When Eddie Mackenzie, better known as “Eddie Mack” or “E-Mack,” a Pinehurst native and our caddie for the day, began singing Paul Simon’s “The Boxer” on the first hole at the famous No. 2 course, I could tell this was going to be a memorable round.
Well, wait, hold up — it was probably before that. When my friend and colleague Shane Ryan, who writes for Grantland, and I were first assigned E-Mack as our caddie, E-Mack picked up our bags to head to the driving range (which was basically just hitting into a net 30 yards in front of you because of the USGA tents that were already being put in place for the U.S. Opens). When he lifted up mine, he said to me, “Why in the world do you have in here?? We’re going to have to take some of this stuff out!”
I felt bad — mostly because I’d forgotten that I had two extra clubs in my bag — but I was a bit taken aback at first before I started laughing. Never in my 20- year golfing career has a caddie ever questioned the weight of my bag, especially at a nice resort course. But E-Mack was old school (and kind of old — 60-plus) and clearly didn’t give a shit, which was actually quite refreshing.
E-Mack got me a plastic bag and I emptied out the junk that had accumulated over dozens of rounds in my golf bag — old balls that were scratched up, scorecards, yardage books, gloves of every color in the rainbow, etc. Oh, and of course, the two extra clubs.
We almost missed our starting time because E-Mack was taking my stuff to the caddiemaster’s office when they called the “12:50” group to the tee. But right in the nick of time, E-Mack came running up to whisk our bags off the putting green and walk over to the first tee.
Shane asked me, “Which tees are you playing from?”
I replied, “The greens.”
He said, “OK, I’ll play from the same ones.”
Problem was, when Shane tried to tee off from those, E-Mack was standing behind us with his hands on his hips at the white tees. “You’re playing No. 2 today,” he told Shane. “I’m not letting you playing from up there.”
The first hole at Pinehurst No. 2 is fairly wide open, with trees lining the right side and the sandy, wiry grass areas and pine straw guarding the left. With all the room on the right, I swear there’s like a magnet drawing you to the left. I hit a good first tee shot, but just overdrew it a tiny bit right off the fairway and into the sandy wiry grass area, as you can see below.
Well, good news is I wanted to play the course before the U.S. Opens because I was curious about the restoration of the course and these wiry grass areas that had replaced the rough — I wanted to know how the ball would react and how it would play.
My lie was more like on sandy hardpan, so I played it almost like I would out of a waste bunker or fairway bunker. Actually, that’s exactly what I did and the ball reacted almost like I had been in a waste bunker or fairway bunker. I hit a 9-iron to about 18 feet pin-high — which I’ll take all day long.
“What they’re going to encounter is sometimes they’re going to be on sandy hardpan,” said USGA Executive Director Mike Davis on media day in April. ”Sometimes they’re going to be on soft, foot printed loose sand. Sometimes they’re going to be up against or underneath wire grass. Sometimes some of the vegetation, the natural vegetation that’s just come up in these areas, sometimes it will be on pine needles or up against a pine cone. But it’s going to give these players who miss a fairway just a different type of challenge.”
Here’s another example of a lie I had when I missed the fairway:
It was playable from that lie, too, but there’s an element of luck involved. Some of my playing partners were up against a plant of clump of grass several times and had to punch out sideways, whereas I just happened to get lucky that day and had a shot to the green each time.
Now, the 4th hole will be playing as a par-4 for the pros, but it’s still a par-5 for us mortal amateurs. In turn, the 5th hole, a par-4 normally, will be a par-5 for the pros during the championships. Why the switch?
“To be honest, in looking at it, it just felt like those holes, from an architectural standpoint, played better,” explained Mike Davis.
“The fourth hole, it got the original angle of the Donald Ross tee back. The fourth hole also is one of the more generous greens in terms of receives a shot coming in. The bunker is in play better.
“On the fifth hole we changed that to a short risk/reward par 5, which, by the way, Donald Ross designed it as a par 5 years ago, it was played that way in the PGA Championship back in the ’30s. We just felt like No. 5 was not only the hardest green on the course, it is by far the toughest green on the course. And it just felt right, when you missed the green, it can be extremely penal. We just felt that that – it also brought the drive-zone features in on the fifth hole a little bit more.”
Here’s E-Mack talking me through the tee-shot on the 4th, with unparalleled commentary from Shane Ryan:
Sometimes the problem — and in other times, the joy — of being a twosome is getting paired with strangers. With how much play No. 2 gets, Shane and I were obviously put in the same group as another pair, Jackie and Mike, a couple from Los Angeles. They were perfectly nice, if not a little bizarre and intrusive at times.
