PINEHURST — Five years ago, former USGA executive director David Fay had vision, he just wasn't sure if anyone else was going to buy into it.
He wanted Pinehurst No. 2 to host the men's and women's U.S. Opens in the same year. On back-to-back weeks. An unprecedented move by the USGA.
Once a course is selected to host the Open, it will undergo some minor upgrades and alterations to make it challenging for the players.
But what ended up occurring at Pinehurst No. 2 is something that could change the way golf courses are restored. Under the watchful eyes or Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, No. 2 started to evolve into Donald Ross' vision for the 1936 PGA Championship.
Former LPGA star and current ESPN announcer Dottie Pepper is excited to see the changes made to what some call Ross' masterpiece.
“I am huge fan of this for lots of reasons partly because I'm really a fan of restoration rather than new construction because we lost a lot of gems over time and don't even realize it,” Pepper said taking a break from her TV duties. “Part of this wave going through golf right now is restorative and about archival. It's about all these things that made this happen and respecting and looking back at what the past was.
“When you throw the environmental stuff that's going in there now where people are talking about less pesticide, less water available, this makes so much sense. And to have single-line irrigation instead of all this water covering all these areas you aren't supposed to be playing from anyway, to me this totally makes sense.”
Pepper added the changes give the course a look and style that shows it was created in the Sandhills of North Carolina.
“This golf course fits where we are,” she said.
One of the things that the casual fan will have to get used to during the telecast or if they come out to the course is the lack of green once associated with No. 2. Pinehurst's director of grounds and golf course maintenance Bob Farren and his crew yanked out nearly 40 acres and rough during the restoration project. In addition to pulling out all of the rough, nearly 700 sprinkler heads were eliminated as well.
During the days leading up to today's opening round, the common theme has been “Brown is the new green.”
“The USGA is OK with that and it is our job as broadcasters to tell that story and we do it every year at the Open Championship where brown is good,” Pepper said. “The grass isn't dead, it's still there. It's still healthy. It's still getting what it needs. It's not like you are going to go over there and pick turf up that's dead. It's very healthy. It's just not Augusta National.
“And I think so many people look at the major championships and those are the events that people that aren't golfers tend to watch and go 'you got to be kidding, we aren't used to this.' It's like a changing baseline syndrome. Where little by little by little by little you start to acclimatized to seeing stuff like this and play like this and shots like this. And then all of a sudden it's not so jarring.”
Pepper, who won 17 tournaments on the LPGA Tour, including two majors, turns her attention to next week's women's Open. She thinks the course will be able to stand up to the test of having the best players in the world making their way around the course on consecutive weeks.
“I think you have the perfect turf conditions to do it. They are going to need a little moisture between now and then and they are talking about that even if Mother Nature doesn't provide it that it will be applied to soften the greens some to slow them down maybe half a foot,” she said. “I think it's a great opportunity to have the women's Open being talked so feverishly and so often and early which is awesome, It hasn't happen, so check mark in that box. But also to be able to compare apples to apples, oranges to oranges right after.”
Pepper applauded Fay for having the foresight to allow the women to showcase their abilities on the heels of the men on the same course in ideally the same conditions. Officials have said where the men hit a 7-iron into a hole, they want the women to do the same.
“I think there so many positives to it. I think what has happen when the U.S. Women's Open went to Oakmont in 2010 and 92, people walked away from them saying the girls really hit good shots and put up good scores,” Pepper said. “They were in very much the same conditions, relative conditions. In fact when the girls went there in 2010 versus what Johnny Miller did when he went. The greens were 2 1/2 feet faster for the girls than when Johnny won (in 1973). When you think about the scores that were posted and just how good they were, I think there's going to be a lot of people who have their eyes opened next week I really do.”
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.