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Arnold Palmer: Pinehurst ‘was heaven, really’

Pinehurst No. 2 is considered one of the world’s top courses and holds special memories and feelings for several golfers who are from North Carolina or first made their names playing college golf in the state:

Arnold Palmer,

former Wake Forest player

“I was about 18 when I first went to Pinehurst. I was at Wake Forest, and I went there with my dad and a friend of ours from my hometown of Latrobe (Pa.) named Harry Saxman. I loved it. I thought it was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. It was heaven, really. I liked the way the golf course was built. It was a natural for me. But we only played one day. This was in December and it snowed about 6 inches. We had to go home because it was snowing too heavily.

“I won the Southern Conference individual championship in 1949 on No. 2. I remember on the last hole, I had a one-shot lead on Harvie Ward, who was playing at (North) Carolina. Harvie needed to hole his second shot to tie me. He left it about 3 inches from the hole. I didn’t think it had a chance, but he damn near made it. I beat him by a stroke.

“I liked No. 2 because it was pretty much all pine needles and not very much rough, like they’ve remade it now. One of the reasons I liked it was that it was difficult to play, but around the greens there were a lot of runoffs. You had to run the ball up on the green, and if you didn’t do it properly, it would run off the other side.

“That’s why I think this is going to be a great Open, to see the players have to deal with those kinds of conditions again.”

Curtis Strange,

former Wake Forest player

“I played the ’99 U.S. Open there, won the North and South twice and played there in college two or three times and we played the World Open there for a while.

“My best memory is winning the North and South against George Burns in 1975. He was the best amateur in the country at the time, and I was just a sophomore at Wake Forest. The North and South was a big deal then. So for me to be just 19 years old and to win it, that was so great for me.

“I fell in love with No. 2 the first time I played it. We were a bunch of college guys down there playing, and we had to pinch pennies to find a place to stay and eat. We bunked together in somebody’s apartment and had to find money for the entry fee.

“The Carolinas have such a history of golf, it only seems right that the Open is back at Pinehurst. My question is what took them so long to bring it back? We deserve it. It’s as historical as Winged Foot, Oak Hill, the Country Club and Pebble Beach. It holds its own with all those places.”

Davis Love III, Charlotte native,

former North Carolina player

“It’s our Pebble Beach of the South. It’s a great place to have an Open. I was probably 10 when I first went down there. It seemed like a big ol’ golf course to me, but I grew into it.”

Webb Simpson, Raleigh native, former Wake Forest player, Charlotte resident

“It’s special. Pinehurst is kind of a second home for me. My parents had a place there growing up. So we would go down there most every weekend. It’s one of those places where I have a lot of history.”

“I played a lot of junior golf tournaments, a lot of amateur golf tournaments. My dad caddied for me at the Southern Amateur there in (2007) at the Country Club of North Carolina. So it’s a home event in a sense, but also I’m one of the few guys, I think, that’s super vocal about loving Pinehurst No. 2.

“I think it gets forgotten a lot because we’re never really there. The Merions and the Pine Valleys and the Oakmonts get talked about a little more.”

Jay Haas,

former Wake Forest player

“The first time I played No. 2 was my freshman year at Wake Forest. I remember it very differently from the first time I saw it. The condition of the course was not as good then as it is now. It was very bumpy around the fringes. I remember I couldn’t putt from the fringes. Since then, it hasn’t gotten any easier.

“My memory of the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst – I finished tied for 17th – was of Sunday and what an odd day it was, mostly because of the weather. It was chilly and damp, and Payne Stewart wore a short-sleeved rain jacket and nobody had ever seen that. He’d cut off the sleeves with scissors himself. Now everybody has one.”

Bill Haas, Charlotte native,

former Wake Forest player

“I remember watching my dad there the year Payne won. I haven’t played there that much, I wish I had a little more – then I’d have a little more knowledge. I don’t have much feel for the course. But it still feels like somewhat of a home game for me. By the time the Open comes, I’ll have gotten a few rounds in to get a feel for the fairways and greens.”

David Scott