Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

BETH MAJOR: Welcome to the 2014 U.S. Open Championship at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, here in Pinehurst, North Carolina. We're pleased to be joined by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, who have had quite a role in shaping the golf course that the players will experience this week. A little bit of a local note, Mr. Coore grew up just outside Denton, about 50 miles from Pinehurst, so a bit of a local gentleman. Mr. Crenshaw, as you all well know, is a two-time Masters champion and has been around the game for many, many years. We're very happy to have them both with us here today. Since 1986 they have been working together on course design and they have joined us today to talk about their restoration of the No. 2 course here at the Pinehurst Resort. Gentlemen, could you talk a little bit about just generally the changes that have been made and what the players and even the spectators will see throughout the week this week.

BEN CRENSHAW: First of all, it was such an honor to be asked to review the course. It's been some time now. It's almost two and a half years. Bill and I are just like everybody else in North America, that we revere this course. It's such a landmark course in the history of golf architecture in this country. Pinehurst No. 2 represents certainly Donald Ross's philosophy. He was so wedded to this area, but the golf course says at least so much about his philosophy. Pinehurst No. 2 was a particular pet of his. It's still astounding to me to go back and look and see that there were not grass greens here at Pinehurst No. 2 until about 1935. And during that transformation, when Mr. Ross knew that he could put Bermuda on the greens and over seed it with ryegrass. Then he started to redo the greens and the contours, not only on the greens, but off the greens, which delighted him to no end, it had to, because, at least in our opinion, what's on the greens and what is off the greens is so much a part of the golf course. I still think that the movements and the undulations and the hollows and the swales off of these greens are some of the prettiest I've ever seen. So, so natural and not man-made, but they're so much a part of the integral play of the golf course. Every person here this week is going to have to deal with what's off the greens here. Because as a player, I don't know how many times I've hit what seemingly was a good iron shot, that starts slipping off a little bit this way and it just eases off the green and you have to sort of steel yourself and say, well, golly, I hit that ball pretty well, but now I've got this shot that I have four or five different options as to how to play it up to the hole. That is Pinehurst. But part of the reward about playing Pinehurst goes right back to the tee. In an effort to do what we did in restoration, we concentrated not only what is on the fairway, but what was off the fairway, and we'll get into that in a while, but, yes, we widened the fairways here and there to give people more strategic options going into these greens. The actual lines, the fairway lines that were represented when we started were held over from the 1999 and 2005 Opens, which, to our minds, were a little bit straight. They were a little bit straight on the sides. The architectural features out on the course, there's beautiful bunkers, there's humps and undulations that we tried to get edges of the fairways out to those focal points, let's say. So the course is more vibrant, no question, when you look at it. It's more visual. We did lift some hazards, bunkers up, here and there. So what you can see is a little bit more vibrant. But it's largely the same golf course. It's not -- we didn't demonstrably change the actual framework of the course. It's a different presentation, but playing Pinehurst is very, very much the same. There's a million things to go into it further.

BILL COORE: Well, when Don Padgett and Bob Dedman, Don Padgett being the President of Pinehurst and Bob Dedman, the owner of Pinehurst, when they first called us, we were a bit concerned about even having a conversation about a restoration at Pinehurst, because of how much Ben and I both respected this golf course and its heritage. So it took a bit of thought and maybe the cliche soul searching, but there was certainly some serious discussion among us, as to whether we should even entertain this idea. We finally decided, okay, let's at least have the conversation and see. That's when Don Padgett, particularly, was there at the conversation and he -- I remember Ben and I asking him very quickly, we said, you're thinking about restoring No. 2? And of course to us we could just envision its lifespan and how it had evolved so dramatically through that lifespan from being a very rough and tumble natural-type course to being a very almost parkland-type course with green grass everywhere. So we pretty quickly came to Don Padgett and said restore it to what? He flipped that question even more quickly back to us and said, that's up to you guys. But it was, without just boring you with detail, it was, through the research at the Tufts archives and you Andrea Moriarty and all the support those folks gave us we pretty quickly focused in on Pinehurst No. 2 that existed from 1935 when Mr. Ross redid the course completely, to the early 1960s. We felt like that was the Pinehurst No. 2 that had so greatly established its reputation and its character and that, as you well know, was the Pinehurst No. 2 that was rough and tumble, it represented visually, as well, the sand hills of North Carolina and the native vegetation that grows here and the sand that Mr. Ross so dearly loved and felt like was such an integral part of golf. So we just felt like this is what we're going to try to do, we're going to try to recapture that golf course.

