Advertisement

Welcome back to Pinehurst: USGA plants its flag in NC’s Sandhills for years to come

The giant scoreboard in the fan village, one of the first thing visitors to the U.S. Open see after entering the Pinehurst property proper, bore a simple message instead of leaders and scores during the three days leading up to Thursday’s opening round: “Welcome back to Pinehurst.”

Not Welcome to Pinehurst.

Welcome back to Pinehurst.

This is no longer a one-shot deal, as it was when the U.S. Open first came to the Sandhills in 1999. This is an ongoing concern, a continuing endeavor, a nearly quinquennial ritual. The USGA, and by extension its biggest event, has put down real roots at Pinehurst, and not just philosophically — by naming Pinehurst the first “anchor site” for the U.S. Open in 2020 — but in brick and mortar.

The giant scoreboard in the fan village welcomes new arrivals to Pinehurst ahead of the U.S. Open this week on the No. 2 course at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club.
The giant scoreboard in the fan village welcomes new arrivals to Pinehurst ahead of the U.S. Open this week on the No. 2 course at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club.

Where there were once parking lots to the right side of the driveway leading up to the main Pinehurst clubhouse, there are now large buildings housing the USGA’s new satellite office — focusing largely on equipment testing and agronomy — and the returned World Golf Hall of Fame, the physical and permanent presence of a relationship that is already more than 25 years old and is now sketched out, in ink, for the next 25.

“You can feel it when you fit somewhere,” USGA president Fred Perpall said. “The USGA just fits here at Pinehurst.”

The USGA may not be the first New Jerseyan to build a second home in Moore County, but it brings a lot more than complaints about the food. North Carolina contributed $25 million toward the USGA’s new complex, but this is a billion-dollar relationship, born of golf but spilling over into countless aspects of the economy.

“When we think about golf in North Carolina, we think about not only Pinehurst but the 520 golf courses that are in almost every single county in this state, and how much golf is a part of who we are as North Carolinians,” Gov. Roy Cooper said. “It’s also important for our economy, when you look at the billions of dollars of economic impact. There’s going to be $500 million in impact just because this U.S. Open is here. In talking with the USGA and getting them to come back here, in securing future U.S. Opens right here in Pinehurst for decades to come, that’s an exciting win for our state.”

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper speaks at the U.S. Open golf tournament at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club on Thursday, June 13, 2024.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper speaks at the U.S. Open golf tournament at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club on Thursday, June 13, 2024.

Only eight states have hosted more USGA championships than North Carolina, which is shooting up the list. The U.S. Open will be back in 2029 (back-to-back with the Women’s Open), 2035, 2041 and 2047. Pinehurst alone will host two Women’s Amateurs, a U.S. Amateur and a boys’ and girls’ Junior Amateur as well during that span.

It’s a far-reaching relationship that starts in Pinehurst but extends throughout the state, including a U.S. Open final qualifier in the Triangle the past two years (Old Chatham in 2023, Duke in 2024). Old Chatham, which hosted the Senior Amateur in 2019, will host the Girls’ Junior in 2026.

The relationship between Pinehurst and the USGA has always been mutually beneficial but the “anchor site” designation became official in September 2020, months after the USGA held its annual meeting at the resort and announced the results of a player survey that got a little bit lost in the shuffle because the world shut down only days later.

But one of the USGA’s key takeaways from that survey was that it was important to players where they win the U.S. Open or Women’s Open or any USGA championship. The venue matters, and matters deeply. The USGA’s attempts to go to public courses like Chambers Bay and Erin Hills were well-intentioned but did not land well with players.

The Pinehurst Resort and Golf Club’s main clubhouse overlooks the 18th green during the 2024 U.S. Open on Thursday, June 13, 2024.
The Pinehurst Resort and Golf Club’s main clubhouse overlooks the 18th green during the 2024 U.S. Open on Thursday, June 13, 2024.

If the conclusions were bad news for those courses, it was very good news for open-to-the-public courses like Pebble Beach and Pinehurst that also happen to be steeped in tradition and history and are of a piece with their environment.

“We go to America’s greatest venues,” USGA championships director John Bodenhamer said. “We like to think of them as the cathedrals of the game. Really when you think about the cathedrals of the game, part of it is really Pinehurst is one of them.

“The ghosts of the past matter.”

If nothing else, Pinehurst has ghosts. Lots and lots of ghosts.

What started with Payne Stewart and Phil Mickelson in 1999, and with the Dedman family’s purchase and resurrection of the aging resort even before that, and Donald Ross long before all of that, has become self-sustaining, a mutually beneficially feedback loop between the cradle of American golf and the stewards of it.

And so, the U.S Open is back.

And will be back, and back, and back, and back again.

Never miss a Luke DeCock column. Sign up at tinyurl.com/lukeslatest to have them delivered directly to your email inbox as soon as they post.

Luke DeCock’s Latest: Never miss a column on the Canes, ACC or other Triangle sports