Mike wasn’t exactly the strongest golfer and both him and Jackie had a penchant for hitting mulligans multiple times on a hole (which gets really old and annoying, not to mention backs you up). They were interesting conversationalists, too — and by that, I mean, a tad strange.
At first, they assumed Shane and I were a couple. When we corrected them and explained we were work colleagues and Shane was happily married, Mike asked, “Are you having an affair?”
Late in the back nine, Jackie approached me and said, “Stephanie, you’re so cute, why haven’t you found someone to marry yet?”
I wanted to punch her in the face, but instead, I laughed it off and politely replied, “Oh, I’ve been really career-oriented.”
Jackie is lucky she didn’t walk away with two black eyes. So, Shane careered it on the front nine and shot a 46, which was really, really good for him. He practically danced all the way down the 10th hole. Then, disaster started to strike and Shane’s front-nine swing disappeared and he began to struggle, making a few triple-bogeys, and thus, blowing his chance to break 100 (by just one stroke!).
“Shane, you really had us fooled on the front,” Jackie commented.
That made Shane want to punch her in the face.
Back to the golf. During the restoration of No. 2 by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, the fairways were widened, which impacts strategy. To be honest, it’s pretty hard to miss a fairway, but I did on several occasions simply because I was aimed incorrectly (or perhaps shouldn’t have hit driver). The course also plays games with your eyes and creates an optical illusion at times.
It’s definitely a second-shot golf course and you certainly would rather be short of the domed Donald Ross greens than long — or sideways, though I found the bunkers very playable. (By the way, note about bunkers: There are plenty of waste areas lining the fairways and regular-looking traps guarding the greens, but they’re all played as waste bunkers, so you can ground your club.)
After walking off the 8th, I examined the area behind the green and it didn’t look like a fun up-and-down and most the greens tilt from back to front. I asked E-Mack, “You don’t want to be long on this course, do you?” He said, “Generally, no.”
Naturally, on the next tee shot, the par-3 9th, the pin was located back left and the wind was swirling. Well, I misjudged it and hit it over the green, where my ball stopped in a little collection area. It wasn’t that tough of a shot. With a lob wedge, I hit a delicate little flop to about four feet. But, I missed the putt. Of course.
The closing holes at No. 2 are delightful. The par-3 17th has been the site of much drama in previous U.S. Opens. It’s not a particularly difficult hole, but look out for the false front on the green. When we played it, it was a very gettable pin location. The toughest one would be tucked in the back right behind the bunker. Sunday hole location, perhaps?
The par-4 18th is fantastic way to end the round, with the rocking chairs facing toward the green lining the porch of the clubhouse, so YOU BETTER NOT SCREW UP because EVERYONE IS WATCHING. Do not miss the fairway on this uphill finishing hole! — it can lead to a tough and long-ish second shot from the wiry grass area/pinestraw, which is what I did. The fairway looks much wider than it is because it makes an S-like turn and you can’t see the landing area from the tee box. If I could hit this shot over again, I would have taken 3-wood.
Here’s my tee-shot on 18, with excellent commentary from Shane once again.
Overall, playing No. 2 was one of the most enjoyable golfing experiences of my life. Yes, seriously. I always wondered what the hype was about and it certainly lived up to it and some. I absolutely loved the course, and while I’d never played it before the restoration, I must say it appears Coore/Crenshaw did a fabulous job. (I also played well that day, so it always helps.) Of all the courses I’ve played and loyal readers know that’s a lot, this one ranks in my top 5, possibly my top 3 (with National Golf Links of America being #1, of course).
Perhaps the most amusing part of the day happened after we had finished. We were told the standard tip for the caddie is around $30-40. E-Mack did a great job and usually when my round is comped, I tip more (and I just really enjoy tipping), so I gave him $50. When Shane handed him $40, E-Mack counted it in front of us. Yes, really.
“You’ll have to give me $10 more to keep up with her,” he told Shane, gesturing at me.
Shane, who was naturally flustered, apologized and dug out $10 more out of his pocket.
My mind almost exploded, but it was utterly amazing (and my fault that I didn’t tell Shane I tipped more than the “standard” amount). As we’d established, E-Mack was a straight shooter.
Here’s a gallery that includes pictures of most the holes, although I can’t remember all of them to label correctly. Apologies. You still get an idea of the layout!