BETH MAJOR: We have had quite a few of the players in through the interview area so far this week and they have all been extremely complimentary and excited to play the course. Have you heard some similar feedback from players throughout the week?

BEN CRENSHAW: We have heard from a few and it's very nice to hear. In approaching this week, Bill and I are excited and we're apprehensive. And the bottom line is that we hope the players enjoy it and we hope that they go out and make an extra effort to learn the intricacies of the course. I think most of you know that y'all have been around so many courses, so many different types of courses, well this course is very, very different in that if there is some sting to the ground, it magnifies the undulations that are out there. And you have a running ball and it becomes sort of a distant cousin between links golf and it adds another element, in that you have to plan a shot. So we think that if -- and it is so prepared now, what we have seen is wonderful. We were very, very pleased with what we see. It makes a very, very interesting test. It is a test of knowledge, too. As I said earlier, the approach shots are -- you've got to make a decision. And sometimes it's the right decision, sometimes it's terribly wrong. But you have to -- I'll say this, that I think we all know that U.S. Opens, at least I've played in, I don't know how many, yes, meant to be a stern test. It is a stern test out there. Yes, it is different, because you do have an element of recovery in the rough. You can -- many times you can put a club on the ball, sometimes you can't if you're behind a wire grass clump or something else. Another thing, too, you do have a choice to make, if you put the club on the ball, then that stimulates your thinking into maybe making a shot that has let's say a little more danger in it as well. So it will be fascinating. I think you'll see all sorts of shots, which I think is going to be an element that you haven't seen.

BILL COORE: I agree, too. It's one of the things Ben and I think are so excited about is the fact that you will see a different type of play most likely than what's commonplace at the United States Open, I guess if there's anything commonplace about it. But the fact that there is, as Ben said, the chance of recovery. You'll see lies that are in -- when the players miss the fairways, I think you'll see some lies where they just will proceed a short distance down the fairway, but I think you're going to see a lot of them where there's going to be an enticement there to try to have a go at the green. Something you don't see so much normally at this championship. So we're hopeful that it's going to be exciting. I think we believe that you will see some of the most spectacular approach shots that you could imagine; certainly at a United States Open championship. You'll probably see some of the most bizarre. We actually kidded Mike Davis a little bit about -- he and Tom O'Toole about guys, if you're going to have any grand stands behind the greens, you might need to issue some hard hats, because there could be balls that -- if you've ever tried to play a shot off of pine straw or really loose sand or organic matter that's built up this thick, you can't really compress the ball and it becomes really like, man, this could go anywhere, it could look like it went -- you could make a full swing and it goes 50 yards or it could go 200. I mean, it's incredible.

BETH MAJOR: Thank you both very much. We'll open it up to questions.

Q. For either of you. Are there any specific holes or specific elements in the redesign or restoration the work you've done, that you'll be looking for once the tournament starts to just see how they play out for the players?
BEN CRENSHAW: I always think of a lot of holes when I think of Pinehurst. The second hole is a -- it hits you pretty early in the round, very stout par-4, with an unbelievable green. A stern par-4, no doubt about that. No question, the fifth hole, the fifth hole and I must say, it being a par-5 will be interesting to watch. It's an added element that, to be real honest, we were not on board at the very first, but we weren't totally vocal opposition about it. But we thought about it. We thought about No. 4 being a par-4. So that flipped the par on 4 and 5. But when it boils down to it, there's enough elusive quality about playing to 5, no matter what it is, I don't care whether you're playing a wood into the green or a 5-iron into the green or a pitch shot, there's enough elusive quality about that green that I think that it will mete out the well thought out shots. And so 5 has always been a hallmark of this course, regardless of whether it's a four or five par. 8, another stern test as a par-4. 11 is a classic long par-4. 14 is one of the most visual beautiful holes that I've always think about when I think of Pinehurst. The 15th, the par-3, we actually did a little work to enhance the right side of that green to add a couple more pin placements. It's a really slippery, elusive shot anyway, No. 15. 16's just a bruiser par-4. So there's so many. It's a complete test. But I always think a lot of those holes as being how Pinehurst, how the field is going to do. They have to play those holes well.

