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U.S. Open preview: Pinehurst No. 2 – golf the way it should be

With the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens coming just around the dogleg in Pinehurst, the question raised by the gentleman at the next table was a good and timely one – what makes Pinehurst No. 2, which will host both championships, so special?

“It’s not spectacular like Augusta National or Pebble Beach,” he said. “It doesn’t have lakes, not even a creek, only one tiny pond. No waterfalls. It’s relatively flat, no steep falloffs or rises. No mountain views, no ocean scenery. Where’s the sizzle?”

Well, he was told, if you’ve come to Pinehurst for sizzle, you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere. They don’t do sizzle here at No. 2. Just golf, pure golf.

No more scenery needed. It’s beautiful, achingly beautiful but in a quiet, elegant way. Gently rolling fairways wander through the trees. Pine needles lie deep. Sand bunkers beckon the bold. Greens hide their secrets behind inviting smiles. As someone said, it was made for playing golf, not for taking pictures.

The late golf writer Charles Price knew what was special about No. 2 and Pinehurst itself. He said it is “what style is in golf as opposed to the merely fashionable.” He had a deep love for the place and despised “the confetti with which other golf resorts today carnivalize themselves.”

There’s not much sizzle around the Sandhills, but if you want to feel the place, if you want to understand what the late Bob Harlow meant when he wrote, “There is something mysterious about the way it soothes the soul,” wander around, calling up from the yellowed pages of memory Denny Shute’s victory here in the 1936 PGA Championship, Francis Ouimet’s championship in the North & South Amateur, Ben Hogan scoring his first individual PGA Tour victory in 1940, Babe Zaharias’ title in the 1947 Women’s North & South Amateur.

There’s a statue of Payne Stewart just outside the clubhouse, him kicking up a leg and punching the air after he won the 1999 U.S. Open on No. 2. Makes you almost feel it’s real.

There are long lists of competitors in the clubhouse hallway, there among some fascinating memorabilia – Jack Nicklaus, Curtis Strange, Johnny Miller, Ben Crenshaw, Raymond Floyd, Tom Watson, Jay Haas, Craig Stadler, Miller Barber, Billy Casper, Sam Snead, Cary Middlecoff, Byron Nelson, Walter Hagen and Michael Campbell, who won the U.S. Open on No. 2 in 2005.

Wander around and you’ll feel it, hear it, smell it, taste it everywhere – on the course, on the streets, in the shops – golf, the way it should be.

There are few places like it.

Longtime USGA administrator David Fay said, “The United States may not have a St. Andrews, but Pinehurst is the closest thing to St. Andrews we have in terms of that feel for the history of the game, the passion of the game. The whole place just exudes golf. Pinehurst has obviously proven it’s in the top tier of golf.”

Ron Green Sr. is a retired Charlotte Observer sports columnist.

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