This year’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort’s No. 2 course will play a “little easier” than the last time the tournament was staged there nine years ago because fairways will be wider, said Mike Davis, executive director of the U.S. Golf Association.
With more than 40 acres of thick Bermuda grass removed from the edges of the 107-year-old Donald Ross-designed course during a $2.5 million renovation, fairways will play about 30 percent to 50 percent wider than in 2005 and 1999.
“It’s an easier driving course than it once was,” Davis said yesterday during an interview in Pinehurst, North Carolina. “And the penalty for missing a fairway isn’t quite as penal as it used to be. What I sense is, you’re going to see the players being a little more aggressive off the tee. Will it be easier? Probably a little easier.”
This year’s U.S. Open, on June 12-15, will be at Pinehurst for the third time following the 1999 and 2005 events. The following week, the course will host the women’s Open, the first time that the USGA will stage its men’s and women’s opens on the same course in consecutive weeks.
Since New Zealand’s Michael Campbell won the 2005 event, course designers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw headed a four-month restoration project that included the removal of thick grass along the edges of fairways and 700 sprinklers, creating a hard, dry course. Rough was replaced by sandy waste areas, and fairways were hardened by less watering.
Now Pinehurst has two lengths of grass -- fairways and greens. Where there used to be rough, there is hard sand, pine straw and wire grass. Over 100,000 sprigs of wire grass, which grows in long tufts, were planted along fairways.
“We felt like we had become too much like everyone else,” Bob Dedman, president of Pinehurst Resort, said yesterday in a news conference. “We wanted to make it authentic. It was wall-to-wall green. We had lost the uniqueness and wanted to restore some of the character of the course.”
Without thick rough lining the fairways, competitors will have a greater chance of being able to reach greens with approach shots instead of losing a shot by having to pitch their balls back to fairways, Davis said.
“When you miss a fairway, on balance, you’re going to get some bad lies in that sandy wire grass, but you’re also going to get some good lies,” Davis said. “And you never got good lies out of Bermuda rough. There’s an element of luck involved.”
It’s unusual for the USGA, which governs the rules of golf in the U.S. and Mexico, to use the word “easier” when describing the sport’s second major tournament of the year, and Davis cautioned players about getting overconfident.
“It’s a relative word, because, trust me, this golf course is not easy,” he said.