Pinehurst No. 2 Golf Course Review

50 Words or Less

The famous Course No. 2 at Pinehurst lives up to its reputation and then some.  Fantastic design.  A challenge to every aspect of your game.

Introduction

You don’t need to be a golf historian to know that Pinehurst No. 2 is a big deal.  It’s hosted more major tournaments than any other American course.  The praise it’s received from every significant figure in golf history could fill a book.  It was the lifelong project of Donald Ross, who opened the course in 1907 and improved it until his death in 1948.

The only thing I can add is that the course, having been restored to its original condition by Coore & Crenshaw in 2010, is a joy to play.  Pinehurst No. 2 is not a course you’ll play once, check off your list, and forget.  This is a course you’ll be planning a return to before your round is complete.

Practice Facilities

Pinehurst is home to some of the best practice facilities you’ll find anywhere.  There’s a large range that’s a stone’s throw from a short game area with two greens and two bunkers.  Near the first tee, there’s a putting green and a chipping green.  Try to keep yourself busy before you’re called to minimize the first tee jitters.

Between The Cradle and the range, you’ll find a massive putting green.  There are several holes for conventional putting practice, but why would you want conventional when you have Thistle Dhu?  Thistle Dhu is the recently-opened 18-hole putting course.  The “holes” at Thistle Dhu range from tame 15-footers to roller coasters that scream “3 putt.”  If you want to know how much fun Thistle Dhu is, walk out of the clubhouse in the evening and see how many golfers are still out there, smiling and laughing.

Customer Service & Amenities

There are a wealth of wonderful amenities at Pinehurst, but nothing stood out to me as much as the condition of the course.  Famous courses, the ones with full tee sheets year round, are often unable to deliver premium conditions.  The grounds crew at Pinehurst deserves a round of applause for keeping every aspect of No. 2 utterly pristine.

Pinehurst No. 2 is a cart-path only course, and I would strongly recommend walking with a caddie.  There is limitless strategic interest to take in, and you’ll miss most of it if you’re riding.

Whether you’re in Pinehurst for the day or for a long golf extravaganza, the one thing you must do is sit on the patio at The Deuce with a beverage in hand.  The Deuce, a fairly new restaurant in the Pinehurst clubhouse, has outdoor seating with a view of the 18th green.  There’s no better place to reflect on your round.

Beauty & Scenery

Seeing Pinehurst No. 2 in its restored state, it’s hard to imagine that anyone could have ever allowed it to be any other way.  The combination of towering pines, sandy waste areas, and native grasses filled me with a tremendous sense of place.

What impressed me even more is the aesthetic variety and interest that No. 2 achieves without the benefit of water or dramatic elevation.  There’s so much detail in the design that I was constantly engrossed in the course.  Again, if you ride instead of walking, you’ll miss a lot of it.

Overall Design

Ben Crenshaw lists Pinehurst No. 2’s defining characteristics as follows: wide fairways, no rough, bunkers with ragged edges and wire grass, firm and fast conditions, inverted saucer greens, and the absence of water.

I would add that this is one of the few courses that tests every part of your game on nearly every hole.  That line is terribly overused, but it’s true of Pinehurst No. 2.  And as much as the course tests your physical abilities, it’s an equal test of your mental skills: patience, discipline, strategy, and decision making.

Tee Shots

The fairways at Pinehurst No. 2 are wide, though not by the standards of Bandon Dunes and other modern courses.  You don’t need to drive it on a string to succeed at No. 2, but wild drives will bring the trees into play.

One of No. 2’s defining traits is the lack of rough.  When you miss the fairway, you end up in waste areas where you have an equal chance of getting a clean, firm lie as you do of seeing your ball nestled against a tuft of native grass.

Don’t think that the lack of rough makes driving at No. 2 unimportant.  First, because of the challenge around the greens, distance is critical.  Second, setting up good approach angles is paramount if you want to play the ground game.  Driving may be overshadowed by the challenge around the greens, but poor driving can derail your round.

Approaches

When you’re waiting to tee off, the starter will remind you that every green at No. 2 is crowned and that you should play for the center of the green.  This is good advice, but it’s easier said than done.  Once you’ve carded a bogey or two, the impulse to go flag hunting is hard to ignore.

Not only are the greens crowned, they also play firm and fast.  If you want to take an aerial approach, you need to hit a high shot with ample spin.  The danger in this approach is that being a few yards short will send the ball rolling off the front edge of the green.

