Of the statues overlooking the 18th green of Pinehurst’s No. 2 course, Payne Stewart in full flight gets the most attention. Less is paid to Donald Ross, or the man frozen in conversation with him, Richard Tufts, but the event Pinehurst hosts this weekend is really a throwback to Tufts and what he cared about.
Tufts, commemorated next to Ross with a putter tucked under his arm, the grandson of founder James Tufts, was a man devoted to amateur golf, and Pinehurst took on that personality for generations, exemplified by groups like the Tin Whistles and Silver Foils.
There’s even a plaque next to Tufts’ statue emblazoned with his manifesto, that amateurism “must be the backbone of all sport, golf or otherwise” – a credo that made him an outlier in the 1950s and seems beyond quaint in the days when professionals compete in the Olympics and college athletics is a billion-dollar industry.
The U.S. Amateur Four-Ball contested at Pinehurst beginning Saturday and concluding Wednesday is an event that would tug at Tufts’ heartstrings, perhaps even moreso than the U.S. Amateur hosted by Pinehurst most recently in 2008. It’s a new competition, only three years old, and it’s the national championship of the kind of game played between golfers of all abilities on courses everywhere, often with a dollar or two on the line: Two-man teams, best ball wins the hole in match play.
It’s not the highest-profile championship the USGA conducts, and there wasn’t a lot going on in Pinehurst on Friday that didn’t feel like any other Friday, other than the ropes around the 1st tee and the 18th green and the practice areas. Members lunched on the club veranda. Tourists gawked at the exhibits documenting Stewart’s win and the dual 2014 Opens. (For some reason, no one spends much time standing at the 2005 display case.) Admission, through Wednesday, is free.
There’s a purity to it, golf for golf’s sake, that befits being played under Tufts’ stern bronze gaze.
It has been a long time since the Tufts family owned Pinehurst, and in 2017, even a long time since Robert Dedman – the fourth statue overlooking the green is of his likeness – rescued the resort and its historic courses from corporate disrepair. Dedman’s work paved the way for the U.S. Opens in 1999 and 2005 and 2014 and 2024, restoring No. 2 to its rightful spot among America’s greatest courses.
That has led to a fruitful and frequent relationship with the USGA – a relationship that both sides leverage when needed, which is partly why the Amateur Four-Ball is here this week.
Because 128 teams enter two days of stroke-play qualifying, the Four-Ball, like the Amateur, needs a site with two courses available for stroke-play qualifying. (Pinehurst is using No. 2 and No. 8.) And because it’s new, the USGA wanted to play the initial years on the most elite courses available, all past U.S. Open sites.
Since the intersection of Open venues with 36 championship holes is small, a Pinehurst visit was inevitable early in the lifespan of the event. This visit was announced with much fanfare during the 2014 U.S. Open, following the Olympic Club and Winged Foot Golf Club, with a hint of quid pro quo.
And yet hosting this event is no imposition for Pinehurst, but rather a return to its roots. As much fun as it is to host a U.S. Open, amateur golf was, for decades, the heartbeat and rhythm of golf at Pinehurst. This weekend, it is once again.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock
USGA Championships at Pinehurst
1962 U.S. Amateur
1989 U.S. Women’s Amateur
1994 U.S. Senior Open
1999 U.S. Open
2005 U.S. Open
2008 U.S. Amateur
2014 U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open
2017 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball
2019 U.S. Amateur
2024 U.S. Open