BILL COORE: For me personally, and I agree with Ben what he was talking about, particularly about 4 and 5. It will be very interesting to see how those play. As Ben said, we were not necessarily jumping up-and-down with a great enthusiasm when Mike Davis proposed the reversal of the pars there. Having considered it though and now having seen it done, I personally think it was absolutely the right thing to do. I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind that it's going to be interesting to watch them play. But I think strictly from like an architectural perspective, the 7th hole, to me, because it was always such an awkward hole, it was a hole that it evolved quite dramatically in its lifetime and into such an acute dogleg that at least what we could gather most players, even in the previous U.S. Open Championships, either laid back so far into a piece of fairway they felt like they could not miss, or a few of them who were long enough tried to hit it over the corner of the dogleg and all the new bunkers or the bunkers that had been added through the years and further down the corner. There was almost no one playing along the hazard. It was either short of it or over it. It became almost in essence a lateral or a crossing hazard there. So by reworking that hole and widening out the play area, all along the hazard, it's going to be interesting to see, because people at least now have a choice, they can still lay far back like before, they can still play over the corner if they wish, but they can also play down along it and do something in between.

Q. First off, congratulations, guys. I think it's fabulous what you did out there. What I'm interested in was, was there any thought given to the fact that this ultimately is a resort golf course, and I'm still going to be finding out myself, how it shows up on TV, which is different than how it is in person. In person it's very easy to recognize, this is fabulous. But if it doesn't show up that way on TV, there's a possibility of people saying, I don't want to go there. It looks like a cow field.
BILL COORE: Well, I'll start with this. First of all, Bob Dedman, the owner, Don Padgett, the people at Pinehurst, they have gone so far out on a limb, I mean they are way out there. Now admittedly the United States Golf Association, Mike Davis, Ben and me, a lot of us are out on a limb with them, but the fact that they would be willing to do this, knowing how dramatically this golf course might change, at least in appearance, as you're describing, this took a lot of courage on their part, because they had a business model that was not broken. They didn't have to do this. They did this because they believed it was the right thing for Pinehurst No. 2 and as we all did. But you're right, it will be interesting to see. Ben and I walked the first fairway this morning with a lady, Jane Crafter, who, from Australia, and we just walked along and at one point I remember saying to Jane, I said, Jane, if we were playing this championship in your homeland, no one would pay -- I mean they would think it's a fabulous U.S. Open Championship, but there would be no discussion like is going on here right now. What's all this brown about? What's all this sand? What's all this native grass about? That just wouldn't be, because they're used to -- this is golf as they're used to. But here, it's a big deal. It's a really big deal. So I totally understand what you're saying. People could look at this on television and go, oh my God, Pinehurst quit maintaining the course.

BEN CRENSHAW: I understand that, and Pinehurst No. 2 was supposed to mean something different than the other courses here. He did such a beautiful job with the 1 and 3 courses and there's different levels of ability. No. 2 was always supposed to be a test, a test for the expert and I mean he wrote about it, Mr. Ross wrote about it, it's for championship play. But it's playable for the average player as well. But no question, today it is a departure from how it looked 25, 30 years, from where we are now. So that era, we went back to that era, and that's where we went.

Q. For both of you, please, the runways for want of a better word, down the side of each fairway, of unwatered fairway, are they, is that your idea or was that something that the USGA asked to be done? Or is it just a result of the center of the fairway being heavily watered?
BILL COORE: It's basically a result of the watering system that's now in place out there. The current system, for the most part, is just a center row system down the middle, much like it would have been here decades ago and/or any course decades ago. There are a couple of places like the beginning of No. 2 fairway and very beginning of No. 1, I think there are two rows right there for a very short space. But, no, it was meant to be that the primary central parts of the fairways would be watered and kept to the point that, as you see them, quite green, but the water would decrease in volume as it went further to the edges to the point that once it got to the edge there was really no water going there. The brown grass that you currently see there, the Bermuda grass, I'll assure you, it is not dead. If we were up north in bent grass, I would pretty much assure you it was dead. But here, if it were to rain and we hope it doesn't, but if it were to rain this week, you'll be amazed at how quickly that will green up on those edges. But that's all by intent to make the not only the color but the texture and the playing characteristics of the fairway grass fade as it goes more from the middle to the edges.

