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

06/23/2014 5:11 PM

06/23/2014 5:19 PM

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.”

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