off far from the hole, probably off the green.
As all have seen on television, the green complexes at No. 2 are unlike any to be found in America. They harken back to Royal Dornoch , in the Scottish Highlands, where Donald Ross grew up and started his career: false fronts, false sides, false backs. When I played (missing many a green), what struck me the most was how different you must play your pitches and chips around the greens. The ground and grass are so firm, you can actually hear a short pitch shot land on the green.
Pinehurst No. 2: The course
The entire experience is delightful.
It's not that you must be creative, but it's that you get to be creative. With that being said, I want to praise my caddie -- Jason Phillips -- who knew the course so well, he was able to tell me exactly where to hit my drives and irons and, most importantly, how to play around -- and on -- those undulating, quick greens. I listened well, visualized the shots well, but it was that execution-thing that was lacking. I believe Jason must be part bloodhound -- we didn't lose a ball the entire day.
Playing Pinehurst No. 2, walking with a caddie, is one of the greatest experiences a golfer can enjoy. The course is gorgeous. Every hole sets up wonderfully from the tee. No surprises -- no tricks. Just perfect fairways winding through the tall pines and restored "natural areas."
Donald Ross considered No. 2 his greatest accomplishment. He loved it so much that he made his home here. The course presents a complete test of the game. In a sense, you've got to play each hole backwards. Know where the pin is, then understand what angle you'll need to approach it. That will then determine where you want to hit your tee shot. To be successful, you must think your way around the course. And you will probably hit every club in your bag. It's no wonder the United States Golf Association has decided to make Pinehurst No. 2 a part of its U.S. Open rotation.
Staying at Pinehurst Resort
To top it off is the Pinehurst Resort, itself. I was lucky enough to stay at the Carolina Hotel, the centerpiece of the resort for some 100 years. The Old Southern charm combined with an incredibly professional, pleasant and helpful staff and fabulous food make you feel quite special.
There are now nine golf courses at Pinehurst. You can fly into Raleigh/Durham, and the resort will send a van for you. And once at the resort, a very well-oiled shuttle system can get you anywhere on the property quickly and efficiently.
You could easily spend nine days there, play a different course every day and not worry about a rental car or where to eat. Just bring your clubs and a game. And try to not hold up the group behind you when you stop to take all of those pictures.