My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences

Pinehurst was a fun experience.  It's a different kind of experience from something like Sawgrass, or the Ocean Course--more of an old fashioned experience where you need to appreciate the history of the game and older design philosophies, rather than the modern approach of Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, etc...

It's definitely worth playing.  I'm not sure I'd say the other courses on the property are worth the cost to play them (#4 was good, not great).  I think #2 is probably a little overpriced too but the package deals often make it more tolerable and it's definitely worth playing at least once to get a feel for the game as it used to be.

#18, Par 4, 366 Yards

This hole was made famous in 1999 when Payne Stewart made a heroic par to outlast Phil Mickelson to win  his second US Open.  An uphill dogleg right par 4 with a severely sloping back to front green.  The pin was in the back right, in the famous spot that Payne made his putt when I played it, and it's amazing how uphill his putt was!  Anything long on your approach and you might be in someone's beer on the veranda.  There isn't much room between the back of the green and the clubhouse!  Off the tee, stay left.  On your approach, make sure you carry the bunker well short, but don't go long!
#17, Par 3, 162 Yards

The last of the par 3's, this one played 170 yards for me and was a smooth 6 Iron.  However, the pin played way on the right of the green and my shot ended up on the front left.  So, a long putt (not my cup of tea).  Three putts and a bogey.
#15, Par 3, 170 Yards

Tricky one-shot hole with a small green.  Tough bunker on the right and long is a bad miss too.  Keeping the ball short is the best place to miss here.  A lousy knock-down 5 Iron ended up in the right bunker for me.

#16, Par 5, 478 Yards

Another hole where the pros will be having a different experience from mine.  A 534 yard par 4 for them, but a 478 yard par 5 for me.  Hmmmm.  The tee shot carries over the only pond on the golf course, and it should only come into play if your drive is hit less than solid.  A strong drive down the left side left me 210 yards into the green, and a great 5 wood from there and I was on the green in two with about 25 feet for eagle.  However, the Donald Ross greens got the best of me from there and a three-putt left me shaking my head and walking off with a disappointing par.

Another picture of the borderline between fairway and junk, and the border of what's watered and what isn't.


#14, Par 4, 419 Yards

The toughest of this stretch of par fours, and probably the hardest hole left, at least from the white tees.  This hole makes you want to hit driver, but the fairway tightens up at about yards, with a bunker on the left side and four bunkers on the right.  I hit a long drive, but well left and ended up on the sandy hardpan "cart path" with 157 yards left into a hole.  Right and/or long are bad misses coming into this hole.

#13, Par 4, 358 Yards

Another short par 4, but another tricky crowned green, and with the uphill approach shot, it's a pretty small target to get your ball to end up safely on the green.  I had 112 yards into the hole and hit a 9 Iron out of sandy junk off the back right of the green.

As seen below, big big difference between hitting the fairways and taking your chances in the junk.

#11, Par 4, 375 Yards

Hardpan sand, pine straw, and wire grass line both sides of the fairway on a hole that plays as a subtle dogleg right. Not terribly difficult when played from the fairway, I only had 124 yards into the hole, and was able to knock it on to a green that spans diagonally from front right to back left with two bunkers fronting on the left and one beyond the back right. 

#12, Par 4, 360 Yards

The second of four consecutive par fours, the 12th affords a reasonable scoring opportunity, but like the rest of Pinehurst, the shortest holes that appear the easiest from the tee are the ones with the trickiest greens.  A drive down the left half of the fairway gives you the best angle into the hole.  I had only 88 yards into the green but missed a great scoring opportunity and walked off with a disappointing bogey.

Looking back at the "big boy" tees

#10, Par 5, 455 Yards

I have to be honest.  I felt like I was cheating on this hole.  The two back tees are 619 and 580 yards respectively to a hole that doglegs a little to the left at the end.  However, we bypassed these two tee boxes and walked over a long sandy area to the white tees that were only 455 yards from the hole.  Seriously, I felt a little gypped!  From there, this really isn't a difficult par 5.  I was left with 218 yards into the hole after a decent drive, and put a 5 Iron into the front right greenside bunker.  I recovered with a smooth 54 degree wedge to about 15 feet and two-putted for an easy par to start the second nine.

