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Pinehurst’s back-to-back Open golf tournaments a triumph

By Chip Alexander and Luke DeCock
calexander@newsobserver.com ldecock@newsobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/06/23/17/19/FZVXx.Em.138.jpeg|261
    Robert Willett - rwillett@newsobserver.com
    2014 U.S. Open winner Martin Kaymer of Dusseldorf, Germany hits out of the rough on the on the fifth hole during the third round of the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 on Saturday, June 14, 2014 in Pinehurst, N.C.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/06/23/17/19/xGrdV.Em.138.jpeg|151
    Chuck Liddy - cliddy@newsobserver.com
    Michelle Wei is mobbed by fans after winning the U.S. Women’s Open in Pinehurst, N.C. Sunday, June 22, 2014.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/06/23/17/19/rhit3.Em.138.jpeg|210
    Robert Willett - rwillett@newsobserver.com
    The gallery on the 18th hole gives a standing ovation to golfer Martin Kaymer of Dusseldorf, Germany as he arrives for the final hole of play during the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 on Sunday, June 15, 2014 in Pinehurst, N.C. Kaymer won the tournament.

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  • Two weeks at Pinehurst

    The N&O’s Luke DeCock assesses the two weeks of golf at Pinehurst

    WHAT WENT RIGHT

    • Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore’s restoration of the No. 2 course to the spirit of Donald Ross’ original 1907 design, removing acres of turfgrass rough and replacing it with sandy native areas filled with wiregrass, toad flax and pink purslane, received rave reviews. The retro feel of the course alluded to and underlined Pinehurst’s position as one of the cornerstones of American golf, and players enjoyed the risk-reward of hitting out of those areas as opposed to the thick rough typical of U.S. Opens.

    • There was no questioning the worthiness of the two winners. Martin Kaymer dominated the field on his way to his second major championship, a tour de force that lacked drama but was impressive in scope. Time will tell, but this victory may mark the moment Kaymer joined golf’s elite. As for the Women’s Open, Michelle Wie’s breakthrough win guaranteed the women would not be overshadowed by the men. It was the best-case scenario for the future of women’s golf.

    • The USGA gambled that No. 2 could handle the strain and stress of two major tournaments in a two-week span. The course held up beautifully, with the greens playing as smooth and as pure on the final day of the Women’s Open as they had during the men’s practice rounds. The women had been fretting for months about going second, but the course was in far better shape than most courses they play on a regular basis.

    WHAT WENT WRONG

    • The unexpected drought this spring – one “rain event” in six weeks leading up to the Open – left No. 2’s Bermuda grass brown in wide areas outside the middle of the fairways, making for unattractive television viewing, albeit without impacting play. Bermuda, unlike some other grasses, goes brown when dormant, not dead. Pinehurst and the USGA were unapologetic; if anything, the playability of the brown areas reinforced their message that golf needs to use less water.

    • It was beastly hot at times during both events, especially the Women’s Open. The USGA was forced to issue vouchers for free bottled water to help fans through the heat. Hot, muggy temperatures in the high 80s and 90s left fans hunting for shade and ensured brisk business in the air-conditioned merchandise tent.

    • Perhaps the most sour note of the fortnight was the arrest of NBC on-course commentator Roger Maltbie’s golf-cart driver during the Saturday round of the U.S. Open. The cart chauffeur allegedly ran over a uniformed Highway Patrol officer’s foot and refused to stop. The trooper chased down the cart and arrested the driver, who was charged with several infractions.



PINEHURST It was hard to say who had the biggest smile Sunday, Michelle Wie or the U.S. Golf Association and Pinehurst resort officials seated about her on the 18th green.

Wie’s victory in the U.S. Women’s Open capped what was billed as a “celebration of golf,” a two-week undertaking unlike anything ever attempted by the USGA or Pinehurst. But by almost any measure, the playing of the U.S. Open and U.S Women’s Open in back-to-back weeks on Pinehurst No. 2 went as smoothly – and the USGA believes, successfully – as anyone could have anticipated.

Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director, said before the U.S. Open started that the two-week run wouldn’t be perfect. But it came pretty close.

Martin Kaymer of Germany was a worthy U.S. Open champion, winning by eight shots. Wie’s two-shot victory Sunday came despite a late charge by Stacy Lewis. The 24-year-old Wie was beaming as she smooched the Women’s Open trophy under a late-afternoon sun.

“We had two great champions,” Pinehurst owner Bob Dedman said Sunday. “They’re both young, and they played phenomenal golf.”

It was Dedmon who gave the USGA the go-ahead to hold the two Opens at Pinehurst when David Fay, the former USGA executive director, first pitched the idea about five years ago. Dedman then approved a restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 by former Masters champion Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore that replaced grassy Bermuda rough with sandy waste areas, love grass and native vegetation, giving the famed course more of the brown, rustic and retro look intended when first designed by Donald Ross. The work was completed in March 2011.

“From all the coverage we’ve gotten it seems to be universally received from a positive standpoint, so we’re happy about that,” Dedman said. “Wow, two special weeks of golf. It’s a beautiful day in Pinehurst. It can’t get any better than this for me.”

Pinehurst No. 2 hosted the 1999 U.S. Open, which produced a dramatic finish in which the late Payne Stewart won. In 2005, the Open returned to Pinehurst, and Michael Campbell of New Zealand held off Tiger Woods for a surprising victory.

But an Open doubleheader? There were concerns about the disruptions a run of bad weather could cause during the U.S. Open, or needing an 18-hole playoff on Monday to determine the Open winner, or the condition of the golf course after the men finished. Would there be enough housing and transportation for all the players?

Lewis, the top-ranked women’s player in the world, was one of the more outspoken LPGA players in voicing concerns about the men going first and the playability of the course. But Lewis, who finished two shots behind Wie, had no complaints Sunday.

“I don’t think we could have done this anywhere else,” Lewis said. “I don’t think any other golf course could have stood up the way this one did.”

It helped that there was just one weather suspension during the two weeks – for a thunderstorm late in the first round of the Women’s Open. But the first round was completed early Friday morning and the second round was then played, keeping everything on schedule.

“Mother Nature gave us a big, big break,” the USGA’s Davis said.

That allowed the USGA to set up the No. 2 course as planned and give the women a test comparable to that faced by the men in the U.S. Open. While Kaymer had a 9-under-par 271 total, the rest of the U.S. Open field finished 1-under-par or higher. Wie won at 2-under 278 in the U.S. Women’s Open and was the only player under par.

“Oftentimes in these championships, it rains so much you get behind schedule or whatever, you really don’t control it,” Davis said of the course. “But we got to control it. … We were very pleased this week that this golf course really did play, overall, the same for the men and the women.”

Financially, Davis said the coupling of the two Opens might be a break-even proposition for the USGA, even though there was a savings – the USGA won’t say how much – in keeping the infrastructure in place for a second week. Davis said that would be offset by reduced revenue because corporate hospitality sales and ticket sales were coupled to cover both events.

The 2014 U.S. Women’s Open initially was planned for the Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif., but later moved to Pinehurst.

Final attendance figures for the Opens aren’t complete, and the USGA said total attendance for the two weeks will be about 340,000. In comparison, the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst drew 325,000, setting an attendance record.

Gov. Pat McCrory said in a press conference before the start of the U.S. Open that the estimated economic impact of the two weeks of golf would be about $169 million.

It’s hard to say if there will be a repeat of back-to-back Opens – at Pinehurst or anywhere else. The USGA announced last week it would play the Women’s Open in advance of the U.S. Open in the future.

A U.S. Open or U.S. Amateur may be the next big event at Pinehurst, and Dedman didn’t rule out another back-to-back.

“We’ll probably invite them back at our earliest convenience, and we’d like to have them back at their earliest convenience,” Dedman said of the USGA. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip
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