Pinehurst No. 2: Donald Ross’ Crowning Achievement
I thought my golf season was over for the year – or at least the quest for top 100 courses.
That is until I got an email inviting me to a business conference in Charlotte, North Carolina in October.
It’d prove to be easy to tack onto the end of my trip to New York City, so I figured why not.
Of course, that easy two days quickly devolved into a full week after I realized that Pinehurst was a short 2 hour drive from where I’d be staying.
Simply put Pinehurst #2 is one of the most famous and history-rich courses in the world. It’s hosted nearly every major tournament and considering both the men and women’s US Opens were played just a few months before, it seemed like the perfect time to make the trip over.
I honestly wasn’t totally sure what to expect. I’d only played a couple rounds of golf ever in the Southeast, and I really knew nothing about what the town would be like.
The night before I was to switch over to my room at the Carolina Hotel I was at the Best Western in Southern Pines. A perfectly fine hotel for those on a budget, but it simply didn’t compare to what I’d soon be experiencing at the Carolina.
It was a short 10 minute drive to get to Pinehurst, but once there it felt a world away. I was leaving strip mall central and then winding my way through neighborhoods trying to find the hotel.
Then out of nowhere I took a left hand turn and was greeted by the famous “Pinehurst” shrub in front of the hotel.
Sidenote: There must be a higher concentration of golf courses within 20 minutes of Pinehurst, than anywhere else in the world. They. Are. Everywhere.
For some reason I had it in my head that the resort would be a little more like Bandon in the sense that once you’re in the resort, you’re in. Not the case. The resort and courses of Pinehurst seamlessly blend in with the small community around it – if I had to draw a comparison, it was probably more similar to Blackwolf Run and Kohler than any of the other golf destinations I’ve been to.
I got checked into the beautiful hotel, and was greeted with extraordinarily friendly service everywhere I went (must be a southern thing).
I hopped the shuttle to make the short transfer over to the main clubhouse where courses #1-5 sat.
Walking through the clubhouse was like getting a history lesson, seeing the photos, memorabilia and everything else that goes along with having so much history attached to the place.
After checking in and walking out of the pro shop, I strolled around the back of the clubhouse taking it in. The putting green, the Payne Stewart statue, the first tee.
Anytime I play a new course, especially one as highly revered as Pinehurst #2, you can’t help but get a little giddy.
I’ve traveled all over the world, and while I won’t say I’m jaded by any means, I have found that playing a new course like this gets me more excited than just about anything else.
I can only imagine how it’ll feel once I finally get to play the likes of Augusta or Cypress 🙂
I also learned that Pinehurst is actually a country club. I didn’t realize that there was a membership component to the course, but it was pretty clear it was due to the “members only” section of the deck at the back of the clubhouse.
I hit the range and then headed to the practice green where I met the three other guys I’d be playing with. One of them was a sales guy and a pretty decent golfer. The other two were separate clients he’d just signed – and neither of them looked like they’d played golf in years – if ever.
At least I wouldn’t be the worst person on the course today, I thought to myself.
Little did I know just how special of a day it would end up being.
Related: Best Golf Courses in North Carolina
Pinehurst No. 2: Just the Facts
- Built in: 1907
- Designer: Donald Ross
- Location: Pinehurst, North Carolina
- Fees: $400
- Website: http://www.pinehurst.com
- Slope: 147, Rating: 76
- Distance: 7,274 from Championship tees, 6,298 from whites where we played.
The Front Nine at Pinehurst No. 2
The other gentlemen I was playing with elected to take a cart, which I thought to be the stupidest decision of all time.
You’re playing #2 for the first (probably only) time ever, and the course is cart path only. So not only do you spend just as much (if not more) time walking than me, but you miss out on a large part of the experience.
I elected to take a caddie, which I rarely do if I don’t have to, but I felt it only appropriate. And it was a great decision, as he was excellent, and easily shaved some strokes off my round.
Hole 1 (Par 4, 375 yards)
Not wanting to embarrass myself, I left the driver in the bag and stepped up to the tee with my three wood, the length on the first isn’t it’s major defense.
Right down the middle.
The hole is deceptively difficult as the fairway closes with bunkers right around the landing area. As was the case with many of the courses I played in the region, all the bunkers on the course were played as waste bunkers -and thus, you could ground your club.