BEN CRENSHAW: In doing our research, the writings, there's so many wonderful writers who wrote so many wonderful things about this place and Charlie Price was just a particular favorite. He was here forever. He just wrote a very simple thing, he said he remembered the course as being the fairways being oasises encased in sand. And it just meant a lot in that particular verbiage. It gave you an idea of what -- many eras that he was here. And he was employed by the resort for a long time, but he loved it. He wrote about it beautifully. So many other people did, Henry Longhurst, obviously, I mean, God, it was great to read their words, so you could -- our research in hard evidence, in aerials, and beautiful photographs that the Tufts library, is just fascinating anyway. But going through all that and putting things together, it, we formed a game plan.

Q. In doing the restoration, you basically didn't touch the greens except for 15 and 17, a couple of small spots. Could you discuss your thinking and your confidence that the greens there are what Mr. Ross designed in 1935 in terms of contours and heights?
BEN CRENSHAW: Of those two particular greens or all of them?

Q. You left the greens in place and I was wondering whether you considered touching other greens or how confident you were that the elevations that exist now were the same as Mr. Ross had designed in 1935 and 1936?
BEN CRENSHAW: I would just -- I can't speak for him, but we have spoken about it, they're much different, I think, than what Mr. Ross built in 1935. I think they're higher, they're -- there's been a couple more restorations of the greens, but they're top dressed a little bit more, they come up. Bill -- we took off about two inches of thatch on most of the existing greens now. But, no, there's differences, there has to be a lot of differences between now and what was there in 1935.

BILL COORE: I agree with that. I'm sure you know, if you look at the old photographs of when Mr. Ross redid the greens here and grassed them in 1935, they were quite different, actually. They were not nearly as crowned or some people would say domed or convex as they are now. Having said that, there was never any discussion about trying to recapture those original contours. We don't have enough actually insights into exactly what those were. It's hard to tell in photographs. And beyond that, the greens here have become basically the center point or the signature of Pinehurst No. 2 through the decades. And though they may not be like they were when Mr. Ross did it, they are what everyone basically who is alive today knows of as the greens of Pinehurst No. 2. So we have used the analogy a little bit like the bunkers at Riviera. When you look at the bunkers at Riviera, when they were first done, when George Thomas first did the course, no one would know this better than you here, but the bunkers sat lower than the greens and for the last number of decades, the bunkers in most places are higher than the greens and the greens nestle in behind. But that -- those bunkers at Riviera have become basically the signature of so much or at least the appearance of Riviera. So would you go change those? I don't know. I doubt it. It is just as the greens here, are they the same? No. Are they bad? No. And we felt like they would be left intact.

BEN CRENSHAW: In your book "I discovered Donald Ross" and also Richard Mandell's wonderful book, they're very much -- they're different. There has to be. There's evidence of that. But you know, like to dispel a little notion about, you know, a lot of people throughout this country think that Donald Ross just did domed greens and did flat sand with sod-faced bunkers. And it's not the case at all. He did a lot of different things. You know, through decades of maintenance, this and that, people have an accepted opinion about what is out there, but this is the test, this week. It's a fascinating test. It is -- those players will have to make some great decisions this week. And would I say the first 12 players are going to be abundant in touch on or around the greens and hitting the proper strength of iron shots going into these greens. In other words, something hole high is something to be cherished. Something just underneath the hole is just to be cherished. If you go long or you go to the sides, you're asking for trouble. That's going to happen though. (Laughter.)

BILL COORE: Exactly. Can I add one thing to Brad's question? The greens, no question, Brad, have changed through the decades. And as in -- and particularly as they were top dressed more with the top dressing just going on the putting surface. The more you top dress that, the higher that area gets. So the higher that area gets, relative to the sides, the steeper the slopes and the crowns get. I think what we're hopeful for now is, yes, they have changed, but with the current practices that are being applied, with Bob Farren, Kevin Robinson and the maintenance crew, they're not just top dressing the putting surface. Each time they do that, they top dress all the way off to the sides down the bank, through the hollows and back up. So areas like from me to the back wall here around the greens get top dressed the same. So they should start, even though all of it will just incrementally continue to rise, it should be in a consistent fashion where hopefully that will hold this crowning affect at bay.

BETH MAJOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much for joining us this afternoon, spending a little time with us.

BEN CRENSHAW: Thank you.

BILL COORE: Thank you.
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