"Ernie Banks would love this," said USGA Commissioner David Fay. Fay invoked the Cubs legend, who was famous for saying "Let's play two," in reference to the 2014 men's and women's U.S. Opens, which for the first time ever will be played in consecutive weeks on the same course, Pinehurst No. 2.
"We felt like it was an opportunity to not only help the women's Open, but to put an extra wrinkle into the U.S. Open," said Fay. "And as you know, the U.S. Open is not restricted to male players, so it's possible to imagine a scenario where someone qualifies for both." That would be one very big wrinkle, and it would also make the weeks of June 12-15 and June 19-22, the proposed dates for the events, very busy for one player.
Besides the publicity, Fay cited the cost savings, not only for the USGA, which would only need to set up one course, but for TV, other media outlets and fans (the USGA is working on package deals). "It wasn't the driving force, but it was a nice coincidence," Fay added.
The move came about because the USGA had been in discussions to hold the women's Open at Pebble Beach in 2014, but Pebble is hosting the 2012 U.S. Open and felt like they needed more time in between. Faced with the search for a quality venue for the women, USGA officials struck on the idea of the Pinehurst double play.
"The nature of No. 2 makes it the perfect place for this," said Fay. "Because there's no heavy rough around the greens, it makes it very easy for us to convert the course for the women. Look at somewhere like Bethpage Black, or many of the old classic courses, the rough around the green would need to be cut back, and we didn't want it to look like a construction site or that we were totally remaking the course for the women."
The other factors that make Pinehurst ideal: it has seven other courses, so the facility doesn't have to shut down; Pinehurst Village is filled with golfers, which makes two weeks of hosting easier and provides a good source of volunteers, as does nearby Ft. Bragg; and it's a public facility with a single owner who could give the green light without consulting a sprawling membership.
"This is not necessarily a one off, but I wouldn't say it's the model going forward either," Fay said of the double dip. "You really have to be sensitive to find the right course, but there might be another course where it works." Fay also pointed out that the arrangement would not prevent the women's Open from returning to nearby Pine Needles, which hosted the tournament in 2007, 2001 and 1996.
In the event of a tie at the U.S. Open, the 18-hole playoff would start on Monday morning and the course would be available to the women for practice rounds in the afternoon.
"Ideally we'd have a situation like they do in tennis," said Fay, "where both events are played over one course concurrently. But given the number of players and the differences in set-up, that's not realistic. This is the next best thing."