#7, Par 4, 385 Yards

#5 and #6 are tough holes back-to-back...#7 is a bit of a breather.  A sharp dogleg right with a nearly 90 degree angle turn, you need to hit a drive of at least 230 yards to clear the trees on the right that would block your approach.  I hit a perfect drive that left me 112 yards into the green.  A 3/4 9 Iron later, and I was on the green, and walking off with a par.  Take a look at the home that's at the corner of the dogleg.  I was told that the owner of this 12,000 s.f. palace is a major Yankees fan and has two flagpoles from the original Yankee Stadium on his property, and an indoor pool in the shape of the Yankee logo.  Can't confirm this, but quite a house!

#8, Par 5, 440 Yards

A par 4 for the US Open, This was a really a long par 4 for the common man too.  I nailed my drive left, again, and was left with only 176 yards into the green.  The problem?  I was on pine straw with pine branches between the green and me.  However, the good this is I got lucky and was right in between two shoots of wire grass rather than right up next to one.  A heroic punch 3 iron off my back foot and I was on the green in two!  The pin was front right, and there's a large ridge that divides the front of the green from the rest of it.  Overall, a huge back-to-front sloped green.  Therefore, I had a quick downhill putt for eagle that just barely stayed outside the hole on the right.  Tap-in birdie.

#9, Par 3, 148 Yards

This might be the trickiest short hole I've ever played.  Only an 8 or 9 Iron from the whites, but there's plenty of trouble in the form of bunkers surrounding the small green, and the green itself is devilish, sloping hard from left to right.  The pin was back right on the day I played, and I'd be surprised if there is a harder pin on this green.  Anything that hits the slope around the middle of the green, including anything on the left half of the hole, and the ball won't stop, rolling all the way off the right side of the green.  For what it's worth, the  snack bar is by this tee.  After leaving the clubhouse on your opening tee shot, you don't return to it until #18, so this is your chance to get a bite to eat or a cold beverage.
Nothing special here.  Just thought it was cool to get a picture of the edge of the green to show the lack of fringe.  Just two different varieties of grass, cut at pretty close to the same length!
#4, Par 5, 471 Yards

As I mentioned above, this will be converted into a long par 4 for the US Opens, but the little people play it as a par 5.  With the tee shot going downhill, many players will be able to try for this green in two.  I only had 185 yards into the green, but out of the scrubby stuff, I didn't hit a great 4 Iron, and left it in the short left greenside bunker.  Have I mentioned that it's pretty important to hit fairways on this course?  A bunker shot a two-putt left me my first par of the day after bogeying each of the first three.

 4th green from the 5th tee

#5, Par 4, 425 Yards

Definitely a driver here to a long dogleg left.  The opposite of #4, the USGA will be stretching this hole and making it a par 5.  They did this by adding a new tee well behind the current tee boxes.  This is a much more challenging green than #4, so it will be an interesting risk/reward decision to see whether pros try to go for the green in two, with the risk being that any miss to the left is pretty much dead.  I hit my first good drive of the day, and had 164 yards into the green.  Hitting uphill into this green, I hit a smooth 6 iron and aimed at the right half of the green.  My ball landed on the right edge of the green, but the upside down tea cup green made my ball roll off.  Another failed up-and-down, and another bogey.

#6, Par 3, 178 Yards

This played 194 yards the day I played, and with the pin in the left middle portion of the green, it was a perfect 4 Iron.  Bunkers and other side make this a tricky shot, but there's ample room on the ride half of the green if you hit a good shot.  Anything on the left half runs the risk of running down into the deep bunker left of the green.
#3, Par 4, 330 Yards

A short par 4, but the green makes it tougher than it looks.  A bunker crosses the fairway at about 228 yards from the tee, a 200 yard shot form the tee is the wise play.  After teeing off, take note of Donald Ross's former home.  On your approach, whatever you do, don't go long , as you'll end up around the 5th green....not a good thing.  