I left my 6 iron to 15 feet, and as I walked up to the green I could see exactly what made this course so famous – and diabolical. The entire outside of the green sloped from the center out. Meaning, if you didn’t hit your spot – you’re screwed.
I asked my caddie if all the greens were this tough and he just said “psh, this an easy one.”
I walked off feeling ecstatic about me par.
Hole 2 (Par 4, 410 yards)
The second is one of the most difficult holes on one of the most difficult courses you’ll find.
During the open it could stretch to over 500 yards…as a par 4.
It’s far too easy to find yourself in the trees or the waste bunker on the left off the tee, and if you are you’ll have a tough time making par.
Hole 3 (Par 4, 317 yards)
I really liked the third hole.
A short par 4 with a dogleg right to an elevated green. However, take one look at the green complex, and you’ll be intimidating.
The green is narrow and wide, and it just looks like it slopes off in every direction.
I knew that I’d be having the golf gods looking down on me during the round after I left my approach in the right bunker, then hitting out of the san my ball hit the pin and dropped down to a foot away – allowing me to save my par.
Hole 4 (Par 5, 482 yards)
There was a little confusion on the course as to whether the 4th was a par 4 or par 5. The reality is that for the championships it was changed from a par 5 to a par 4. And the 5th was changed from a par 4 to a par 5.
I’m still not sure what this one technically was when I played it…
Either way, despite radically different scenery, this hole reminded me of the 14th at Trump International. It’s obvious which one would have influenced the other, but with the tee position, elevation, and bunkering there were many resemblances.
The main defense here was a tricky green that sloped hard right to left.
Hole 5 (Par 4, 431 yards)
Long known as one of the most fearsome par 4s in the game, I found it to be a very tame par 5.
Note: We played this around 480 yards, and I believe as a par 5. However, I’m still unsure…
This would be true for many of the par 5s at Pinehurst #2 actually.
I recently heard Tiger Woods talking about how the course is a great example of a course that can be tremendously difficult for the pros, but still totally playable for the amateur.
I won’t lie, the course was not nearly as difficult as I was expecting it to be – playing from the white tees of 6300 yards. Yes the greens were pretty intimidating, but I was able to go for it in 2 on nearly all of the par 5s – which I wasn’t expecting.
After leaving my approach 3 wood short in the bunker, I chipped it up to 10 feet and left myself with another tap in par. Something that was a bit of a theme for the first half of the round.
Hole 6 (Par 3, 179 yards)
The 6th is a long par 3 with a large green and two massive waste bunkers on either side of it. One cool feature is the fact that the tee box backs up right against the new back teebox for #4. Looking down the 4th fairway from there really puts into perspective how much longer the course can be when the pros play it.
Hole 7 (Par 4, 377 yards)
The 7th is a sharp dogleg right, and depending on where you put your drive, you can have a considerable carry over the waste bunkers at the corner. These were all new during the recent renovation, and my short 3 wood wasn’t nearly enough to even get close to thinking about making it over any of them off the tee.
With wider fairways than it used to have, driver may have been the play – but either way I still walked away with a solid par.
Fun fact: There’s a HUGE house on the 7th fairway that is owned by the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. My caddie said the place get’s used once a year at most. More interesting than that though is the fact the guy bought part of the outfield wall from Yankee Stadium and it now sits in his driveway.
I couldn’t help but sneak over to take a photo…
Hole 8 (Par 5, 457 yards)
The par 5 8th is another example of a par 5 that just seemed way too easy. It only measured 456 yards, and was basically just a straight shot uphill to the green.
At this point I had a pretty good score going, and I left my second shot just short of the green and proceeded to three putt it from there. I still made par, but being that close on a par 5 and not walking away with better was frustrating.
Hole 9 (Par 3, 151 yards)
For some reason this was the hole that’s always stuck out in my mind. The par 3 9th was the one that I was most excited to play, and walking up to it, I was also only three over and feeling pretty great about the round so far.
It’s not a long hole at only 148 yards from where we were, but the bunkering and green undulation is easily some of the most severe you’ll see on the course.
I stepped up, hit my shot, and I swear I thought it was going to go in the hole. It was right in line with the pin, and it looked like a tap in birdie from the tee.
The reality was it was about 10 feet out, and I missed the putt – but once again, I’ll take tap in pars all day long on a course like this.
The Back Nine at Pinehurst No. 2
Hole 10 (Par 5, 469 yards)
This is another example of someone up above looking down on me. As I made the turn with a 39 on the front, I couldn’t help but say to myself “how cool would it be to break 80 on Pinehurst #2?!”
