Excitement Builds for Back-to-Back Opens at Pinehurst

 USGA president Thomas O'Toole Jr. was first to address those in attendance at U.S. Open Championships Media Day. (USGA/Chris Keane)

USGA president Thomas O'Toole Jr. was first to address those in attendance at U.S. Open Championships Media Day. (USGA/Chris Keane)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

By Greg Midland, USGA

VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – Brilliant spring sunshine, the ongoing construction of championship infrastructure and a widely praised restoration of one of America’s finest courses characterized the enthusiastic atmosphere at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club during Media Day for the 2014 U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open championships.

This grand dame of American golf has hosted six previous USGA championships, including the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Opens. However, it’s clear that this year’s unprecedented scheduling of the U.S. Open (June 12-15) and U.S. Women’s Open (June 19-22) over consecutive weeks on the same golf course, Pinehurst No. 2, has sparked even more interest than usual throughout this golf-savvy region.    

Speaking to a packed room of local and national media as well as representatives of Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, the Village of Pinehurst and regional and state authorities, USGA President Tom O’Toole Jr. summed up the anticipation that has been building for nearly five years.

“To think that we could come here to this wonderful resort and conduct what is clearly the most coveted title in women’s professional golf, the U.S. Women’s Open Championship, on the heels of a United States Open Championship… that is the specialness of this opportunity,” O’Toole said.

Indeed, the primary message of the day was the two-week “celebration of golf” as a showcase for the world’s top players, regardless of gender. It will also be the coming-out party, at least on the professional level, for the extensive restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 completed in 2011 by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Their work brought back Donald Ross’ vision for the course as one that would showcase the terrain and ground conditions that are native to the Sandhills region of North Carolina, as they carefully reviewed aerial and ground photographs from the 1930s and ‘40s in replacing more than 40 acres of bermudagrass rough with natural sandy areas.

“I think that when you see the course and the way it presents itself now, it is truly dramatic the way it frames the holes,” said Pinehurst CEO Bob Dedman. “There’s a saying that golf doesn't build character, it reveals character. [Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore] have revealed the character of this great course, Donald Ross’ masterpiece.”

Thanks to the restoration, this will be the first time either championship is played on a course without traditional rough. The fairways on Pinehurst No. 2 are directly bordered by the native sandy areas, giving players whose drives finish in those areas a number of options to consider for their next shot.

USGA Executive Director Mike Davis welcomed that element of uncertainty as he went through a few of the scenarios that players may face when their shots finish somewhere other than the fairways or greens.

“Sometimes they’re going to be on sandy hardpan,” said Davis. “Sometimes they’re going to be on soft, foot-printed loose sand. Sometimes they're going to be up against or underneath wiregrass. Sometimes it will be on pine needles or up against a pine cone. It’s going to give these players who miss a fairway just a different type of challenge…You could have two balls 6 inches apart and one can go for the green and one can’t. That’s kind of the nature of the game we play. It wasn’t meant to be equal all the time or necessarily fair.”

The issue of fairness has been raised as these championships have drawn closer. Specifically, some prominent female players have questioned what kind of course conditions they would face for their most prestigious championship.

Davis acknowledged those concerns while explaining that the goal is to present players with virtually the same course setup for both championships.

“The only two differences, and they’re relative, are that we will be playing the women from tees [roughly 900 yards] forward from where the men play and, assuming we are having cooperative weather for both weeks, we will have the greens slightly softer, but the same speed, for the second week,” he said. “So this all sounds wonderful on paper, and I can assure you we have spent a lot of time thinking about this. Will we get it perfect? I can guarantee we will not get this thing perfect. But the idea is we’re going to try to have them play the same golf course.”

Vicki Goetze-Ackerman, the 1989 & 1992 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and president of the LPGA Player Directors, voiced her support in front of the assembled crowd.

“From the LPGA players’ perspective, we can already see how this Women’s Open is the most talked-about and anticipated one yet,” she said. “The increase in awareness and exposure for the event and women’s golf are significant positives for the LPGA Tour, as well as the game of golf.”

The positives for golf, and the community, will extend outside the boundaries of Pinehurst No. 2. USGA Vice President Dan Burton highlighted some of the events and initiatives that will take place during the two weeks of the championships.

They include the Bob Jones Award Ceremony on Tuesday, June 10, which will honor Payne Stewart and will be open to spectators who have tickets for that day’s U.S. Open practice round; the U.S. Open Experience with live musical performances, golf films, local cuisine and interactive golf experiences taking place in Tufts Park in the Village of Pinehurst throughout both weeks; and the “U.S. Open: Drive to Pinehurst” video series on www.usopen.com, which will include three episodes featuring North Carolina golfers and the U.S. Open Trophy.

Years in the making and yet now just seven weeks away, the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open championships are poised to become two of the most significant and memorable weeks in the USGA’s nearly 120-year history.

“Personally, I think this is the coolest thing ever,” Goetze-Ackerman said with a smile.

There is no doubting the championships’ potential to be just that.

Greg Midland is the director of editorial and multimedia content for the USGA. Email him at gmidland@usga.org.

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