Looking back from the green

#2, Par 4, 411 Yards

You'll probably want to pull driver on this one, though the fairways tightens up right around 240 yards from the white tees, so laying back isn't a completely horrible will just leave you with a long approach.  This was the hardest hole in the 2005 US Open, so after the soft opening, the golf course really starts here.  I missed the fairway by a couple feet (thus in sand--see below) and was left with 173 yards into the green.  There's plenty of room short and left of this green, and that's just where I ended up.

Looking back at the clubhouse from the first green

#1, Par 4, 376 Yards

A fairly smooth and stress-free opening here, aside from fact you're hitting from the first tee on the famous Pinehurst No. 2!  You should definitely plan to arrive for your tee time early enough to practice chipping and putting on the greens adjacent to the first tee....they're the closest resemblance to what you're about to see.  Anyway, back to the first hole.  A decent drive down the left side left me barely in the sandy area with 96 yards into the pin.  As I said above, driver isn't necessary if you'd prefer something else.  This is the first of 18 straight greens with crazy contours, many of work their way from the middle of the green to the edges.  All else equal, a good rule of thumb is that your putt will break from the middle to the edge (certainly not always true, but a good starting point).
I made the pilgrimage to play Pinehurst No. 2 in January, 2013.  This was the most spontaneous trip I've ever made, in that I found a cheap flight on a Friday and booked it to leave the following day, and then play on Sunday and Monday or Martin Luther King Day weekend (it's nice to work for a bank and get that day off!).  I had been to Pinehurst a number of times to play other courses, but this was my first time playing at "The Resort."  I had a tee time to play #4 on Sunday, stayed at The Carolina overnight, had a free buffet breakfast on Monday morning, and then had a tee time on #2 at 10:00 AM.  I was paired up with three nice gentlemen from Charlotte, and we shared two walking caddies who carried doubles. 
As many of you probably know, Pinehurst #2 underwent a complete renovation that was completed in early 2011.  Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were engaged to attempt to restore the golf course to how it was when Donald Ross lived next to the 3rd hole.  Coore/Crenshaw didn't really touch the famous inverted tea cup greens (though my caddy thought they had made them a bit more playable and softened some of the edges). However, over the years, Bermuda rough had overtaken the sandy scrubby areas alongside the fairways.  So, as you may recall from the 1999 or 2005 US Opens, the rough was traditional Bermuda rough, which along with bunkers, flanked the narrow fairways of #2.  When Coore/Crenshaw came in, the first step was to eliminate every square inch of rough, and expose whatever was under it (sand!).  There are now two cuts of grass on the golf course: greens and everything else....not one square inch of rough.  Second, the irrigation system was redone and simplified, where now each hole as one straight line of sprinklers in the middle of the fairways.  The course will be watered as far as these sprinklers can reach, and not longer.  Next, they planted tens-of-thousands of wire grass plants, one-by-one.  My caddy told me that the USGA is planting 40,000 more pieces of the wire grass in advance of the US Opens in 2014, which will be focused largely in the landing areas for the pros.  
Yes, US Open(s) is not a typo....the USGA is bringing the US Open and the US Womens Open to #2 in June of 2014, which will be played in back-to-back weeks.  The caddy said the men will play from about 7,700 yards, while the women will play from 6,800 yards.  While that sounds crazy, the fact that the course will play firm and fast will make the course play far less than the yardage.  The USGA is making a few other changes too.  Most obvious will be the fact that they're flipping the par of the 4th and 5th holes.  #4, at 569 yards with a downhill tee shot from all the way back, (507 from the blue tees) will now play as a 500+ yard par 4.  To compensate for this, the USGA added a tee way behind the current US Open tees on #5 (which were 476), and the 5th hole will now play as a par 5 rather than a long par 4.  Weird, but it actually might make some sense.  #4 would be way too easy for these guys these days, and relatively speaking, the green isn't tough enough to compensate for the fact that the pros would hit a mid-iron into hit.  #5 is a tougher green, with a large drop-off left of the green.  If the pros are going to go for a par 5 in two, the 5th will present more danger around the green to punish a miss.  As a 500+ yards, the 4th is adequately difficult as a par 4.
