The Anti-Augusta Syndrome

The Anti-Augusta Syndrome
By Adam Lawrence

Adam Lawrence was blown away on a visit to see the restoration of Pinehurst No. 2.

Led by the design firm of Coore & Crenshaw, the restoration currently under way at Donald Ross’s masterpiece, Pinehurst No. 2, might just be the most important project the golf world has seen for many years.

For Pinehurst, one of America’s most storied golf venues, with a century of top tournaments under its belt, including two US Opens, a Ryder Cup and two US Amateurs, is truly showing the golf industry its future. And it lies in its past.

Visiting Pinehurst recently, and spending time with director of golf course management Bob Farren, the scope of the project became apparent. Consider the figures: 26 acres of turf has been removed. Only 450 of the 1150 irrigation heads on the golf course before the work now remain, straight down the middle of the fairways. In place of the turf, the natural sand areas have been revealed, in what Farren calls ‘sandscapes’ (he doesn’t like the term waste areas); these sandscapes, which will be left totally unprepared, will have been sprinkled with over 100,000 wiregrass plants by the time the course reopens on 3 March.

There will be no rough on the golf course; the fairway grass will transition, at the furthest reaches of the centreline irrigation system (reinstalled with larger heads from Toro at a cost of US$500,000, significantly less than a normal irrigation system on a high-end US course), into the sandscapes. “We want the grassing lines to be defined by the limit of the irrigation system,” said Farren. Golfers who miss the new, wider fairways, will see their balls bound through the sand. They might find a good lie; or they might find their ball in the middle of a clump of wiregrass. If on sand, good ballstrikers will have a chance to recover; if in wiregrass, good luck! Nor will the course be overseeded in future winters; the commitment of Pinehurst’s management to see No. 2 play truly fast and firm is absolute (although it will be sprayed with a light green paint, to reduce the shock of seeing wholly dormant Bermuda).

Pinehurst’s famous crowned greens have not been touched during the restoration project. But the sandscapes, which in many cases extend very close to greens, will present entirely new short game challenges to players. Good luck, for example, trying to hit a flop shot from the hard sand to the right of the second green; with a bunker in the way and the green sloping away, a golfer who misses on that side will have to take his punishment. Course management, long a priority at Pinehurst, will become even more important.

All this, don’t forget, is happening on a course that will host both the men’s and women’s US Opens, in successive weeks no less, in 2014. Coore & Crenshaw have ensured that the playability that has made No. 2 the championship course anyone could tackle remains. Take the new-look seventh, a medium length par four (though a new tee will make it more of a challenge for the Open) that doglegs to the right around the drive zone. Sandscapes and bunkers narrow the fairway to 31 yards at the corner of the dogleg, where a professional would be looking to put his drive. But, short of the apex, there is a full 48 yards of fairway grass from sand to sand, allowing the tentative golfer to take an easier route to the green. At the eighth, by contrast, a new sandscape area on the right of the fairway is in play from the regular tees for resort golfers and members, who play the hole as a par five; the pros, for whom the hole is a par four, will have to challenge the sand if they want a good view of the green.

As is typical of Coore & Crenshaw’s work, the bunker shaping is exquisite. That bunker complex at the corner of the seventh hole merges beautifully into the surrounding sandscapes; shaper Kyle Franz’s bunker to the front of the par three ninth has to be seen to be believed. But aesthetics, though important, are not what makes this project so truly astonishing. No; the real value of the No. 2 works are to be seen in their potential impact on the golf industry as a whole. This is, let me remind you, a staple in most rankings of America’s top ten courses, a multiple major championship venue that will host two more in three years time, and part of one of the country’s greatest (and most expensive!) golf resorts. For a course of this stature to be embracing the fast, firm, open mantra so totally, with its consequent impact on environmental and economic sustainability, is the best news golf has received in many a year. Now it’s time for the rest of the industry to follow Pinehurst’s lead.

A more detailed story on the restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 will appear in the forthcoming issue of Golf Course Architecture, to be published in April 2011. Subscribe to the magazine here.

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