Pinehurst restoration looks like gem

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What would Donald Ross do?

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw don't own wristbands with this inscribed, but the question was etched into their minds as they worked for a year to restore Pinehurst No. 2 to the original intentions of the famed architect for the 2014 U.S Open.

From the opening of No. 2 in 1907 to his death in 1948, Ross tinkered with his masterpiece.

"It was his baby," said Mike Davis, the United States Golf Association's executive director.

Coore and Crenshaw uncovered old photos revealing sandy wiregrass areas that melted into the fairways. So they removed 35 to 40 acres of rough to bring them back, reducing water use by 40 percent. They widened the fairways to offer more strategic options for the players.

Aesthetically, No. 2 will look strikingly different from its previous incarnations in the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Opens. Before the restoration, there was not much visual distinction from the fairways to the rough. It was just a sea of Bermuda grass.

Now the sandy wiregrass areas produce a profound break from fairway to rough, bringing back the natural look that Ross combed from this Sandhills region of North Carolina.

"The whole idea was to bring back to the 1930s and '40s, the way Ross had it," Davis said. "Ultimately, Bill and Ben weren't trying to absolutely mimic Ross's design, because the yardage doesn't work for today's game.

"What they really tried to do was say, what was the intent on every hole architecturally and let's see if we can make that work for both the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women's Open."

Crenshaw hopes that Ross would be proud of the reverence that he and Coore showed for his intentions.

"This restoration is an appreciation of a true artist," said Crenshaw, who with Coore is also working on a restoration of Shinnecock Hills.

What will the players say about this new-look U.S. Open?

"I can't believe that this is a U.S. Open," Davis believes they might say.

That's because all they know is narrow fairways, fast, firm greens and high rough at this championship.

Where did this idea come from that a U.S. Open has to have these defining characteristics?

In the mid-1950s, Richard Tufts, then the USGA president, and Joe Dey, the USGA executive director, devised the setup philosophy for the tournament. Tufts was a grandson of the James W. Tufts, the founder of the Pinehurst Resort.

Other than the introduction of graduated rough in 2006, this recipe for the U.S. Open setup has been mostly in place for the last 60 years.

"That's what so funny about it," Davis said. "We're going back to the original Donald Ross intent at No. 2, and it goes a little against the Tufts family, particularly Richard Tufts."

This unconventional setup for an Open is refreshing news to Hunter Mahan, who finished in a tie for fourth last year at Merion.

"It's obviously a dramatic change and the opposite of what everybody is doing these days, which is add bunkers, length and deep rough," he said. "I liked that Pinehurst went the opposite way."

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