A few first impressions.  Pinehurst overseeded #4, but did not overseed #2, so if you're looking to be wowed by acres of immaculate green grass, you'll be disappointed.  However, overseeding #2 would have totally impacted its natural feel, and its playability.  Dormant Bermuda helped it play firm and reasonably fast, although I'm sure it's a whole different level of fast in the summer.  The fairways and tees were literally spray painted to be green-ish...I guess they do this three or so times per winter.  It gave the course a fairly unique look.  It looked somewhat natural, but if you have any white on the bottom of your golf shoes, you'll be reminded of the paint when you look at the bottom of your shoes and see the green.
I read somewhere that #2 is the best inland public course.  There might be something to that, because I really didn't think it compared to some of the other high end public courses on the list. But if you exclude courses that are waterfront, it is probably one of the best.  Pinehurst isn't going to cause your jaw to drop of the first tee, or on any tee for that matter.  Visual beauty isn't necessarily its shtick, though there are some cool looking holes.  Where Pinehurst wows you is on its intangible feel.  There's just something in the air.  When you walk through the clubhouse, its impossible to ignore all the history that's taken place here, and even though they've tweaked bits and pieces of the course, the fairways and greens have been nearly untouched since the days of Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, and others, who have walked the same fairways.  The North and South Amateur has been played at Pinehurst since 1901 (the longest consecutive-running amateur championship in the United States, though it hasn't always been at #2).
The practice area is top notch.  Many practice greens with different contours for putting and chipping.  If you have the chance, walk over to the Thistle Dhu Putting Course, which is adjacent to the first tee of Pinehurst #4.  It's an 18-hole putting course that is basically a miniature golf course on real grass.  The slopes are crazy, and this seemed to be a popular place for some guys groups and families to come out and have fun after their round (with or without cocktails in hand).  They even have a scorecard with history and the rules of the Thistle Dhu course.
One complaint I have is with the sets of tees.  I usually try to play a golf course from 6,500 or 6,600 yards.  The whites at Pinehurst at 6,307, while the blues play from 6,930.  So, I was faced with a tough decision before I even teed it up....really wish there was a set of tees more in my wheelhouse.  Since I'd never played the course, and was a bit scared of hitting mid/long irons into these famously convex greens, I chose the white tees, and hoped to have a bit more fun.  With that said, the white tees played pretty short.  I was on two of the par fives in two, and was in greenside bunkers on the other two....they play short!  Also had wedges and short irons into most of the par 4's.  There really aren't many holes where driver is critical.  Especially with the contour of the greens, there is a premium put on hitting the greens.  Working your way backwards, the best way to hit the greens is to approach from the fairways, so whatever club you're most comfortable with from the tees to get the ball in the fairways...go with that.  The fairways are wide, but since they're firm and fast, they play tighter than they really are, and with no rough to stop the ball, if you miss the fairway, you're coming in from the sand/scrub.  From there, it's a crap-shoot;  you might have a great lie, or you might be nestled against wire grass.
I'll quote the yardages from the white tees in my hole-by-hole comments:

Pinehurst (No. 2)

Pinehurst, North Carolina


Checked off the Bucket List January 21, 2013

Golf Magazine:

#16, Top 100 Courses in the World (2013)

#10, Top 100 Courses in the U.S. (2013)   

#3, Top 100 Courses You Can Play (2012)

#1, Best Public Golf Courses in North Carolina (2012)

Golf Digest:

#7, America's 100 Greatest Public Courses (2013-2014)

#28, America's 100 Greatest Courses (2015-2016)

#2, Best in the State of North Carolina (2013-2014)