My upcoming column at Taki’s Magazine offers an ethnic analysis of golf that I haven’t seen much of before. Whether or not you are interested in golf, I think you may find it broadly interesting. It was inspired by the following New York Times article of extremely specialized appeal on preparations for the U.S. Open this week. I’m including excerpts here to show that, although there aren’t many, there really are more people than just me who care about this stuff:
By BILL PENNINGTON JUNE 8, 2014
PINEHURST, N.C. — As one of the country’s first golf resorts, Pinehurst has long been viewed as an American cradle of the sport. The resort’s showcase golf course, known as Pinehurst No. 2, hosted its first major event more than 100 years ago and evolved into a masterpiece of the nation’s best-known golf architect, Donald Ross.
So in 2009, when Pinehurst said it was going to tear up 40 acres of the No. 2 course, destroying huge swaths of pristine green grass to replace it with irregular, bumpy sand and native vegetation, the news stunned the golf world.
To many, it was like giving the Mona Lisa a buzz cut.
… During that two weeks of practice and competition, the world’s best players and a global television audience will behold a Pinehurst that is virtually unrecognizable. The course is now a natural, scenic vista, but it is a far cry from the usual manicured golf look, with random brush, patchy sand and gnarly wiregrass surrounding the fairways and greens.
… “I’m sure people will tune in to see the Pinehurst they know and say, ‘What the heck happened here?’ ” said the golf course designer Bill Coore, who with his partner Ben Crenshaw shepherded the revamping of Pinehurst No. 2.
What happened was akin to an archaeological dig with the attendant unforeseen findings and breakthrough discoveries. Golf historians understood that Ross took advantage of the landscape of the Sandhills region of central North Carolina to mold his course in 1907, using sandy soil and indigenous plants. Irrigation allowed the grass to grow in the fairways, but the rest was left as it had been for centuries.
In time, as golf design philosophy changed and with the advent of sophisticated, expanded watering techniques, Pinehurst No. 2 became like many other elite American layouts: a panorama of green grass.
Pinehurst’s plan to turn back the clock roughly 100 years to restore the No. 2 course to its former appearance met clamorous opposition. So Pinehurst sought proof, or verification, of Ross’s original intentions. It was not as easy as it might sound.
… Shortly thereafter, the restoration crew heard about World War II-era aerial photographs taken by the federal government. Defense Department planes had trained their high-powered cameras on nearby Fort Bragg, but they also captured Pinehurst while circling the vicinity.
… The aerial photography became the missing link in the project, allowing Coore and Crenshaw to measure and identify every element of Pinehurst No. 2 — the width and angles of the fairways (most had been narrowed and straightened), the dimensions of every bunker and the shape and location of the sandy waste areas. There was no rough.
“It was the confirmation we were looking for,” Crenshaw said.
Emboldened, if still aware of the backlash the restoration could engender, Coore and Crenshaw pressed on, cutting up the turf to expose the uneven sandy areas beneath. They also planted or revitalized 80 kinds of native plants. A team of students studying crop science at North Carolina State arrived to help identify the vegetation that should be kept or removed. Pinehurst’s famed and treacherous convex greens were largely untouched.
But one staple of the modern golf course, the sprinkler head, frequently found itself in the recycling bin. By the end of the restoration, about 700 of Pinehurst No. 2’s 1,100 sprinkler heads had been eliminated, which has cut water use in half, saving about 40 million gallons a year.
… “In the past, a player hitting a wayward tee shot knew immediately what to expect on the next shot,” Farren said. “Now that player has to walk to the ball wondering what fate has in store. The ball could be sitting up nicely on hardpan sand, it could be in a footprint, it could be on pine needles or it could be under a tuft of wiregrass.”
…Coore said the element of luck could be particularly entertaining for the television viewer. “People are going to see players trying all kinds of shots, including ones they’ve probably never seen before,” he said.
But the first thing viewers will see is a historical rendering of a signature golf course. It will look rugged and idiosyncratic with challenges characteristic of the natural features of the region. It will be quirky, engaging, memorable and considerably more environmentally responsible. …
In that way, by looking to its past, Pinehurst may have given golf a vision of its future.