Pinehurst's 2014 U.S. Open doubleheader a grand undertaking, but 'unique'

dscott@charlotteobserver.comJune 15, 2013 

— The decision to bring the biggest events in U.S. men’s and women’s golf to Pinehurst in back-to-back weeks next summer was hashed out over a stack of blueberry pancakes in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in North Carolina’s Sandhills.

Seated at the table four years ago at a tiny Pinehurst Track eatery were Don Padgett, the president of the Pinehurst Resort, and David Fay, then-executive director of the U.S. Golf Association.

Fay had an idea to pitch to Padgett that 2009 morning:

“Let’s try something that’s never been done before,” Fay remembers saying. “Why not hold the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women’s Open on Pinehurst No. 2 on consecutive weeks in 2014?”

Fay had reasons behind his thinking. The 2014 men’s U.S. Open already had been awarded to Pinehurst, the third time since 1999 the storied No. 2 course will host the event.

But Fay also was looking for a way to boost the profile of the women’s U.S. Open. One way to do that would be to bring it back to the Sandhills, one of the world’s signature golf regions. It had been played three times at Pine Needles in Southern Pines, most recently during 2007. But Fay wanted something grander for the women’s event.

“Sometimes if you keep going back to the same place, it doesn’t measure up to the original with the same kind of buzz,” said Fay, who retired from his USGA post during 2011 and is at the men’s U.S. Open this week at Merion Golf Club. “In big-time sports, there’s always a buzz of anticipation if you go to a new place, or a place where you haven’t been in a long time.

“So the thought occurred to me: If you could structure it right, a men’s and women’s Open doubleheader on the same course would be a good thing. … It had never been done before. And Pinehurst was the place to do it.”

More pros than cons

The idea of a men’s-women’s doubleheader had come to Fay that year at the USGA’s annual meeting in Newport Beach, Calif. On the red-eye flight back to the East Coast, Fay jotted down what he thought were the pros and cons on a yellow legal pad.

The pros:

• Pinehurst knows how to handle big, prestigious tournaments, having hosted scores of them, including three men’s U.S. Opens, a Ryder Cup and a PGA Championship;

• the Sandhills region is a golf mecca;

• and, significantly, Pinehurst No.2, which during 2009 had sparse, wiry rough, was adaptable to both the men’s and women’s games. The rough now has become a non-factor, after acres of it were gouged out during a course reconstruction that was completed during 2011.

Fay could come up with only one argument against his idea:

• Would the infrastructure in Pinehurst and the surrounding area hold up under two weeks of massive crowds and media attention?

So he traveled to Pinehurst to discuss his idea with Padgett, who suggested they meet for breakfast at the iconic Carolina hotel. Fay, however, always had enjoyed eating at the Track, which is famous for its blueberry pancakes.

“And I wanted to get him on my turf,” Fay joked.

Not easy, but will be unique

Padgett was receptive to what Fay had to say. He had logistical questions, mostly about how potential delays in the men’s tournament would affect the women’s event the following week.

“What if we have horrific weather?” Padgett said. “What if there is a (men’s) playoff? But that’s something we can work out. That Monday following the men’s tournament will probably be an off day anyway, so any extra play could be fit in then.”

Fay assured Padgett that would be worked out.

“First and foremost, although this is the most important tournament in women’s golf, too, we can’t do anything that compromises the (men’s) U.S. Open,” Fay said. “That’s where (the USGA) makes all our dough.”

Fay then took the idea to PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem and his LPGA counterpart Mike Whan, who both agreed. Whan would like to do more with the concept, too.

“It’s an exciting opportunity,” Whan told Sports Illustrated. “I’ve told Tim that it would be nice to find a place where we both could play a regular event together. Tim agrees. But the logistics aren’t easy. He’s a willing partner, so we’ll see.”

But if the women’s U.S. Open can benefit from the exposure of being played on the same course the week after the men’s tournament, it might also suffer by comparison.

Crowds of about 350,000 are expected for the men’s event, according to Padgett, more than twice the size of those who will come for the women.

“That will be a challenge, yes,” said Fay. “You’re just not going to have the same amount of people that second week. Television will have to use tight shots on the grandstands. But that’s why they play the Duke-Carolina men’s basketball game in the Dean Dome and the women’s game in (smaller) Carmichael” Gymnasium.

Mike Davis, Fay’s successor as the USGA’s executive director, said the two weeks in Pinehurst are as close as golf can come to mirroring tennis’ U.S. Open, where the men and women play concurrently in Flushing, N.Y.

“I think David always thought that tennis has that magical two weeks at its U.S. Open,” said Davis. “But it’s something we just can’t do. You can’t stuff 312 players on a course at the same time. Now if you could, that would be neat and we might try it. But there’s just not enough daylight for that.”

Golf, for at least one year, will have something similar.

“I think the word ‘unique’ is the most overused word in the English language,” said Fay. “But for our sport, we definitely have something unique coming to Pinehurst.”

Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14

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