What makes Pinehurst Pinehurst? Brandel Chamblee will tell you.
The NBC/Golf Channel analyst played there in the 1999 U.S. Open. For the first three rounds, he hit excellent drives on the fifth hole, which that year played as a par 4. Even with an 8- or 9-iron, he could not hit the green.
"The fourth round, I'm standing there talking to my caddie," Chamblee recalled. "I have a 9-iron (in). I was like: 'If I don't hit this green, I'm going to quit.' Of course, I hit it on the left edge and it rolled down off the green. Four days in a row. The greens are maddening — nuanced and incredibly well-designed."
The reverse-bowl greens are a Pinehurst tradition, along with dicey chipping areas that Jordan Spieth called "diabolical" before he had even seen the course in person.
What else makes Pinehurst Pinehurst? Something that no one thought they would see after the last U.S. Open played there, in 2005.
It's actually more what they don't see — rough.
For decades the course befitted a traditional U.S. Open venue — skinny fairways, high rough. It's why Payne Stewart had to pitch out and one-putt to save par on the 72nd hole to win the title in 1999.
But spurred on by USGA executive Mike Davis, Pinehurst officials hired Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to restore the course to architect Donald Ross' turn-of-the-century vision.
As chronicled by GolfWorld's "How Pinehurst Got Its Groove Back," Coore and Crenshaw used the positioning of the irrigation mainline to piece together the original fairway design, widening many of them.
After analyzing aerial photos taken in 1943, they removed four bunkers that didn't exist back then.
They took out some 40 acres of Bermuda sod and replaced the rough with wiregrass, sand and pine needles. They also allowed for dozens of native vegetation to grow, including colorful geranium and prickly pear cactus.
Pros will not be accustomed to hitting off it, with Crenshaw telling GolfWorld: "There's definitely luck involved in those recovery shots."
Chamblee spoke for many golf purists when he mentioned his "love affair with" Ross courses and called Coore-Crenshaw "my favorite architects. … The fact that they have added and removed and changed and restored this golf course to what Donald Ross had in mind in the '30s and '40s is going to be an aesthetic delight."
ESPN analyst and two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange played Pinehurst in late May and said what caught his attention was not the widened fairways or "impeccable" greens.
"I anticipated sand and wiregrass outside of the fairways. It is that and much more. It is what they want to call undergrowth. It is everything that you have seen in your worst-kept lawn — dandelions growing up 12 to 15 inches, low growing weeds. In some cases it's actually difficult to find the golf ball. It's a different type of rough and a different type of penalty … if you miss the fairway."
As Chamblee can attest, it can also be tough if you hit the fairway.