2014 Back-to-Back Championships Bolster Pinehurst’s Legacy
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – The first two U.S. Open Championships hosted by the Pinehurst Resort & Country Club evoke vivid, and very different, memories for Reg Jones.
“1999 was certainly a great experience,” said Jones, the USGA’s senior director of U.S. Open Championships. “It was my first Open, and with all the drama of Payne Stewart’s victory, including the weather we had on Sunday, it was sort of mystical in some ways… it felt like a day in Scotland. And 2005 was really about the people. We had record crowds every single day, 325,000-plus for the week – the amount of support we got was amazing.”
Because the 1999 U.S. Open also stands out in major-championship history for its dramatic conclusion, it helped to solidify Pinehurst’s standing among the great venues in golf.
|Recent USGA Championships in the Sandhills|
|1994 U.S. Senior Open (Pinehurst No. 2)|
|1996 U.S. Women’s Open (Pine Needles Lodge & G.C.)|
|1999 U.S. Open (Pinehurst No. 2)|
|2000 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links (Legacy Golf Links)|
|2001 U.S. Women’s Open (Pine Needles Lodge & G.C.)|
|2002 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur (Mid-Pines Inn & G.C.)|
|2005 U.S. Open (Pinehurst No. 2)|
|2007 U.S. Women’s Open (Pine Needles Lodge & G.C.)|
|2008 U.S. Amateur (Pinehurst No. 2)|
|2010 U.S. Girls’ Junior (The C.C. of North Carolina)|
|2014 U.S. Open (Pinehurst No. 2)|
|2014 U.S. Women's Open (Pinehurst No. 2)|
“I was talking recently with a reporter from Australia,” said Jones. “He said to me, ‘When people in Australia think about golf in the United States, it’s Pebble Beach and Pinehurst; that’s what they know.’ When the U.S. Open came here, it just cemented Pinehurst’s place in the game.”
That 1999 U.S. Open was not the first USGA championship hosted by the resort, which was founded in 1895, one year after the USGA. That notoriety belongs to the 1962 U.S. Amateur. However, the 1999 Open is among a staggering 12 USGA events hosted by North Carolina’s Sandhills region over the past two decades, beginning with the 1994 U.S. Senior Open.
“When you think that, by the end of June, this area of fewer than 30,000 people will have hosted three U.S. Opens, four Women’s Opens and 12 USGA championships overall in 20 years, it’s pretty phenomenal,” said Jones, who came to Pinehurst in 1994 to work as an intern for that U.S. Senior Open and never left.
Jones, who grew up in Henderson, N.C., north of Raleigh, and earned his master’s degree from Ohio University, continued to work in a championship capacity for Pinehurst through 2006, when the USGA hired him.
“The timing was really good for me, since they had the Women’s Open right down the road at Pine Needles in ’96, and that rolled right into the Open in ’99,” said Jones. “The Women’s Open was back here [at Pine Needles] in 2001, then we did an off-site championship, the U.S. Senior Open at Caves Valley in Maryland in 2002, and then I finished up with the U.S. Open again in 2005. Basically all I did at Pinehurst was run USGA championships, along with the U.S. Clay Court Tennis Championships, which were here in 1995 and 1996.”
Even as the Sandhills gears up for the unprecedented back-to-back U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open, Jones marvels at the enthusiasm that the region generates for championship golf.
“This community is all about golf – it’s part of their lives,” said Jones. “That’s why many of us are here, whether it’s working or those who have retired here. The volunteer support we get is incredible. When the resort hosts the North & South Amateur, they routinely get 600 or 700 volunteers.”
The tandem of championships, which will be contested from June 9-22 over Pinehurst No. 2, requires support on an entirely different level – some 6,000 volunteers for the two weeks – but again, the Sandhills and Moore County (population 90,000) exceeded expectations.
“One of the things David [Fay, then-USGA executive director] and Jim [Hyler, former USGA president] asked me when this concept first came up was can we get enough volunteers,” said Jones. “We figured if we could get 30 percent of our volunteers to help us out both weeks, we would be ecstatic. We got 75 percent to sign on for both weeks, which is amazing.”
Pinehurst is hosting its third U.S. Open in 15 years, a frequency that hasn’t been seen since the Myopia Hunt Club in South Hamilton, Mass., hosted four Opens between 1898 and 1908, and Chicago Golf Club (1897, 1900, 1911) hosted three U.S. Opens in 14 years. The next-most frequent host in the modern era is Pebble Beach, with three Opens in 18 years (1992, 2000, 2010). There are several reasons for Pinehurst’s frequent appearances, including:
Corporate support: “The corporate support we had here in 2005 was the highest the USGA has ever had,” said Jones. “This year, corporate hospitality is sold out and is the highest since 2008. Things are a little bit different since the economic downturn, but it has certainly exceeded our expectations.” One key to Pinehurst’s success from a corporate standpoint is that the resort is able to keep five of its eight courses open for member, corporate and public play during the championships.
“The way it typically works here is that they are able to operate Course No. 3 and Course No. 5, which normally run out of the main clubhouse, out of a temporary clubhouse,” said Jones. “They can play both of those as 17-hole courses for the membership on the west side of Highway 5. Courses 6, 7 and 8 will host corporate golf, and they will be open for public play as well. So from a corporate entertainment perspective, there’s the opportunity to watch championship golf and play championship golf.”
Ticket sales: The 2005 U.S. Open set attendance records for all seven days of the championship, from Monday’s practice round through Sunday’s final round, in which Michael Campbell outlasted Tiger Woods. Six of those daily records stand, all except for the Friday round, which was exceeded by roughly 100 tickets in 2008 at Torrey Pines.
The back-to-back championships are on a strong pace, with Trophy Club tickets sold out for three of the four U.S. Open competition days, and series packages, which include a ticket for each day of both championships, completely sold out.
“Our message has been ‘Two championships, one event,’” said Jones. “I think people have bought into that with the series packages selling out. We have also sold a lot of our good-any-one-day Women’s Open tickets. We still have a few tickets left for championship rounds for the U.S. Open, but those will be selling out over the next few weeks.
“We don’t know if there will be any sort of a fatigue factor,” said Jones of the unprecedented back-to-back championships. “I would expect that practice rounds for the Women’s Open will be slow. Some people who are at the Open will probably go home, get caught up at work, catch their breath, then come back for the Women’s Open championship rounds.”
Logistics: “This is a great place to host a championship outside the ropes,” said Jones. “The Dedman family [Pinehurst owners] deserves a lot of credit for what they have invested in Pinehurst, not just financially, but in the commitment they have shown. Combine that with the resources of the resort. The maintenance department regularly works on eight courses, so they have the staff, the equipment and the knowledge to do a lot of things. Plus, you’ve got the space … for comparison, when you put together all the various properties we contracted with last year [for the U.S. Open] at Merion, we had maybe 186 acres. Here, the total footprint is 400 acres. Pinehurst really is the total package.”
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.