Twice As Nice: Historic Back-to-Back Has Pluses, Minuses
"Oh Frabjous Day!" How lucky can we be?
Strike up the band.
Pinehurst No. 2 is to be the record-setting, historic venue for back-to-back United States Golf Association Open Championships over a period of 11 days in June, 2014.
First we will have the 114th U.S. Open Championship, June 12-15, 2014. This will be the third U.S.Open on Pinehurst No. 2. Technically the U.S. Open is gender neutral. But in practice it is our men's national championship.
Then, without missing a beat (everyone hopes), the 69th annual U.S. Women's Open will be held on Pinehurst No. 2, June 19-22, 2014.
The Sandhills has hit the big golfing jackpot.
This can be one big bonanza for the Village of Pinehurst, Moore County, the Sandhills and the State of North Carolina. It will undoubtedly generate shovels full of cash for both the USGA and Pinehurst Resort and Country Club. And whatever television network is showing the tournaments in 2014 will save bundles of money by remaining at one site for two major telecasts.
The cynic in me assumes all of the above were the real reasons for such exaltations by the Pinehurst Mayor and Council, local Chamber of Commerce, North Carolina Governor, USGA officials, plus Don Padgett II and Bob Dedman, Pinehurst president and owner, respectively.
The U.S.Open and U.S. Women's Open have never before comprised a twin bill on the same course. Also, this is the first time in the modern history of American golf for such big championships to go one after the other on the same 18 holes.
But way back when the USGA and American golf were in their infancy, one tournament followed another more than once.
The very first championship conducted by the USGA was the United States Men's Amateur Championship, Oct 1--3, 1895, at the Newport, RI, GC. There were 32 starters in the five-round match-play championship. Then on Oct. 4, the USGA staged the first U.S.Open for 10 professionals and one amateur, who went 36 holes at stroke play on that one day over the nine-hole Newport course.
The following year, the USGA held its second U.S. Amateur Championship at Shinnecock Hills GC on Long Island, July 14-17 and its second U.S. Open at Shinnecock, July 18. Once again in 1897, the USGA conducted its third Amateur and third Open tournaments on the Chicago GC course, September 14-17, and September 18, respectively.
Pinehurst No. 2 will, in 2014, become the first course to have hosted the five primary USGA championships --- the U.S. Open, Women's Open, Senior Open plus the men's and women's USGA Amateur Championships. Not a bad endorsement for any golf course.
One member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America offered up all the obvious potential road blocks when he said on his blog site last week, "This has to be a superintendent's nightmare, right? Two of golf's biggest events staged on the same course on consecutive weeks in the middle of June in North Carolina.
"How do you keep bentgrass putting greens alive and in championship condition for two weeks in the summer? How does your staff live through two full weeks of championship pressure with three or four hours of sleep a night?
"Do you have different teams of volunteers or one team that works both weeks? Do you run shifts of volunteers?"
Paul Jett, the greenkeeper or superintendent of Pinehurst No. 2, will obviously have his plate full come June, 2014. But there is little reason to doubt he can handle it. Now, if Mother Nature will only cooperate.
Yet we remember the horrible electric storm that crashed down on the U.S. Women's Open at Pine Needles late in the Saturday third round two years ago? If anything like that happens during the U.S.Open in 2014 it will seriously impact both open championships on Pinehurst No. 2.
Also consider that there has been an 18-hole Monday playoff for the U.S. Open title once every three years on average. If there is a playoff in 2014 it will impact on early practice rounds for the women and Jett's preparation to set up Pinehurst No. 2 for the Women's Open.
As to the volunteers, that is a problem that interested me as I read Howard Ward's fine coverage of the "His-and-Hers" championships in The Pilot last Wednesday. Ward quoted David Fay, executive director of the USGA as saying, "Pinehurst is a resort course and that makes it easier to deal with these issues. It wouldn't be easy to ask members to give up a private course for two weeks. I can't imagine doing this at most places."
At first glance I felt Fay was putting down the Pinehurst RCC members who make up a large part of the volunteer corps for any big tournament here. It read as if Fay dismissed these members as being of little consequence and people he should not concern himself with nearly as much as the members of one of the more exclusive private clubs where the USGA conducts events.
