ARDMORE, Pa. — When the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club wraps up Sunday – weather permitting, of course – the attention on the country’s national championship will shift southward to 2014 and Pinehurst.
The U.S. Open is set to return to Pinehurst No. 2 for a third time in 15 years, coming back to one of the sport’s iconic courses that has recently undergone a drastic facelift.
And that’s not the half of it.
For the first time in U.S. Golf Association history, the men’s U.S. Open – scheduled for June 12-15, 2014 – will be followed the next week at the same site by the U.S. Women’s Open.
That’s back-to-back Opens on one of Donald Ross’ most memorable layouts.
“If there’s one place to do it, it’s Pinehurst,” USGA executive director Mike Davis told the Observer on Wednesday.
Pinehurst Resort owner Bob Dedman and president Don Padgett, at Merion this week to do a little reconnaissance work, know the drill of hosting a men’s Open, having done so in 1999 and 2005.
“In 1999, our nervousness was over the top,” Dedman said. “In 2005, we made any adjustments we needed to make. Now there’s more excitement than nervousness. To be able to do it a third time around doesn’t happen very often.”
This third time, however, won’t finish when the men’s Open is over. It will be just the half-way point of a hectic two-week stretch that will test the limits of the Sandhills region’s ability to host the biggest tournaments of men’s and women’s golf.
Logistics for pulling the whole thing off are just now beginning, Padgett said.
“I don’t think it’s going to be that different,” Padgett said. “We’ll have about 350,000 people the first week, then maybe another 150,000 for the women.”
Dedman said about 6,000 volunteers have signed up to help, with 85 percent of them working both tournaments. Most of the major sponsors have also signed back up for the men’s Open, while women’s corporate sales have also been strong.
“All of our high end hospitality came back,” Padgett said of the mens’ tournament. “I’m not sure anybody expected that. We all breathed a sigh of relief about that. We sold out as quickly as we did the first two. The world has changed a bit since (the) 2009 (economic downturn), but our market stayed strong.”
If there is an adjustment to be made for the tournaments’ organizers and the USGA, it will be in the Ross-designed golf course itself. No. 2 was restored in 2011 to a more natural state, more closely mirroring what it looked like when it opened in 1907.
About 35 acres of rough have been removed, replaced by sand, wire grass and pine straw.
“The course had lost something over the years,” Padgett said. “I call it the homogenization of golf. You’ve got a monochromatic (color of) green out there. It’s just wall-to-wall green.
“At Pinehurst, you couldn’t see the contours of the fairways that Ross had (planned). So taking out the rough and replacing it with native plants, you can see the strategy of the course the way Ross intended it.”
The lack of rough is also a major factor why the men’s and women’s opens can be played at the same site.
“It really allows us to set up the golf course the exact same way for both tournaments,” said the USGA’s Davis. “The only difference is the women don’t hit it as far and they don’t spin the ball the same. Because of that difference in strength, women can’t get the ball out of the rough the same way the men can.
“It’s really going to equalize things. What it’s going to show is how great the women really are.”
Davis said Pinehurst’s famous “domed” greens will be set at the same speed for both tournaments.
Said Padgett: “There have been some changes in how the course will present itself. But it had to be done.”
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