U.S. Open Courses Dazzle Teens
While Thursday marked the official start to the three-day competition in the seventh annual U.S. Kids Golf Teen World Championship, on Wednesday players were all abuzz as they flocked the grounds of Pine Needles and Pinehurst Resort for their last practice rounds.
Golfers were offered the opportunity to get in a practice round on Donald Ross’ crown jewel and newly restored Pinehurst No. 2 track on Tuesday. Then the players, which number close to 525 overall, were sent out to their respective tournament locations for another practice round Wednesday.
The group of 500-plus teen participants in this year’s world championships is as about as diverse as one could imagine, ranging in age from 13 to 18 and hailing from all stretches of the United States and 40 other countries. Still a few principal issues unite them all, including a love for the game of golf and a passion to be the best they can be, as well the pure pleasure and thrill of being able tee it up on a pair of revered U.S. Open venues.
Over at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club, players from each of the three girls’ age groups (15-18, 14 and 13) speckled the lush green grass of the Southern Pines landmark layout that was designed by Donald Ross and played host to the 1996 and 2007 USGA Women’s U.S. Opens.
At the practice range, Pirada Svasti Na Ayudhya, 14, from Bangkok, Thailand, took a brief respite from a long practice session of banging one brilliantly struck ball after another to discuss her feelings about the prestigious event.
“I have played in U.S. Kids Golf events in Thailand but never before in America,” said Svasti. “Aside from its history, this course (Pine Needles) is really beautiful. The greens and everything are much different here than in Thailand. Back home we don’t have very many trees.
“I look at this course as a legendary one, because it has had the U.S. Open, so I did not ever really imagine I would get the chance to play here. But here I am, and it is a neat experience and a most memorable one.”
Over on the putting and chipping green, situated between the range and the first tee, Leslie Ginter, 14, from Lexington, Ky., was working on her touch with a sand wedge. Tuesday she was just a mere 5.4 miles away at Pinehurst Resort on the famed No. 2 Course
“This experience means a lot to me,” said Ginter. “It is a big opportunity to get the chance to play two U.S. Open courses when I am only 14 years old, and I have enjoyed it.
“Plus I had seen No. 2 on the video game (Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf) and on TV, so it was awesome to actually be on that layout for a round. The two things that struck me the most about Pinehurst No. 2 were that it was really pretty and really tough.”
About 60 yards or so from where Ginter was chipping, Randall Heine was standing behind the first tee and 18th green waiting for his 13-year-old daughter, Anna, to finish her final practice round. The Heine family live in Baton Rouge, La., and they have a long-term love affair with Sandhills golf.
“This is the fourth year we have been coming to the Pinehurst area for U.S. Kids events,” Randall Heine said, “and we just love it here. Anna has been watching and playing golf for years. So when 2007 rolled around and Christie Kerr won that U.S. Open here (at Pine Needles), I told Anna maybe one day we would be able to come to Pinehurst.
“Because the U.S. Kids tour moved (a stop) to Baton Rouge we found out that the world golf championships moved here to Pinehurst and Southern Pines, and we were just ecstatic about it.”
At the Resort
Meanwhile, over at Pinehurst Resort, the 15- to 18-year-old boys were getting in one final day of pre-tournament practice.
Players were scattered all over different locales of the resort’s grounds, including the world-renowned Maniac Hill (driving range), the practice and putting greens, and out on course No. 4.
Over on the far left side of Maniac Hill — within eyesight of No. 2’s 18th hole — 15-year-old Rohan Govil was entrenched in a hard-core practice session as his father, Amit Govil, watched on as his son’s swing coach.
The two made the trip all the way from their home in Gurgaon, India — located about 20 miles south of India’s capital, New Delhi — for the world championship.
“This is my second year playing over here,” Rohan Govil said, “and I think it is an awesome experience playing a U.S. Open golf course, where all the best golfers in the world play. My goal in the future is to hopefully be one of those players. So it felt really good.”
Last year he had played other Pinehurst courses, but never Ross’ masterpiece Pinehurst No. 2 track.
“The thing that struck me about the course most were the greens,” he added. “They are really cool, with a dome shape that cause even slightly mis-hit shots to roll off of them. So you have to be really smart with your approach shots.
“As far as this area, I think that a lot of the world’s best juniors come here, and it is one of the world’s best golf courses. So it is a good place to play this tournament.”
A few hundred yards away, on the first tee of course No. 4, Patrick Mills, from Tampa, Fla., took a moment to discuss the event before heading out for a practice round.
“It was just a lot of fun to get to play on the future U.S. Open course,” said the 15-year-old Mills. “Obviously this was a huge experience for me, especially since No. 2 has already had two (U.S. Opens) here and will be hosting its third in 2014.
“The course is great, it is in near-perfect condition, and it really tests even the top players. Especially with no rough now, there is no safety from the bunkers and wire grass waste areas.
Samuel Uhland is another Florida boy playing in the 15-18 division.
The aspect that really made an impression on him was how vast the main grounds proper are at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club, which features five courses all going directly out of the clubhouse, a massive driving range, and an expanse of first-rate practice areas for tuning of the short game and bunker play.
“Yesterday was my first time on No. 2,” Uland, the 15-year-old from Jacksonville, said, “and I was pretty young the last time the U.S. Open came through here (2005). But I have seen a lot of reruns and highlights on TV, especially of that last day in 1999 with Payne Stewart and his magic moment at 18.
“As a result I was familiar with the history and all that coming into the tournament. Being able to play the same course the pros play and then later being able to know I will be watching it in 2014 (on TV) and say to myself, ‘Oh, I remember that hole – it was brutal,’ is really cool.
“But what struck me the most was the scope of this place. I knew there was No. 2 and a couple of other courses, but I did not expect something this big and immersive.
“So to find something this excellent in such a small town is just a jewel.”
Contact F.W. Manning II at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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