So I called David Fay at the Bethpage State Park in New York, last Wednesday, where he had his hands full running the 109th U.S.Open. This man, whom I have known for about 40 years, took time to explain in more detail just what he meant by the quote that I felt was a disparaging remark about Pinehurst members.
Fay said, "What I was trying to get across was that when dealing with a resort like Pinehurst you want to deal with the decision makers. The members are not those people. The members, however, are important to us. I never meant they were not important."
The decision makers here, of course, are Padgett and Dedman.
Explanation accepted, particularly when you consider that Fay is one of the more than 4,500 members of the Pinehurst RCC, which, although a public resort golf venue, has private memberships within its structure while still being a company-owned resort. More than 3,000 of those members live in Moore County and regularly play one or more of the eight Pinehurst courses, according to Janeen Driscoll, director of public relations for the resort.
It is from that pool of 4,500 members across the nation that the club enlists a great many of the volunteers who work these big tournaments at Pinehurst. That is a bigger membership to draw upon than exists at any private club the USGA uses for championships.
The USGA has conducted nine of its championships at Pinehurst No. 2 over the last 47 years. Fay has been the head man for these operations for the last 20 years which put him in charge during the 1994 US Senior Open, the 1999 and 2005 US Opens and the 2008 US Amateur Championship on Pinehurst No. 2.
Pinehurst members were a major source for the volunteers who manned all sorts of tasks on and around the golf courses during those USGA championships.
David Fay indicated these folks were different than members at private golf clubs. I agree. They are different because they put out more readily and do a better job than any volunteers I have run across in all the years I have covered golf in many countries.
The USGA Executive Director likened Pinehurst RCC to St. Andrews in Scotland, saying, "Both are really public courses with memberships. Pinehurst Resort has a membership for thousands of people but also sells tee times to resort guests and to the public if those times are open. St. Andrews sells tee times for the Old Course to the public but also has the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews with its private membership in that grand old building behind the first tee."
St. Andrews, of course, is where this grand old game of golf started about 600 years ago, give or take a few decades.
Fay indicated that Pinehurst No. 2 will play at about 7,400--7,500 yards for the 2014 U.S. Open and four days later play approximately 6,600---6,700 for the U.S. Women's Open.
Will the women be driving into divots the size of a man's toupee left by the male golfers the preceding week? Fay hoped not but admitted it could happen.
I remember Jerilyn Britz winning the 1979 U.S. Women's Open at Brooklawn CC in Connecticut by 2 shots after Debbie Massey had a chance to tie her with a birdie on the 72nd and final hole, a flat and straight par-4. But Massey's drive rolled into a rather deep divot from where she tried to reach the green with a 4 iron.
Massey made her swing for the approach shot and the ball squirted out way right of the green. Massey bogeyed the hole to finish 2 shots back in a tie for second. But the real damage was that she seriously injured her right hand and was unable to play well for almost two years because of that divot shot.
No matter how it turns out, this rather astonishing golf double-header at Pinehurst in 2014 is not to be considered a test run for similar "twofers" at other golf venues down the road, according to Fay.
"It was simply something we felt could only be tried first at Pinehurst No. 2," Fay said. "There may not be any other place we can do this. Maybe if it's very successful and the people of Pinehurst are happy with it, the USGA can try it again down there some time. But let's see how it goes this one time first."
I asked if someday the USGA might hold the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 and a week later hold the Women's Open at Pine Needles.
Fay answered by saying, "I doubt it. But let's say hypothetically that the Women's Open is at Pine Needles in 2020, it might be a year or so later that we have another U.S. Open at Pinehurst. You could have something like that."
The USGA boss would not throw that out willy-nilly without something substantial in mind. So maybe there is hope for Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club, Peggy Kirk Bell's family golfing digs, where the Women's Open was such a success in 1996, 2001 and 2007.
As a long established octogenarian who plays golf with others of my age plus John Derr, my favorite nonagenarian, I will testify that most old fogies hereabouts do not concern themselves much with five years hence. We learned long ago to pace ourselves one day at a time.
If we worry at all it might be whether we will make next Thursday's tee time and not whether we will be on hand for the two 2014 Opens, let alone the possible 2020 Women's Open at Pine Needles.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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