1. NO ROUGH!
For the first time in modern history, Bill Coore says, the U.S. Open will be played without its traditional rough. Coore/Crenshaw yanked out 35 acres of primary Bermuda rough that had flanked the fairways, replacing it with hardpan, sandy scrub, pine straw and wispy wiregrass.
NET EFFECT: Tougher. True, the fairways are wider, but they'll play firmer and faster, especially on the edges where irrigation heads were eliminated. With less resistance from thicker grass, more balls will race into the sandy scrub. Also, as Pinehurst director of grounds Bob Farren notes, "Players like to have control of their ball. If they missed an old 26-yard-wide fairway, they knew what they were getting in three-inch rough. Now they won't know until they're 10 feet from the ball what they have. It could be clean hardpan, but it also could be in a bad footprint, in loose sand, or in a wiregrass clump."
2. ALTERED VISUALS
Coore says the players who haven't seen No. 2 since 2005 "aren't going to recognize it." Fairway widths increased by 50 percent, and the place simply looks transformed, now that sandy waste areas have replaced traditional rough. The overall effect is a much more natural, far less manicured track.
NET EFFECT: No change. Although Farren points out that the course has been lengthened, necessitating a few new or altered tees, these are the best players in the world—they'll adapt.
3. DECISIONS, DECISIONS…
With the 26-yard-wide fairways in 2005, there was only one play—hit it straight, with something less than driver, if necessary. With 40-yard-wide fairways it'll be possible to cut corners on doglegs, but at the risk of running into bunkers or sandy areas. It will also be easy to run into trouble spots while trying to hit to the proper side of the fairway to leave the best angle to the pin.
NET EFFECT: Tougher. And more exciting for the fans, who get to watch players (shock! horror!) strategize their way around a U.S. Open course for a change.
4. NO. 4 IS NOW A PAR 4, AND NO. 5 IS A PAR 5
The USGA made a radical change. It converted No. 2's greatest hole, the par-4 5th (which played 476 yards in the 2005 U.S. Open) into a 570-yard par 5. At the same time, they transformed the 569-yard, par-5 fourth into a 530-yard par 4.
NET EFFECT: Easier. Coore says the fourth green was always more receptive to a long shot than the fifth, so unlike some par 5s that were converted into par 4s (Winged Foot, Olympic) it'll work well as a longer par 4. The fifth will sport more frightening hole locations than it did as a par 4, but because of the downhill, right-to-left slope of the fairway, most players will be able to reach the green in two.
5. NEW GRASSES, NEW IRRIGATION, NEW GREENS
Removing perimeter irrigation heads will yield crispy brown turf along fairway edges, so the farther that players stray from the center lines (where the sprinklers are), the more inconsistent the lie will be. New A1/A4 creeping bentgrass will have the greens playing firm. The par-3 15th features an additional 600 square feet, and at least two right-side locations will be new to the pros. On the par-3 17th, Coore says he "barely flattened the area behind the front-right bunker that they were not able to pin before." And he set up the green for a new front-left pin.
NET EFFECT: No change. The new right-side hole locations at No. 15 will cause some angst, and the firmer greens will rattle players if the wind dries them out. That said, breezes seldom blow too hard on this inland site. And being in the hot, humid southeast, they'll have to spritz the greens anyway, so there should be sufficient moisture to mitigate the extra firmness.
Pinehurst will play like no U.S. Open course in history. "I'm not sure it will be tougher," says Coore, "but there will be more mystery. With the sand and wiregrass, you'll see some of the most spectacular approach shots, and the most bizarre. It will be the greatest variety of shots you've ever seen in a U.S. Open."