I stepped up to the tee of what ended up being another remarkably short dogleg left par 5, and what did I do? Duck hooked it, hard into the trees to the left.
As I turned around to walk back, my caddie just starts laughing.
“Clean living, man.”
“Your ball hit the tree and bounced back out to the middle of the fairway”
My second shot was a three wood just to the right of the green and I chipped up and two-putted for par.
It’s worth noting some of these holes play much longer if you step back to the blue tees, in this case it would be a 100 yards farther back…
Hole 11 (Par 4, 368 yards)
Ben Hogan reportedly called the 11th one of his favorite par 4s, and with the recent restoration, it was restored to the way it looked and played back in his day.
A mid-length to long par 4 (depending on the tees), it has a feature found on many of the holes at Pinehurst #2 in that the green is just slightly off center of the fairway. You rarely have a straight shot to the green. It’s often slightly off to the right, and surrounded by bunkers, forcing you to think a little bit more about what shot you’re going to hit.
They’ve added waste bunker all down the right, and while it was relatively tame during my time there, I can only imagine how scary they let it get for the majors.
Hole 12 (Par 4, 351 yards)
Remember that slightly off-center green we talked about at 11? Well, 12 has the same thing, but much more pronounced.
Ideally, you’ll want to find the right side of the fairway for the shortest approach. Be careful not to go long on that shot either, because the back of the green has a pretty tight lie and significant run off the back – as I learned the hard way.
I had my first double in awhile, and I could slowly feel the round slipping away from me.
Hole 13 (Par 4, 356 yards)
I found 13 to be a welcome change of pace.
So far the back nine had been great, but 13 added a little bit of elevation and visual interest to the course.
A dogleg right with a significantly elevated green that sweeps back a bit to the left, this hole had a little hint of Tobacco Road in it which I really enjoyed.
Hole 14 (Par 4, 400 yards)
It was right around this time that we realized just how slow we’d really been playing. Our caddie told us we had about an hour of light left, and honestly, at that point I was about ready to forge ahead from my group (as there was no one in front of us anymore).
But we all agreed to pick it up a bit, and I crossed my fingers.
14 is one of those holes where you really feel like you can step up and rip it. It’s a straightaway par 4, but as with many of the holes, you need to be wary of bunker outcroppings around the landing area.
Hole 15 (Par 3, 169 yards)
The first par 3 on the backside, the 15th is a straight forward par 3 with a large round green, and some deep menacing bunkers flanking it. However like most of the holes here, Ross’ signature crowned greens are in full force, waiting to knock your ball off the dance floor.
Overall with the exception of #9, I was slightly underwhelmed by the par 3s on the course. Sure, there was nothing wrong with them, but I felt they lacked a bit of interest and wow factor.
Hole 16 (Par 5, 469 yards)
Ok, now these par 5s are getting a little ridiculous. Either that, or I’m just playing from the wrong tee boxes. This one comes in at 456 yards, and I believe is the first and only time that water comes into play on the course.
In two shots I’m just off the green, and after a tumultuous couple holes before it, I make my par and walk away.
This actually played as a par 4 during the US Open, and at 489 yards, is just 3 yards shorter than the blue tees which play it as a par 5.
Hole 17 (Par 3, 155 yards)
At this point it was near dark, and we were hurrying to get the round in. I don’t know if it was the light or Donald Ross playing tricks on us, but no one could seem to dial it in to get the right distance on this hole.
Pretty much anywhere not on the green is in trouble.
Hole 18 (Par 4, 382 yards)
What’s there to say about #18? Well, I’m not totally sure, as I could barely see it when I played 🙂
I will say walking down the 18th fairway to where Payne Stewart made that championship-winning putt in 1999 was a pretty remarkable feeling. You can clearly imagine all of the grandstands, and cheering, and I imagine no matter how many times you play it – it would never get old.
I ended up having a 12 foot putt to save par, and tie the best round of my life with an 81.
In near darkness, I stepped up to the ball, visualized my line, and rolled it in, completing what is easily one of the most memorable rounds of my life.
Final Thoughts on Pinehurst #2
Despite not being in love with the par 3s, I actually liked the course more than I was expecting to.
I can hear you now “It’s ranked so high, and has so much history! How could you expect not to like it?”
I’ve come to find, that it’s rarely the classic, championship, true-test-of-golf courses that are my favorites.
