Course guide for Pinehurst No. 2: US Open hole-by-hole preview

Pinehurst No. 2 presents some unique challenges.

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PINEHURST, N.C. – Enough talk of unprecedented doubleheaders. It’s time to start the U.S. Open. For all the wondering if the course will stand up to two weeks of play, the only thing that counts is that 156 men will have to deal with confounding greens, scruffy sandy waste areas and all manner of ground game. That church bell that tolls hourly as you play the first hole isn’t playing a funeral dirge. It’s one of those reminders, along with the wind and the occasional toot of a railroad, that you’re playing golf in a shrine for the game. Here’s what they’ll face, hole-by-hole, on Pinehurst No. 2, the Donald Ross masterpiece restored in 2010-11 by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Par is 70, with the scorecard indicating 7,565 yards, though the daily setup will be closer to between 7,350 and 7,500 yards.

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Hole No. 1: Par 4, 402 yards

The prevailing wind at Pinehurst in June is out of the west-southwest, at 8 mph. That means this seemingly gentle opener will play to a breeze that’s helping and left-to-right. The newly expanded fairways here look generous but neck down in the landing areas, on this hole pinched by bunkers left and scrub waste right at 300 yards off the tee. Most players will lay up off the tee, allowing for a full shot with a short iron into one of Pinehurst’s characteristic domed greens. With steep sand left of the putting surface and open ground to the right, the natural bailout is to that right side, though that leaves one of those delicate little bump-and-run shots back. It’s one of many chipping areas throughout the course from which players will have options – from lob wedge to hooded 8-iron to rescue clubs and putter.

Hole No. 2: Par 4, 507 yards

A new back tee exaggerates an underappreciated feature of Ross’ long par 4s, the way he offset the tee shot by positioning the drive so that you are not hitting straight on but across the center of the fairway. In this case, the fairway seems to come in from left to right, and the ideal drive is a fade set off a quartet of bunkers on the far left side. The inside right line is wide open but leaves no angle to a diagonal green that opens up on the left side. A very deceptive front right bunker looks like it’s tight to the green but in fact occupies a ridgeline 30 yards short. The tendency here is either to come up short, just over that bunker, into a low swale; or to fly the approach shot all the way back to the back-right Sunday hole location and wind up 20 yards over the green. The smart line is to play short left into the putting surface and, if necessary, simply play a long chip to this hard-to-judge, up-and-over green.

Hole No. 3: Par 4, 387/329 yards

Maybe some of the players will give a symbolic nod to Mr. Ross as they play this hole; the two-story colonial plantation house that the transplanted Scotsman occupied sits just to the left of the green here. Three days of the event, it will play as a lay-up hole to one of the more elusive, deflective greens on he course. The tee shot, 230-260 yards, needs to steer left alongside a pair of fairway bunkers in what is another example of fine design whereby the ideal line in is the one most heavily defended. A tee shot wandering right into sandy waste leaves at best an uncertain lie and stance. Sometime on the weekend, probably Sunday when pace of play isn’t a significant issue and championship officials can have some fun by upping the risk/reward ratios, they’ll move the tees up to around 325 yards and let them have a rip at it. That’s when the front left bunker looks like a pretty good target line. There’s almost no chance the green will hold a driver, and hitting it long or right leaves a very dicey recovery – though in this case with a free shot to play with.

Hole No. 4: Par 4, 529 yards

This was the easiest hole on the course in previous U.S. Opens. No more, since they’ve moved the tee up 40 yards and reduced par to a 4 – the same figure it was back at the 1936 PGA Championship here, when this hole (and the fifth) debuted as the final pieces in Ross’ evolution of the Pinehurst No. 2 routing. The downhill tee shot appears wide open, though the ideal line is in fact to the right, contrary to a cross slope that carries the ball low left. The green occupies a natural amphitheater that’s ideal for spectator viewing. Run-up shots are cut off here, thanks to a front-left bunker that needs to be carried and an approach slope that feeds everything low left rather than forward.

Hole No. 5: Par 5, 576 yards

The other converted hole from the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Opens back to its ’36 incarnation. Instead of 5-4 the par is now 4-5, which still means that a 9 is very good score on these two holes. The fifth green is infamous for how it steers anything away except for a perfectly struck shot played to the right middle. Long feeds away, and anything coming into the center or left of the putting surface is inevitably dispatched low left into a messy patch of bunkering. In fact the whole principle of this hole from tee to green is "left is dead; right is safer, if longer." From the new back tee, players face an upslope of sandy waste and an imposing bunker on the left side that’s 285 yards to carry – into the prevailing wind. In fact, that line is a fool’s paradise, even if the bunker is carried because everything just collapses on that left side. So the tendency is to play right, sometimes too far right, which brings O.B. into play here. Suddenly, there’s a lot to think about off the tee. And on the second shot, too, since there’s not much room to play a proper bold play into the green for long hitters trying to reach in two. And the layup has to be 20 yards farther right than what it first seems to be, given the ground slope 100 yards short of the green.

Hole No. 6: Par 3, 219 yards

Greens that are 6,000 square feet never seemed smaller. Here’s another one of those convex surfaces that puts pressure on middle-iron shots to find the proper landing point – ideally 10 yards on right center. Forget the hole location here, the proper play is to hit Point A, two-putt and run. Anyone who goes birdie hunting to the back-left flag runs considerable risk of going through the fall-away green and running onto the next tee. And players who miss their approach shot right (easy to do, give the depth of the front left bunker) will find themselves with a delicate little downhill shot from the yawning bunker on that side.

Hole No. 7: Par 4, 424 yards

This is the one really awkward hole on Pinehurst No. 2 – that rare occasion where Ross seems to be forcing play one way when the hole invites play the other. It’s a sharp dogleg right. A veritable minefield of bunkers and waste on the inside of the turn seems to force players to lay up left – or perhaps try something deranged like a full-bore driver that carries tree sand, 310 yards in the air, and that stops before rolling across the narrow neck of fairway into more trouble on the far side of the turn. The advantage is minimal – a flip wedge with no spin instead of a short-iron in. A few crazed players might toss the strategic rule book that cautions you into seeing if there is any reward commensurate with the risk – here there isn’t. Which leaves us watching players hitting a long-iron or rescue left of center and playing in from there to one of those maddening greens that accepts a shot flown short left but repels everything hit longer than that outward and away.

Hole No. 8: Par 4, 502/486 yards

A big long chicane of a fairway, one of the course’s most elegant holes from tee to green, with everything evident right there and yet maddeningly hard to figure out. There’s a simple rule on the uphill approach, usually from about 200 yards out: don’t hit it left, don’t hit it long, don’t even think of landing it past midway deep on a green whose back half gives way to a monstrous slope. And it was from here, in 1999, that John Daly famously hockey-sticked his golf ball back to the green after his second (or was it his third?) recovery from long failed to make it up the hill to the putting surface.

Hole No. 9: Par 3, 191/186

The green here looks like the glue binding it to the rise it sits upon is failing and the putting surface has started to slide off. Good luck hitting and holding this green, pinched between sand short left and long right – and nothing to hold a shot that runs deep or slides right? Got it? And once you’re on the green, good luck trying to putt when all you can think about is whether the ball will ever stop rolling.