Back-to-Back Bravura at Pinehurst No. 2
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – Did things go almost too smoothly for the USGA operations team at Pinehurst No. 2? Reg Jones, the association’s senior director of U.S. Open championships, discussed the fatigue factor for his ops contingent, which routinely worked from well before dawn to midnight throughout the two weeks of the unprecedented back-to-back championships.
“You don’t hit the wall when you’re busy, when you’re having to react and put out fires,” said Jones, who was working his ninth U.S. Open for the USGA since he was hired away from the Pinehurst Resort & Country Club. “You hit the wall when things are going well and you have a moment to sit down – that’s when you begin to feel it.”
The feeling for Dan Burton, USGA vice president and chairman of the Championship Committee, bordered on elation Sunday evening after Michelle Wie completed her first U.S. Women’s Open victory.
“If you had let me write a script about how I would dream it to go, that's how it went – just an absolutely wonderful two weeks,” said Burton. “I think we achieved every objective we could have possibly set out to enumerate. We are just off-the-charts thrilled.”
Jones said he understood the early concerns voiced this spring by players on the Women’s Open side about logistics and course conditions for the second week of the back-to-backs.
“They had the right to be concerned, and I don’t think they were without basis,” said Jones. “But I think Mike Davis [USGA executive director] put it best when he said, ‘Just because there are some things that could go wrong or that might not be ideal, that’s not a reason to not try something.’ The comments from the players were overwhelming positive about the golf course and the setup, and from an interest standpoint, I think it was a tremendous success.”
Davis echoed those thoughts, while noting that the aspects of conducting national championships that are beyond the USGA’s control broke perfectly at Pinehurst.
“We were delighted in how it played,” said Davis of the new-look Pinehurst No. 2. “In talking with Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, who led this restoration, they couldn’t have been more pleased with how it played, how it looked, the different options the players had, the bounciness to the golf course. And Mother Nature gave us a big break. We got to control the situation. Oftentimes in these championships it rains so much you get behind schedule, you really don’t control it; but we got to control it. And in terms of how the grounds staff prepared it, I couldn’t give them higher marks. They nailed it.”
Although all-time U.S. Open daily and weekly attendance records from the 2005 championship at Pinehurst were not threatened, that was never the goal heading into these U.S. Opens.
“We talked a lot coming in about the record attendance in 2005 because it was special,” said Jones. “But just because we had a lot of people here doesn’t mean that it was the best spectator experience. We made a conscious effort to reduce our paid attendance this year, partly because with the new native areas on the course, we needed to move the rope lines out farther, meaning less room for spectators.”
Jones estimated on Sunday morning that the attendance over the two weeks would be about 340,000. He said there were more than 50,000 spectators daily for Friday through Sunday of the U.S. Open, as well as strong attendance for the Women’s Open.
“I would say that if it hadn’t been so hot for the practice rounds for both championships, the attendance would have been even better,” said Jones, who noted that there were three times as many first-aid stations available at Pinehurst than for a U.S. Open held on the West Coast, where cooler temperatures prevail.
“There really wasn’t anything that came up that was a surprise,” said Jones. “We spent a lot of time on the transition plan from Week 1 to Week 2 and it worked really, really well.”
As Week 2 wound down, it was difficult for Jones to reflect yet, but he noted that the end of this U.S. Women’s Open capped a historic two years, not just two weeks, for the U.S. Open ops team – adding the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club, where the USGA returned for the first time in 32 years and met the numerous logistical challenges of a site one-third the size of Pinehurst.
“We don’t know if we’ll ever do another back-to-back again,” said Jones. “For our [operations] team, it’s hard to think about making history when you’re in that moment. But what we’ve been through the last two years, the history we made at Merion and now the history here at Pinehurst, it’s been an exciting time. These two years are ones that I will always remember.”
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services at the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.