Luke DeCock

US Amateur players taking a little piece of Pinehurst pine home with them

The trees came down during Hurricane Matthew. The storm tore a swath through the Pinehurst property, felling pines that had towered over the golf courses for decades, including and especially the revered No. 2 course.

“You could smell the damage,” said Bob Farren, Pinehurst’s director of golf course maintenance. “You could smell the pine.”

The cleanup took a few weeks, with hundreds of ancient, towering longleaf pines lying across fairways like roadblocks. That left a lot of wood with literal roots at Pinehurst lying around.

This week’s competitors at the U.S. Amateur are taking it home with them.

The gift to players from the USGA is a wooden American flag with the U.S. Amateur logo, made from the fallen trees by the Heritage Flag Company in Southern Pines, which has been making flags out of staves from wine and whiskey barrels since 2014. The Amateur flags have a less boozy but more sentimental origin.

In the aftermath of the fall 2016 storm, Farren suddenly found himself with this unexpected surplus of Pinehurst pine. More than 150 trees were down, many from the fabled No. 2 course. He called woodworker Heath Trigg at Heritage Flag and offered him the salvaged wood.

“It was a big help for me, selfishly speaking, to get rid of it,” Farren said. “But it’s also a feel-good thing. You want to make use of it.”

Three years later, it made a triumphant return to the course.

As each of the 312 competitors signed in this week, they were each given a small wooden flag, roughly 6-by-11 inches, with the Amateur logo in the upper left corner, personalized with their name in the lower right.

They each signed a full-size wooden flag as well, putting a new spin on an old tournament tradition, the signed poster traditionally given to the host club. (Pinehurst has several hanging in the resort clubhouse hallway.) Two other flags formed the backboards for a pair of Nerf basketball hoops in the player lounge.

“To get a flag made out of trees, that’s something we don’t usually get,” said Wake Forest phenom Akshay Bhatia, who advanced to the round of 32 with a 3-and-2 win Wednesday over Ryan Manke. “Someone thought outside the box. I’m definitely going to hang that up or put it in my trophy room. It’ll stick there forever.”

The trees that for so long watched over the course, victims of nature’s whim far more than any put-upon golfer who complains about the fickle wind, have been reborn as totems of it.

It is an unusual player gift, but not out of line with some recently: Players at the U.S. Senior Open earlier this summer in South Bend, Ind., found a personalized Notre Dame jersey at their lockers when they arrived.

And still, there’s something particularly fitting about this particular gift at this particular venue, one that taps so deep into the roots of amateur golf in the United States. The history runs thick here among the pines, and not just those that still stand watch over the course.

Each player will take a piece of that home with him: a little piece of Pinehurst, preserved.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.