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Where I played: The home of American golf, Pinehurst No. 2

March 6, 2020

Welcome to our “Where I played…” series, in which a resident GOLF staffer runs through a recent day at a course you might play in your future. Today, we’ve got Donald Ross’ iconic Pinehurst No. 2 in the sandhills of North Carolina.

To preface, when the week started, I didn’t know it was going to end with a round on one of the most famous courses in the country. But when your boss calls you into his office and asks if you want to go play Pinehurst No. 2 at the end of the week, you say yes and book your flights as fast as you can so he can’t change his mind. So there I was in the sandhills of North Carolina, teeing it up for the first time in 2020 battling rust, nerves and a stiff breeze. Not to mention the devilish Donald Ross design that would proceed to humble me time and time again for the next four and a half hours.

Course: Pinehurst No. 2

My tee time: 11:30 a.m., Feb. 28, 2020

Course type: Resort

Price: The prices on all of Pinehurst’s courses fluctuate based on season.

Difficulty: I’ve never played a course with such tormenting green complexes. Standing on the tee box, none of the holes are too visually intimidating. But from 100 yards and in, it’s a stern test. Precise short game is a must or you will quickly see the bogeys (or worse) pile up.

The good news is, it’s very difficult to lose a ball on No. 2. There’s just one water hazard on the entire course and OB rarely comes into play. With the Coore & Crenshaw restoration of the course early in the decade came a more forgiving course off the tee with wider fairways and the elimination of rough. That by no means took away the teeth of the track. Missing a fairway is still penal with sandy native areas providing some wonky lies, and having the correct angle into the green is also a must if you want to keep the ball on the undulating putting surfaces.

How to get there: While it’s not especially close to the Raleigh-Durham metro area, the drive is just over an hour from RDU to Pinehurst. Luckily the resort offers shuttle services from the airport and complementary shuttle services to navigate while on site. So while a rental car is an option, it’s not totally necessary.

The native areas at Pinehurst are scenic -- and penal.
The native areas at Pinehurst are scenic -- and penal.
Zephyr Melton

Fun fact: As previously noted, No. 2 received a restoration in 2010 to return the course to its natural and historic roots. Fairways were widened, rough was removed and replaced with sandy native areas and overseeding was done away with to allow for firm and fast conditions all year round. The project cost $2.5 million and brought the Donald Ross design back to its former glory.

Notable holes: The first hole will always be seared in my mind. I stood on the tee box shortly before my tee time and took a second to take it all in – I was playing Pinehurst No. 2. I don’t want to say I never thought I’d be there, but for a career muni golfer standing on the first tee box of the home of American golf, it quite a thrill. I’ll also never forget the false confidence I got after a routine tap-in par. “This course isn’t that hard,” I remember thinking. I was very wrong.

No. 4: A true beast of a par-4. As the hardest hole on the course, the fourth is not for the faint of heart. A well-placed drive from an elevated tee box is key if you want to have any chance at par. The approach leaves its own challenges with a deep bunker guarding the front-left portion of the green. No. 4 just has the feel of a BIG hole and takes two well-executed shots to score on.

No. 18: This hole is a thrill if only for the history that took place there in 1999. After a drive into the right rough, Payne Stewart was forced to get up-and-down from the fairway to win his second U.S. Open. He struck it dead center and his celebratory fist pump is forever immortalized by a bronze statue just behind the green. I don’t often play courses where history was made, but No. 2 afforded me that opportunity. And there is no more notable history on the grounds than Stewart and his U.S. Open triumph.

The first hole isn't daunting, but don't be fooled.
The first hole isn't daunting, but don't be fooled.
Zephyr Melton

I loved: There’s little not to love about No. 2. It’s a course I could play every day for the rest of my life and never get bored. It demands creativity and tests your nerve around the tricky turtle-back greens, while also rewarding excellent play. It’s got teeth to it that aren’t apparent until you play it, but once you know, you know. I get goosebumps just thinking about it and I can’t wait to get another crack at it.

I didn’t love: Well, the fact that it exposed me and my rust around the greens. Anything less than quality shots around the greens will be punished. My normal chips that would be in tap-in range rolled out to six feet and my chips that would normally be in the six-foot range rolled to less make-able distances. And any chip that wasn’t fully committed to had no chance of getting close. There was nowhere on the course to bail out. You either stepped up and hit the shot with conviction or you were punished. I guess that’s a hallmark of a good golf course, but it definitely left me with a bruised ego. I’ve never had more fun getting my butt so thoroughly kicked.

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