Well for one, because they’re hard!
But on top of that, I like holes that are memorable, quirky, unique, and most importantly fun.
Many courses similar to Pinehurst (Oakland Hills, Olympic Club, etc.) are incredible to play because of the history and prestige but don’t have quite the same wow factor as some other courses.
With all of that said, I thoroughly enjoyed Pinehurst #2. It lived up to expectations, and the greens were honestly unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Luckily my speed was pretty much on for the day, as I only had one birdie, but numerous tap in pars.
Simply put, this is a pilgrimage every golfer has to make at some point in their lives. Is it a cheap round? Absolutely not. Is it one you and your buddies will talk about for the rest of your lives? You bet.
And luckily, even though this round may very well be the most expensive one of your life, Pinehurst Resort has 8 other incredible courses that are each unique, more affordable, and potentially, even more enjoyable as a recreational golfer.
Great review again Sean. I played #4 and #8 but not 2 yet.
I also played dormie club and really enjoyed that one. What were your thoughts on that one?
I really liked Dormie Club. Pretty much had the whole course to myself on a perfect day – so had a really nice experience. Great design and great, secluded setting.
Congrats Sean, that is an AWESOME score on a course with such a high Slope rating!
I would say that easily beats the quality of round that many of us had (on easier courses) that allowed us to be able to say we have ‘broken 80”.
Take that game elsewhere and a sub 80 is yours for the taking buddy! 2015 is the year!
All the best,
I went to Pinehurst for a week in November. I have to admit, that even though I love the history of the place and everything it stands for, #2 was probably my third favorite course out of the nine, and I played all nine in a five day stretch. I’m a 15 handicap so not horrible, but I found #2 so difficult, especially the greens, that is was just tough to enjoy the round. I’m glad you had a great time and an awesome score and #2. It. Is something to be proud of.
Played No. 2 today with my son. What an experience. I haven’t played as many of the Top 100 as you, but I have to say it is the hardest course I’ve ever played. I didn’t think the tee shots were daunting, nor did I find the natural areas bordering the fairway all that penal, but a player’s short game is going to be exposed here – for better or worse. Iron shots are at such a premium. You basically have a five-yard square on most greens to land an approach to have a decent putt. Greens-Briefly-in-Regulation should be a stat kept here. Once, I even had to chip after I putted. Perhaps I should consider myself fortunate that it was only once. I found the par 3s to be extremely difficult, yet the par 5s to be very scoreable. If you are a 5+ handicap going here for the first time, here is the best advice I could give: practice putting from low areas off the green. The collection areas are tightly mown and can make chipping a nightmare for all but the best of players. It takes a while to get used to the speed of these shots so practice these more than you do chipping.
I found and read this looking for a course review about Dormie. At was the deciding factor for me to go there in a couple weeks.
I also read this one about #2. I was there photographing the Superintendant just before the 2005 Open. I was wowed then by the history, but it just looked like a green lawn with Diabolical greens. In 2014, I bought myself a ticket to the Sunday round. I went alone and walked in as the gates opened at 6:45. Did my shopping. Then I walked the whole course 1-18, before play started. amazing watching the pins being judged, placed, and cut. I loved that.
Your blog brought back so many memories of that perfect day. It was a perfect, dusty, filthy, amazing, fun Father’s Day for me. I love traveling alone and having no one to follow or,omit or when I can and that day was amazing.
Thanks for sharing.
Looking forward to playing #2 later this week, so thanks for the tips. I’m a 20+ HDCP, so I just want to try to not embarrass myself down there.
It’s pretty sad that shooting an 81 requires an article to memorialize it.
I know, right? If only I were as good of a golfer as you apparently are…
Definitely, Sounds like you played the wrong tees. Probably would have gotten more of the “experience” from the 6962 yd Blue tees. From the blue tees you can estimate that your 81 would have become closer to a 91.
Or maybe have tried a mix of blue and white. White from par 4s and blue from par 5 and par 3s. There your 81 probably becomes an 86.
So, Keep in mind when talking about how easy you thought the par 3 and par 5’s are – that you played the white (novice) tees…. Whereas, The “US OPEN” tees at Pinehurst #2 are way back at 7588 yds ! That’s 1281 yards further back than where you played from and where your 81 probably becomes a 101.
So, YES, the par 5s and par 3’s where a little underwhelming from the shorter yardages.
Regardless , great review. Thanks for sharing.