Pinehurst No.2 looks set to be the benchmark for all future U.S Open courses to follow


If you didn’t know already, professional golfers are really good. As we have just seen at the recently completed Travelers Championship, if the setup on a golf course is just slightly wrong, the modern-day professional can make hay and shoot exceptionally low scores.

When we watch professional golf tournaments, we are now well accustomed to seeing winning scores well into low figures. With the advancement of equipment and this new breed of golfer bulking up and being able to hit the ball a mile, courses such as TPC River Highlands, which has hosted the Travelers since the 1980s, can no longer be defended and the course is often at the mercy of the players.

Arguably the most iconic golf course of all, Augusta National, is spending tens of millions of dollars to add length to its course and is constantly finding new ways to keep the course a true and honest test. 

The 2024 PGA Championship, which was held at Valhalla, looked tough, but the reality was anything but. 

With birdies very much the order of the week, Xander Schauffele’s winning score of -21 tied a major’s record for the lowest-ever winning score. Many left the PGA Championship thinking that the challenge was far too easy. Majors are meant to be hard to win; it wasn’t at Valhalla.

With many hoping that the USGA would provide a much sterner test for the 2024 U.S. Open, the golfing public certainly got their wish. 

The setting for the 2024 U.S. Open was Pinehurst No. 2. Having hosted many majors, including the 1999, 2005, and 2014 U.S. Opens, Pinehurst offers a challenge that few courses in the world can match. 

By no means the longest, the course contains many quirks, but after a week where only five of the 156-man field were able to shoot under par, Pinehurst earned rave reviews for the test it posed to the best in the world. 

With many hoping that the setup around Pinehurst will be replicated for future majors, let’s break down what made Pinehurst such a brilliant and thorough examination.

Generous fairways, but miss them at your peril


So often on the PGA Tour, we have become used to seeing wide sweeping fairways or fairways lined with trees, but at Pinehurst, the challenge off the fairway was completely unique. 

With a lack of rough, the fairways were instead lined with a sandy waste area. Littered with different plants and bushes, if a player strayed off line it would be a complete lottery as to what the lie would be. In some instances the players would be presented with a simple next shot, whereas others wouldn’t be so lucky and would need to work their way back into the hole. 

Throughout the fours rounds the waste areas were a constant feature and they had their say right up until the final moments.

Any chances that Rory McIlroy had of winning the tournament outright were gone after his drive fell foul to a bad lie within the area.

Bryson DeChambeau almost blew his chance when his drive up 18 flew deep into the heart of it.

Only in a handful of events do players encounter these native areas, the other tournament where they have pride of place is the Phoenix Open. Even when the rough is thick and lush, the very best players can often overcome the challenge. However, the waste areas present an entirely different challenge altogether. It would be nice to see more tournaments on the Tour use these features. It automatically makes any course so much harder. 

Runoff areas ensure approach shots have to be on the money


Often a green’s best defense is the rough, but with an absence of it around Pinehurst, the course organizers resorted to much simpler measures.

A feature of the U.S. Open was the runoff areas. Harsh slopes were positioned around each and every green. If a player was just an inch out with their approach, the ball would fall foul to the runoff area and meander back down the fairway or even worse, fall into the waste area. 

Whereas the player would have expected to be on the green for birdie, the run off areas left every player facing a tricky up and down to save their par. It is one of the main reasons why so few players at the U.S. Open finished under par, and it made it almost impossible for any player who wasn’t among the leaders to make up ground and challenge up the leaderboard.

Lightning fast greens 

If a player had found the fairway and plotted their way onto the green without falling foul of the native areas, you would think they would be able to breathe out a big sigh of relief. However, the Pinehurst test had one more big challenge for the players to overcome, and that was the lightning speed of the greens.

The greens around the course were immaculate and some of the best greens that the players will play all year, however they were frighteningly quick. With the native areas lurking, any putt that was hit too fast would face the real possibility of falling off the green. 

On the PGA Tour, we have become so accustomed to seeing players rattle the ball into the center of the hole, but that simply couldn’t happen at Pinehurst. With the players so afraid of bashing their ball past the hole, most putts would end up dying into the hole, and every made putt required skill and a bucket load of touch and feel.

At the business end of the tournament it would be the greens that would steal the show. With nerves jangling, both Bryson DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy would end up missing putts they would normally make with ease and it ensured that the drama would end up going right down to the final hole.

Pinehurst: a physically and mentally exhausting test

On the PGA Tour, fans and journalists often get tired of how long a round can sometimes take; however, around Pinehurst, rounds that ended up taking over four hours were usually fully justified.

Every shot required significant thought as a player knew that just one misread, one yardage error, or one errant drive could spell the end of their tournament.

Upon completing his victory, Bryson DeChambeau spoke of how mentally exhausted he was and that he had never experienced a course and setup as tough as he had seen at Pinehurst. 

While we all love watching golfers playing free-flowing, amazing golf, Pinehurst turned the U.S. Open into a grind. In an era where birdies and eagles are often the game’s key currency, seeing the best in the world struggle and scramble for endless pars was a welcome sight. 

It would be foolish to have a setup like we saw at Pinehurst every week, but when seen sparingly, as we saw at the U.S. Open, the action has the capability to leave everyone gripped and produce a tournament that will go down in history and live long in the memory. 

The players may not have relished the Pinehurst challenge, but fans from all over the world certainly did. 


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