Low, running shots are an option on most holes, but they aren’t necessarily easier.  Each green is elevated to a different height, so a shot that will scoot onto one green will be repelled by the next.  Whether you opt for the high road or the low road, your iron play must be precise at No. 2.

Greens & Surrounds

If Pinehurst No 2. were to be reduced to one defining feature, it would be the crowned greens.  Nearly every side of every green slopes away from the putting surface, making the greens play much smaller than they are.  Combine that with the speed they run at, and it’s very easy to lose your putting nerve after a few holes.

If you discount the crowned edges, the greens at No. 2 are fairly tame.  The breaks tend to be more subtle than roller coaster-y, but the speed makes it so that few putts are truly straight.

The surrounds at No. 2 are my favorite parts of the course.  There are interesting mounds and slopes everywhere, and they extend far beyond the typical 5-10 yards from the fringe.

With a combination of slopes, bunkers, and tightly mowed grass, No. 2 doesn’t just allow for a varied short game, it demands it.  There are times when putting the ball is absolutely the right play.  Other times, a cleverly placed bunker will demand a high wedge shot.  Regardless of what shot you choose, remember the starter’s advice and get the ball on the green.

Favorite Holes

5 – Par 5 – 508 Yards

This is the hole that changed my opinion of No. 2 from “Impressed” to “Blown Away.”  I could go on an on about the clever design, but here are the abridged highlights.  The fairway rises steeply around 200 yards from the green to snuff out long, running drives.  The green is elevated and narrow to scare off long approach attempts.  Finally, the fairway tilts heavily from right-to-left, encouraging a ball flight that will find the waste area well below the level of the green.  It’s a hole you could play a dozen different ways and never feel you’ve truly mastered.

3 – Par 4 – 350 Yards

I love short par 4s, and this is a great one.  The green is hard to see from the tee due to a slight dogleg.  There’s enough trouble short to make you think twice about hitting driver, but the real danger is the steep drop off behind the green.

18 – Par 4 – 415 Yards

Playing up the 18th fairway toward the clubhouse is simply epic.  You can’t help but think about all the legends who’ve made that walk.  The “gallery” sitting on the porch of the club house will raise the pressure on your approach even higher.  Do everything you can to hit this green, because the surround is one of the toughest on the course.

Conclusion

Well before I’d walked off the 18th green, I knew that Pinehurst No. 2 would have a spot on my personal Top 5 list.  This is a course I could play every day and never tire of.  Whether you’re a fan of golf history, golf course architecture, or just someone who wants a serious test, Pinehurst No. 2 is a must-play.

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Matt Saternus

Co-Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is a golf instructor, club fitter, and writer living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Matt's work has been published in Mulligan Magazine, Chicagoland Golf, South Florida Golf, and other golf media outlets. He's also been a featured speaker in the Online Golf Summit and is a member of Ultimate Golf Advantage's Faculty of Experts.

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6 Comments

  1. Scott Rogers

    I couldn’t agree more with your article. I played there over the summer and it was a blast. The only downside to the day (and this isnt a course knock) was the caddy. Our caddy wasn’t as knowledgeable as I thought he should be. On #5 he had me aiming at the OB stakes. Perhaps over 4 holes he didn’t notice the big cut I was hitting…
    But I digress, every hole is a test and fun one at that. Its a bucket list course that must be played at least 3x.

  2. I was there before Thistle Dhu was named and can attest that it was awfully fun!

  3. The course looks beautiful no doubt but how much fun can you have chipping and pitching on every hole even after hitting a very good shot? Donald Ross has been called a genius for those “inverted-saucer greens” but how clever is it really to do one thing 18 times?

    • Matt Saternus

      Bob,

      Your first question creates another one, “What is a good shot?”
      At the risk of sounding rude, your second question tells me you’ve never been to No. 2. There’s much more than crowned greens that make this course special.

      Best,

      Matt

  4. Matt – love your course reviews. I’m looking at options for a 3-day golf trip with some buddies and was wondering if you could give me your top 3 favorite golf resorts for such a trip based on your experience. Thanks!

    • Matt Saternus

      Jeff,

      Without considering travel/location, my top choices would be Bandon, Sand Valley, and Pinehurst. Multiple courses at each, great accommodations, good food.

      Best,

      Matt

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