This year’s back-to-back U.S. Opens were two of my favorites ever.
Yes, Martin Kaymer sucked most of the drama out of things with his brilliant play--and Michelle Wie added a bit back--but for golf course architecture nerds like me, Pinehurst No. 2 was the star.
Because I’m down with brown.
If you watched coverage of the men's and/or women's U.S. Opens, you probably noticed that Pinehurst No. 2 was a lot less green than in past years.
Contrary to what we've grown accustomed to here in the USA, I think that’s a great thing.
Let me explain:
When Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw worked on Pinehurst No. 2 in 2010 and 2011, they were not adding their own marks to the course so much as peeling away the last few decades of architectural neglect that had compromised some of the brilliance of a course that Donald Ross spent the last third of his life refining.
No. 2 had always had its trademark green complexes, where the putting surfaces often drop off on all sides to fairway chipping areas, but thick Bermuda rough and overwatering had slimmed the fairways down to a fraction of their intended size.
Not only did Coore and Crenshaw remove more than 30 acres of rough—replacing it with the sandy scrub you saw—they cut the number of sprinkler heads in the fairways by more than half, despite dramatically increasing fairway acreage.
That’s why you noticed the fairways were brown up the sides and only a pale green up the middle. That’s by design—the USGA’s, Coore and Crenshaw’s, and Donald Ross’.
In other words, Pinehurst No. 2 now plays a lot more like the great links courses of Great Britain and Ireland, where golf was born.
So why did so many golfers think Pinehurst looked “ugly” and “awful”?
Blame Augusta National.
Augusta is known as the most immaculately maintained golf course in the world. And it’s no wonder—they have the biggest maintenance budget of any golf course in the world by such a large margin it’s scary.
And yet, many public course players and private club types demand that their courses emulate Augusta because they think that’s “how a golf course is supposed to look.”
So superintendents have been commanded to overwater courses, producing excessively soft conditions that kill the opportunity for bump-and-run in favor of the much less interesting “flop-and-splat.”
That’s no fun and, what’s worse, it’s expensive.
In a world where water is going to be more and more important to conserve, golf courses that learn to live on less will thrive.
Pinehurst No. 2 will be one of them, having cut their annual water usage from 55 million gallons pre-restoration to just 15 million gallons.
Not only does this have both a positive financial and environmental impact, it allows golfers to play the type and variety of shots that makes the game so endlessly intriguing.
Next month, the golf world will watch as another lovely blonde, Royal Liverpool Golf Club, hosts the Open Championship.
Tiger Woods won the 2006 Open there during a summer drought when the entire course was browned out and the fairways were running almost as fast as the greens.
Woods’ display of shotmaking that week was one of the best in history, as he cruised to a two-shot victory employing all sorts of punch and bump-and-run shots at the course known as Hoylake.
Again, this is what I'd like to see more of here in North America.
But what do you think? Do you enjoy courses that are a little brown on the edges, rather than green and lush throughout?
Please share your thoughts or read what others are saying below.