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Chamblee Calls Pinehurst No. 2 A Third Shot Golf Course

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Brandel Chamblee, who is going to have an increased responsibility for NBC Sports at the US Open this week, has come up with a great way to describe the venue, Pinehurst, No. 2, a way to compare it to others. He called it a third shot golf course. It should make you laugh or at least smile. If you’ve been there, you know what he means.

Some courses, you have to hit good tee shots or you’ve had it. That would be a Sahalee or a Harbour Town Golf Links because the drive is really important. Bad drive equals bad day.

Some courses, the second shot is more important, but you might have a bit of room off the tee. The classics there would be Augusta National or the course last week, Muirfield Village Golf Club. It was more so when it first opened and when the fairways were much wider. Before all the so-called “Tiger-proofing.” (How did that work? Tiger won five times!)

But Chamblee said Pinehurst is a third shot golf course. That means more or less that the second shots aren’t going to stay on the green. Golfers better have a pretty good chipper or a Texas wedge at the ready because they will need it to save par, never mind birdie.

The greens at Pinehurst No. 2, in case you’ve forgotten or you’re new to golf, are like upside-down soup bowls. That makes the putting surfaces, reported to be between 5,000 and 6,000 square feet on average, play about half that size. They will act more like Harbour Town or Pebble Beach, which have the smallest greens on the PGA Tour.  But those two courses actually allow a golfer to hit and hold the green. 

There’s actually a practical reason why the greens are shaped the way they are. The course was built in the early 1900s by Donald Ross, hired by the Tufts family as the first golf professional and course builder at Pinehurst. Ross was originally from Scotland and had grown up as a caddie at Royal Dornoch and was later the greenskeeper. He apprenticed at St. Andrews under Old Tom Morris.  

John Dunn Tucker first built Pinehurst No. 1, and it was later modified by Ross. The second course was, you guessed it, No. 2. All Ross. It has become a classic because of the shape of the greens.  

Ross built what he knew and had seen. Scotland had a lot of what are called push up greens, built that way for drainage. And some of the holes and greens in Scotland, no one knows why they were built the way they were. To aggravate golfers, probably.  But Ross used the same push up design for No. 2’s greens. Originally they were sand greens and would be raked before putting.  

These are the kind of greens, grassed, that a golfer can’t hit and can’t hold. As sand greens, they were probably fine. Not so much with turf on them. There will be a lot of frustrations this week because of that. Will we see someone pull a Phil Mickelson or a John Daly and hit a putt while it’s still moving? If it happens anywhere, it would be here.

At this point in time, whether Pinehurst No. 2’s greens are annoying or not, they are considered sacred, and no one wants to touch them, although they could probably be improved with a good bulldozer. Some people would line up and cheer if that happened.

The holes at Pinehurst, except for two of them that go up and down a hill and one other that has water, are hard to remember because they are tree-lined and don’t have a great deal of curve to them. They can’t because of the trees. Will players try to hit over the pines to a fairway on holes that have a curve?  Or will they try to play the holes as Ross intended? 

First glimpses of the course indicate that it is greener than in the most recent U.S. Opens at Pinehurst, but if it doesn’t rain, by the end of the week, it may be as hot, dusty, and dry as it was in 2014. That year, Martin Kaymer won and leaned on his putter from off the greens to get within striking distance of the hole. The other way to approach them is with a high soft shot that lands almost without making a sound. The kind a Jack Nicklaus might have hit.

Smylie Kaufman, who will also be on the NBC telecast explained the problem as he saw it in 2014.

“The beginning of the week, I’m chipping everything, and by Monday I’m putting everything,” he explained in the NBC Sports media preview. “On Tuesday I’ve got the 3-wood out around the greens. By Wednesday I had no idea what I wanted to do by Thursday, and I think that’s the brilliance of Donald Ross and just all the different options that you have that you really have to find a way to get committed to one or two strategies because you can sit there on a shot around the greens, see just about everything.”

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In other words, you can’t hit or hold the greens, and the challenge of figuring out which clubs to use will drive every golfer crazy by the end of the week. Look for the guy who has already had a lobotomy to be the winner.

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