Agronomy Changes at Pinehurst

by | Jun 11, 2024 | Pro News

By George Waters, USGA

A Look at the Subtle Agronomy Changes at Pinehurst No. 2 from 2014 to 2024

It has been 10 years since Pinehurst No. 2 last hosted a U.S. Open. In that time, the course’s architecture has remained remarkably stable. No new tees or bunkers have been added, and no greens have been redesigned or relocated. The course will look and feel quite familiar to competitors and fans. However, subtle but significant changes over the past decade have occurred that may not be eye-catching but will certainly impact the players at this year’s U.S. Open.

Native Area Evolution

The sandscapes surrounding the fairways at Pinehurst No. 2 were famously restored (by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw) a few years before the 2014 U.S. Open. They initially featured clumps of native wiregrass with plenty of exposed sand in between. Since that time, many different plants have naturally filled in some of the gaps. The maintenance team has developed an effective and ever-changing management program to preserve the desired vegetation and control plants that have a negative impact on playability, but golfers in this year’s U.S. Open will find more vegetation and more potential trouble in the sandscapes than there was in 2014.

Some of that is thanks to selective wiregrass planting over the past year. As Pinehurst No. 2 superintendent John Jeffreys explained: “When other courses host a U.S. Open, they typically make the rough taller than it is for normal play. We don’t have that option here because we don’t have any mown rough, but what we can do is add wiregrass.”

Additional wiregrass plants were established near the landing areas for U.S. Open competitors and will be relocated after the championship. “We don’t want too much wiregrass alongside the fairways for regular play because it will slow things down and make the course more difficult for the average golfer,” said Jeffreys. “After the fans and infrastructure from the U.S. Open are gone, we’ll transplant most of what we added to restore areas outside the ropes.”

In addition to wiregrass plantings, the native areas have some extra challenges because plants have emerged naturally. One example is “pineweed,” a native plant that began popping up in the sandscapes over the past several years. It has wiry stems that make it hard to make solid contact with a ball lying below its canopy, and its presence certainly caught players’ attention in the 2019 U.S. Amateur, the last USGA championship held on the course. Warm weather this spring has given the pineweed a head start on its annual growth and the maintenance team won’t be doing anything to thin it out before the U.S. Open. Golfers beware!

Ultradwarf Bermudagrass Greens

This will be the first U.S. Open ever played on ultradwarf bermudagrass putting greens, a warm-season grass that thrives in the heat and humidity of the North Carolina summer. The 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 was played on bentgrass greens, but they were converted to “Champion’’ bermudagrass shortly afterward. The reason was simple: bermudagrass greens provide better playing conditions throughout the year for a busy resort in this climate. While bentgrass greens struggle during the hot summer, ultradwarf bermudagrass greens are at their healthiest. In fact, managing aggressive summer growth is one of the main challenges of bermudagrass greens.

From a U.S. Open perspective, the ultradwarf greens allow more leeway in course conditioning during the championship.

“With creeping bentgrass greens in Pinehurst, you were not only worried about stress during the championship, but you were also worried about recovery afterward,” said Darin Bevard, the USGA’s senior director of championship agronomy. “With ultradwarf greens, we should have ideal growth conditions during and after the championship, which gives us more freedom and flexibility to get the playability we want during the U.S. Open.”

Along with some extra flexibility in course preparation, Jeffreys believes the natural playing characteristics of the bermudagrass greens will have some positive impacts during the championship. “I think the bermudagrass greens play firmer than bentgrass if all other things are equal,” said Jeffreys. “I also think that they stay more consistent throughout the day.”

The dense growth of ultradwarf bermudagrass produces a tight, firm surface. Under the precise moisture management of a U.S. Open, the challenging plateau greens of Pinehurst No. 2 should give the players all they can handle. Speed will not be a problem either, especially on these slippery surfaces. In the leadup to the U.S. Open, the maintenance team has spent extra time refining the bermudagrass with vertical mowing and topdressing to deliver optimal ball roll. They also have a new tool to help them deliver the best greens possible – the USGA’s GS3 smart ball, which measures green speed, firmness, smoothness, and trueness.

The changes at Pinehurst No. 2 aren’t the kind that fans will likely notice on television or even sitting in the grandstands. However, they will certainly catch the attention of elite golfers trying to navigate a challenging course to win our national championship. A few tough lies in the sandscapes and some firm bounces off the greens are all it takes at Pinehurst No. 2 to turn a great round into a struggle. The course has always loved stealing strokes, and 10 years of evolution has done nothing to change that.

Photo Courtesy of Pinehurst Resort

George Waters is the assistant director of USGA Green Section Education.



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