Pinehurst adds to lore by hosting men’s and women’s U.S. Opens in ensuing weeks

It’s historic, but it’s not about making history. While Pinehurst No. 2 is doing that by hosting the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens during back-to-back weeks in June, that distinction wasn’t the sole purpose behind the idea, says Bob Farren, the director of golf course maintenance and grounds at Pinehurst Resort.

Several years ago, David Fay, the former executive director of the United States Golf Association (USGA), pitched the idea of having the men’s and women’s tournaments held in consecutive weeks to Don Padgett II, Pinehurst’s president and chief operating officer, according to Farren. But Fay’s idea had more to do with bringing more attention to women’s professional golf than anything else, Farren says. He thought a good way to do that would be to hold their national championship on the same course the following week after the men’s championship at one of the world’s golf meccas.

“The USGA’s intention is to provide the right stage to showcase the talent in women’s golf and try to test them as close to the same level and on the same stage as the men,” Farren explains.

There was also talk of holding the two tournaments at the same time on different courses, which could be done. The men’s tournament could’ve been held on Course No. 2 and the women’s on Course No. 4.

Pinehurst No. 2 is now flourishing with wiregrass and many other native plants in rough areas, thanks in part to turf researchers from North Carolina State University.
Photos: by Lawrence Aylward

“But then the women wouldn’t be tested the same as the men,” Farren says, reflecting Fay’s idea.

The naysayers have said the USGA wanted to combine the two tournaments to save money, which Farren says isn’t true.

Farren admits he was initially surprised the USGA wanted to hold the tournaments back to back, but he says, “I think it’s kind of cool.”

The women’s practice round begins Monday, June 16, the day after the men’s tournament concludes. If the men’s tournament ends in a tie, an 18-hole playoff will be held on Monday morning.

There has been some controversy as to why the men get to play before the women. Some of the women think they’ll be getting a hand-me-down course lacking the pristine conditions they’re accustomed to at typical U.S. Open courses. There will be divots, ball marks and beaten-down crosswalks.

“I know a lot of people are upset with it and don’t agree with it,” LPGA Tour Player Paula Creamer told the Golf Channel.

Focal Points

  • USGA wants to showcase women’s golf by having LPGA players play on the same course as PGA players the for women’s U.S. Open immediately after the men’s U.S. Open.
  • There has been some controversy as to why the men get to play before the women. Some of the women think they’ll be getting a beaten-down course.
  • One reason the men are going first is because the greens are easier to set up with the men going first, the USGA contends.
  • Regarding firmness, the maintenance staff will keep a microscopic eye on the greens to get them through two weeks of tournaments.
  • Pinehurst will rely less on out-of-state volunteers, including superintendents, to maintain the course for the two tournaments.

One reason the men are going first is because the greens are easier to set up with the men going first, the USGA contends. It’s easier to go from having the firm greens they want for the men’s tournament to having less firm greens for the women’s tournament than vice versa.

While the women are concerned about playing on a beat-up course, Farren says that divots and ball marks are part of the game.

The bottom line is that holding the women’s tournament on the heels of the men’s tournament will be good for women’s golf because more people will watch it, not to mention the increased media attention it will receive, Farren says.

“This will be huge for women’s golf,” he adds.

Not your typical U.S. Open

Both tournaments will be set up differently from past U.S. Opens, mainly due to the massive and radical restoration that Pinehurst underwent three years ago headed by the team of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. There will be no narrow fairways and long, devilish rough, distinctions that have defined previous U.S. Opens.

Outside of the greens and tees, the remaining 50 acres of turf on Pinehurst No. 2 will be maintained at the same height by fairway mowers. As part of the renovation, areas that formerly comprised the rough were transformed into sandy areas and mounds sprinkled with native wiregrass and other native plants, which can be devilish to hit out of in its own right.

“I don’t think there’s another venue where the course, essentially from the mowing heights to the day-to-day operations, will essentially look the same for the U.S. Open that it does today, with the exception of the firmness and speed of the greens,” says Kevin Robinson, golf course superintendent of Pinehurst No. 2.

The No. 2 Course has always been known for its challenging, crown bentgrass greens, which will be more vulnerable to score on if it rains and softens them.

“There will be no deep, wet bermudagrass rough to offset the firmness of the greens,” Robinson says. “But if the greens are firm and fast… hang on.”

Regarding firmness, the maintenance staff will keep a microscopic eye on the greens to get them through two weeks of tournaments. When the U.S. Open was last held at Pinehurst in 2005, Matt Pringle, Ph.D., technical director in the USGA’s Equipment Standards Department, used the TruFirm to measure the greens’ firmness, data that Pinehurst still has and will use in comparison for this year’s tournaments.

Moisture, root depth and the weather will also be taken into consideration to discover the “tipping point” of the greens from a speed perspective, Robinson says. The greens normally run 10 to 10.5 feet on No. 2, but that speed will be upped to 11 or 12 for the men’s U.S. Open, according to Robinson.

Self-sufficient operation

Pinehurst will rely less on out-of-state volunteers, including superintendents, to maintain the course for the two tournaments.

“That’s the beauty of having eight courses – we have the employees to pull it off,” Robinson says.

You won’t see bed mattresses in the maintenance facilities so volunteer crew members can catch a few winks during downtime. Pinehurst employs enough maintenance workers – about 230, including 150 full-timers – that there will be a morning shift and an evening shift during the tournaments.

“We don’t want people here all day long,” Farren says, noting that the employees are getting paid.

Farren is encouraging Pinehurst employees to enjoy the tournaments. He wants them to literally stop and take in the smells and sights of the history that Pinehurst is making because they will be part of that history.

While Pinehurst has enough maintenance staff members to get it done, Farren doesn’t want outside superintendents and other industry people to think they’re not needed or welcomed at Pinehurst.

“We don’t want to appear arrogant … where we think we don’t need them,” Farren says. “They are all welcome to come in and see us and spend time in the maintenance facility.”

With two U.S. Opens to stage, some people think Farren, Robinson and other staff members will be walking around like zombies for two weeks at the Pinehurst compound due to lack of sleep.

Farren expects to be busy, but not much busier than he usually is. And he won’t be sleeping at night on the long wooden desk in his office.

“We work seven days a week anyway,” Farren says. “We’re not going to work many more hours than we normally do, but there’s more pressure on us.”

Robinson has spent 22 years at Pinehurst, working his way up to superintendent of the No. 2 Course from a foreman’s position on Course No. 4. Indeed, hosting the men’s and women’s U.S. Open Championships in consecutive weeks is a career highlight that he likely won’t match. However, Robinson says he gets “fired up” for lesser events, which is easy to do when you know someone is spending about $450 to play Pinehurst No. 2.

“We don’t have an ocean to show off here, but we have some pretty exciting greens complexes to show off,” he says.

And a lot of history, too.