Date: June 10, 2014
Author: Mike Clayton /

Clayton: Pinehurst revamp a win

yone expects the US Open to be a brutal test of playing golf.

The architect of choice in the 1950s, Robert Trent Jones, redesigned Detroit’s Oakland Hills for the 1951 championship and he made a course so difficult the original designer Donald Ross would barely have recognized it.

Jones’ lengthened, narrowed and re-bunkered the course and inspired a furious Ben Hogan to shoot an extraordinary final 67 and then utter the famous line ‘I’m glad I bought this course, this monster to it’s knees’. He also told Jones’ wife if her husband had to play his own courses for a living he would be in a different line of work.

Since, Hogan and his unmatched tee to green precision have defined the Open. Nicklaus, who also won four times, came closest but the course arrangers have always resorted to the formula of narrow fairways lined by long rough and ultra-fast greens, unsurprisingly surrounded also by long grass. It was the arrangement to identify Hogan and in his time he was the best, never finishing out of the top 10 in the years between the Battle of Britain and Kennedy’s election.

As a matter of course the USGA would take one or two of the par fives and rename them par fours to reduce the par to 70 or 71 and the assurance was very few would get very far under the par.

This week the Open returns to Pinehurst #2, another of Ross’ great courses. Built in the sandhills of North Carolina it bears a passing resemblance to some of the courses on the Melbourne sandbelt especially around the greens where shaved banks of short grass will sweep errant shots far away from the upturned Ross greens.

The course too has been extensively revamped, this time by the game’s finest architects Bill Coore and his partner Ben Crenshaw. Rather than growing the rough, pinching in the driving areas and ‘modernizing’ the course they went back to the photos of Ross’ original course and restored it.

Pinehurst, a course Ross made with fairways up to sixty meters wide, was narrowed down in the fashion of the sixties and seventies to the prescribed thirty meters and it simply fell in with the formulaic set-up of so many American courses.

Coore and Crenshaw are not fans of rough as a penal hazard and for the first time in our memory the Open will be played primarily off short grass, sand and pine needles. Coore too, spent some of his formative years in the design business with Pete Dye.

Dye had succeeded Jones as America’s architect of choice in the 1970s and he has said early on in his career he looked at what Trent-Jones was doing and ‘headed off exactly in the opposite direction.’

This will be a great Open not only because Pinehurst is such a great American course but because of what it will showcase and represent. We in Australia need little convincing our golf is best played on wider fairways and with an absence of rough but America is a backwater when it comes to thinking a little laterally about how to best arrange the game.

Of course there are multiple exceptions including Augusta and an even better example, The National Golf Links of America, just to the north of New York city. Many of their best new courses including Coore and Crenshaw’s Sand Hills (Nebraska) and Friars Head (Long Island) as well as Tom Doak’s Pacific Dunes (Oregon) are simply throwbacks to, and celebrations of, the great work of the 1920s.

The Open however has been a huge influence and this week we will see a course where its restorers will be hoping it will influence more than simply who becomes the national champion.

Who that might be is anyone’s guess.

The would-be favourite, Tiger Woods is absent injured and Phil Mickelson has only a second place in the Middle East to follow up his Open Championship win at Muirfield.

Six times second in the Open, one wonders if Mickelson will finish up an even more tragic U.S Open figure than the Hogan’s greatest rival, Sam Snead? Or will he find redemption on a course wide enough to allow for some his less than accurate driving but difficult enough around the greens to reward his unmatched creativity?

We guess and we wait for the weekend.