Any other year, right about now, golf fans would be anxiously looking forward to the U.S. Open. This year, our country’s national championship — generally considered golf’s toughest test — was scheduled to be played June 18-21 on the famed West Course at Winged Foot Golf Club in New York. In early April, however, the USGA announced that it was moving the championship to Sept. 17-20, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
As the “Home of American Golf,” the Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen area has long held close ties with the U.S. Open. This is the first of a three-part series detailing some of our area’s connection with one of golf’s most storied events.
Pinehurst No. 2 – Site of Multiple U.S. Open Championships
Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s famed Course No. 2 is currently prepping to host the 2024 U.S. Open Championship — what will be Pinehurst’s fourth U.S. Open and 11th USGA championship. “Pinehurst has elevated itself to one of the great and historic places in golf in this country,” said Thomas J. O’Toole Jr., USGA president, when making the announcement. “Some say it’s our St. Andrews – it’s certainly something special.”
A decade prior, in 2014, the resort hosted the historic, back-to-back U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open Championships. Before that, Pinehurst was the site of U.S. Opens in 2005 and 1999. Many consider the 1999 U.S. Open on No. 2 — where Payne Stewart drained a 20-foot putt on the 72nd hole to seal a one-stroke victory over expectant father Phil Mickelson, on Father’s Day, no less — to be the greatest national championship our country has ever contested.
History was also made during the summer of 2019, when the recently redesigned Pinehurst No. 4 along with No. 2, served as the golf course for the 36-hole match-play final of the 119th U.S. Amateur Championship. For the championship match both courses were used, marking the first time the 36-hole U.S. Amateur Championship final has been contested over two golf courses. “We’ve always looked at No. 4 not as a tribute course, but as more of a companion course to No. 2,” said architect Gil Hanse. “I think it would be a huge mistake to try and replicate, or even come close, to those greens [on No. 2]. If you play the course (No. 4) and try to think your way through it, you’ll find that a lot of slopes actually move balls toward the greens.”
Pine Needles – Site of Multiple U.S. Women’s Open Championships
Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines is also prepping to host another national championship, this one the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open. The previous three U.S. Women’s Open Championships at Pine Needles were captured by the uber-impressive triumvirate of Annika Sörenstam (1996), Karrie Webb (2001) and Cristie Kerr (2007). The 2019 U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Pine Needles was won by 54-year-old Swede Helen Alfredsson, who posted a four-round score of 285 (+1).
One of Donald Ross’s most praiseworthy creations and routinely listed among North Carolina’s top courses, Pine Needles was renovated in 2004 by John Fought, who oversaw the restoration of greens and bunkers to their original forms with the aid of vintage aerial photos. In the summer of 2016, Kyle Franz assisted with a green rebuilding and bunker restoration project that aimed to maximize hole locations.
Of course, you can’t mention Pine Needles without mentioning its sister course across Midland Road, Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club. Mid Pines is one of the great walking golf courses in the country. Slightly different terrain, soil composition and vegetation give the Mid Pines course — designed by Ross and opened in 1921 — a distinguishing look and feel from Pine Needles. Though relatively short and subtle, Mid Pines is hillier than Pine Needles and more than holds its own, standing proudly as a golf course most players enjoy playing every day. Franz impeccably restored Mid Pines in 2013. The renovation was honored with GOLF Magazine’s “Best U.S. Resort Renovation” and “Restoration of the Year.”
“The pendulum has swung back to classic golf-course design,” said the resort’s late, great matriarch Peggy Kirk Bell. “People today are trying to build golf courses like Mid Pines. But we have the original.”