Risk, Reward on Third Hole
Donald Ross believed one of the true tests of golf was the ability to hit the long iron. At the time he arrived at the present routing of Pinehurst No. 2 in 1935, the layout was chock full of stern par-4s that required well-struck 2 and 3-irons to reach the green -- holes like the second, fifth, 11th, 14th and 18th. (Never mind that today's techno-charged limberbacks hit 8 and 9-irons; that's a conversation for another day.)
He also believed in mixing the stout holes with a fiend of a different sort -- the short par-4 that requires touch and tactics and the ability to manage your way through some 300-plus yards of minuscule targets and intriguing hazards.
The third hole on Pinehurst No. 2 is the consummate example that good things indeed come in small packages. It's 335 yards from the blue tees, and though it serves up a goodly share of birdies, it's fun to play and entertaining to watch.
"I've always thought the third hole was one of the nicest little holes," said Sam Snead, who won three North and South Opens at Pinehurst in the 1930s and '40s. "It had chocolate drops down the left side. On the right side was sandy waste area. The fairway got narrower as you went. Then you had that bunch grass. If you get up against that you'd have to pitch it sideways. There were more fives than threes made there."
The third hole was not part of the original 1907 design for No. 2 but was added in 1923, when Ross built it and the par-3 sixth hole that runs parallel to the right. Three is a slight dogleg right with a wire-grass transitional zone down the right side and a cluster of pine trees between its fairway and six. There is a cross bunker that encroaches from the right just under a hundred yards from the green and stretches nearly across the fairway. There are two bunkers on the left side of the fairway. The green is well-bunkered and falls off sharply in the rear toward the fifth green.
Players in the 2008 U.S. Amateur have used a variety of tactics on the third hole. During stroke-play qualifying, the field used a new tee built just to the left and beyond the second green that elongates the hole to more than 380 yards, so there was little reward in playing aggressively. But for match play, the original back tees are being used.
Some long-hitters have hit drivers within 10 or 20 yards of the green.
Other strong hitters, not wishing to hit the big club but still not wanting to lay up short of the cross bunker, have hit a 3-wood or other fairway metal.
And many players have hit a 2-iron or less off the tee, landing it around 120 yards from the green and safely short of the bunker.
"That's the great thing about that hole -- the options," said USGA official Mike Davis. "The intriguing thing is that if you keep the tee markers on the right and a guy is going to go for it, it requires him to curve the ball around and not just stand there and bang away with the driver."
Davis Love III took driver and tried to hit the green every match when winning the 1984 North and South Amateur. Amateur Hank Kuehne drove the green in the 1999 U.S. Open. Phillip Mollica hit one tee shot over the green in winning the 2006 North and South. Payne Stewart, by contrast, hit an iron off the tee and a safe short-iron onto the putting surface each day in winning the 1999 Open.
The wind and hole location are key elements in the decision-making process off the third tee. Playing into a slight breeze in Wednesday's first round and with a back-right flag, Morgan Hoffman took driver and aimed for the left side of the fairway.
"I thought if I hit a nice draw down the left side, I'd have plenty of green to work with and a good angle," Hoffman said. "If the flag was in the front, I'd have played it differently. I would have laid up with a 4-iron and then hit a full wedge into the green, something I could stop the ball close to the hole with."
If the wind is from the west and helping the golfers on holes one through four, which run west-to-east, Hoffman would be more aggressive.
"Downwind, I'd go for the green," he said. "I've hit it on the front of the green in the North and South."
Wednesday, three of the longest hitters in the field came through within an hour of one another in the first round of match play, and each played the hole differently.
Jamie Lovemark hit a driver into the woods to the right and fortunately had a clear pitch from the pine straw from 20 yards short of the green. Bill Horschel hit a 3-wood and was even with the cross bunker, but safely positioned left of the hazard. And Kyle Stanley played an iron short of the bunker.
Long-hitters Derek Fathauer and Jhonattan Vegas both pounded drivers in their first-round match. Vegas pitched up from 25 yards short of the green and made his birdie to win the hole.
"Three is a great match-play hole," Vegas said. "You have options to play aggressively on that hole. But you've got to hit a really good drive or you're going to have a difficult recovery to the green."
Pinehurst officials in the mid-1990s removed a half dozen mature pine trees that encircled the backside of the green. They surmised that the trees probably had not been there when Ross died in 1948, and their removal took away a visual backstop as the player stood over his approach shot.
Instead he saw a green rising from the flat sandy soil in typical turtleback fashion for Pinehurst No. 2 -- and nothing in back of the green to provide definition. And if the hole is cut in the back third of the green and it's mid September through early July and the greens are quick and firm, an aggressive approach can well bound over the back edge. From there, the ball rolls into the never-never land of the slope headed toward five green.
One of the few tools architects today have against the creep of technology is the illusion. They scrape out ground in front of a green. They remove objects behind a green. The player knows the yardage, but without the landmarks he doesn't trust the number.
From the fairway, the green on the third hole of Pinehurst No. 2 looks like an upside-down wok. And the goal is pitch a penny on top. That's plenty of challenge even at 325 yards.
More like this story