Last Update :9/9/2020

Pinehurst’s anointment as US Open ‘anchor site’ could launch golden era of NC golf

Pinehurst’s anointment as US Open ‘anchor site’ could launch golden era of NC golf


SEPTEMBER 09, 2020 12:43 PM

A statue of Payne Stewart’s famous punch that he displayed upon winning the 1999 U.S. Open here stands by the clubhouse of Pinehurst No. 2 golf course on April 14, 2014. In the background is the 18th green where he made the famous putt. N&O FILE PHOTO

Not Pebble Beach. Not Oakmont. Not Shinnecock.

Pinehurst No. 2 is the U.S. Open’s first “anchor site,” a term never previously used, and on a day the bond between the United States Golf Association and Pinehurst got physically stronger, it got emotionally stronger, too.

Wednesday’s announcement that the USGA would open a satellite museum and testing operation at the resort — Golf House Pinehurst, a southern complement to the USGA’s New Jersey headquarters — carried with it the most unequivocal statement yet of the preeminent position of Pinehurst’s No. 2 course.

Those unprecedented words — “anchor site” — carried as much weight as the announcement that four more U.S. Opens would be coming to Pinehurst beyond 2024, in 2029, 2035, 2041 and 2047. It was a benediction as much as anything, the new apex of Pinehurst’s rescue from corporate obscurity by the Dedman family and restoration as the true home of American golf.

The USGA has never had the kind of official rota for the U.S. Open that the Royal & Ancient has had for the British Open, but there’s always been an unofficial one, with Pebble Beach always atop the list and Oakmont and Shinnecock prominently featured, and a few others like Olympic, Bethpage and Winged Foot (this month’s venue) in regular use. Pinehurst wedged its way into that group in 1999 and is now — officially, at least — first among equals despite being the latecomer.

Things have been trending this way for a while. Already, the awarding of the 2024 U.S. Open made Pinehurst the first course to host as many as four Opens in the span of a quarter century. Then, in March, at the USGA’s annual meeting in Pinehurst, executives discussed a reassessment of U.S. Open branding, still yet to be fully activated thanks to the delayed event. Part of that examination was a player survey that revealed that where players win their Open was almost as important as winning the tournament itself, pushback against the commendably egalitarian push to take the event to new locales like Chambers Bay and Erin Hills that lacked the aura, tradition and grand design a place like Pinehurst has in excess. A fan survey echoed the same point.

It was unquestionably a strong indication that the USGA was leaning more strongly toward Pinehurst than it ever had before, and had good reason to do so. Here, in construction plans and tournament commitments (and tax incentives), is the proof. And beyond the four additional U.S. Opens for No. 2, which previously hosted in 1999, 2005 and 2014, there was also a pledge to bring more USGA championships to North Carolina.

This state has hosted its share of USGA events — only nine states have held more than North Carolina’s 33 — but has the golf courses and golf community extending far beyond the Sandhills to carry a far larger burden. The 2019 Senior Amateur at Old Chatham was the first USGA event ever played in the Triangle. It is now unlikely to be the last as Wednesday’s announcement has the potential to usher in a new golden era for golf in North Carolina, with Pinehurst at the center.

What the Tufts family and Donald Ross started to carve from the scrub 125 years ago, once nearly lost to developers and mismanagement, now carries the imprimatur of the USGA as the spiritual home of the U.S. Open and by extension of golf in this country.

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