Blog 311, 6/11/14 - Why this US Open is so Important

pinehurst no. 2
Pinehust No. 2 won't look anything like it did in 1999 or 2005.
When was the last time you looked forward to a US Open? I mean really looked forward to it. Not because it's one of the three most important, momentous, and influential championships in the game, but because you actually, genuinely, truthfully enjoyed watching it.
Before this year, I had never looked forward to a US Open.
Having Merion back in the spotlight last year was wonderful as I got the chance to see a course I'd been reading about for 30 years. But because it's so short by modern championship standards, I knew the USGA would feel compelled to trick it up in order to prevent the best players in the world from going embarrassingly low - indeed Justin Rose won with a 72-hole total of one-over 281.
I feared the fairways would be extremely narrow, that the rough would be tall and thick, and that Mike Davis's graduated rough - an excellent and popular idea - would be put on hold. There were some terrific moments of course - Phil Mickelson's hole-out at the 10th in the final round, and Rose's brilliant 4-iron approach to the 18th green - but the action was muted at best.
Don't be fooled by championships or courses that 'boast' high-winning totals. It is the easiest thing in the world to make a golf course difficult. If the Superintendent at my local 6,200-yard muni mowed eight-yard-wide fairways, allowed the rough to grow 5ft tall, and firmed up the greens so much they ran at 14 on a stimpmeter, I dare say it would become the hardest course in the world. In many, even most, cases a course's difficulty is not the result of its design, but the way it is set up.
coore  crenshaw
Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw
So why should we be looking forward to this week's US Open at Pinehurst so much?
Basically, because the course will have no rough and the fairways will be 50 yards wide thanks to Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw's brilliant restoration of Donald Ross's original No. 2. Instead of a thoughtless chop from the rough back on to the fairway - a shot any 20-handicapper could play - we will see the pros plotting their way round the course, having to use deft course-management skills as well as their powerful ball-striking and freakish short games to keep their score in check.
This is how Ross meant Pinehurst No. 2 to play, and it is how all the great course architects of the Golden Age designed their courses - playable and enjoyable for everyone, but extremely demanding for the golfer wanting to beat par.
With no rough and 50-yard wide fairways, you might think Pinehurst will play pretty easy. Far from it. The speed and slopes of the greens will see to it that rounds in the 60s are probably very scarce. Though it certainly isn't as verdant, lush or colorful as Augusta National, the challenge at Pinehurst appears quite similar. The fairways are relatively generous, but woe betide the golfer finding the wrong side from which to attack the flag.
This sort of golf calls for prudent strategy. The bomber mentality of hit it as far as you can, go find it, and hit it again, will earn said bomber a free weekend unless, perhaps, he putts like Crenshaw used to. 
For the golf fan - the one that dearly loves the sport and its history, and who wants to see it thrive in the future - this is both something to celebrate and a little unsettling.
On the one hand, we will witness what promises to be an enthralling championship with the world's best players, playing for one of the game's biggest prizes, on a course that tests their mental as well as physical skills to the very limit. On the other, non-golfers who tune in to NBC's final US Open broadcast will see what they think is a rough and ragged-looking course and one that absolutely does not tempt them out to their nearest public facility to try the game. "No way! That doesn't look like a proper golf course," they might say. "It doesn't look like that place that holds the Masters. It's just a big, brownish, sandy mess."
pinehurst no. 2 old
Pinehurst No. 2 had lost its way - too much rough, and too big an emphasis on being lush and green.
Likewise members of private golf and country clubs which pride themselves on their immaculately-maintained courses, may not be terribly impressed, and won't be in any hurry to urge the club's greens committee to adopt the crude, roughhewn look. They pay big money to belong to a club whose course is always kept soft, green and pretty.  And they want to keep it that way, thank you very much.
This is an attitude that is partly responsible for keeping golf stuck in the 20th century, when clubs, with gay abandon, poured fertilizer, herbicides, insecticides, and millions of gallons of water on their course in an attempt to recreate Augusta National.
Coore and Crenshaw swapped 35 acres of thirsty Bermuda rough for unmaintained sandy waste areas dotted with clumps of wiregrass. They removed 700 sprinkler heads. The amount of water this will save the course every year has been estimated at about 40 million gallons. 
With water becoming drastically less accessible, saving 40 million gallons a year is certainly to be encouraged. Imagine if 100 courses, 1,000 courses, 10,000 courses could do that.
Okay...if 10,000 courses each saved 40 million gallons of water every year, the USA would save a grand total of...get this...400,000,000,000 (is that four hundred billion or four hundred thousand million?) gallons of water every year. Not every course swallows as much as Pinehurst No. 2 used to certainly, but still, the thought of a more enjoyable course that costs significantly less to maintain should motivate every club manager, director of golf, course superintendent, club member, and public golfer to turn the tap off.
One hopes watching the action from Pinehurst will have a profound effect on people tuning in. I hope they see that some width in the fairways would make the game more enjoyable for everyone. I hope they notice that removing 35 acres of rough would allow play to move faster (not this week perhaps as the pros will take their usual five and half hours to get round) and minimize the disappointment and aggravation of lost balls. I hope they consider that losing those 35 acres can have a colossal impact on a course's water consumption.
If enough people are watching, it could conceivably change the game in America forever. That is why this year's US Open is so important.
Live scoring here.
Course Guide here.

Add comment

Security code