SOUTHERN PINES, NORTH CAROLINA | You hear it all the time, even from those who should know. On Saturday morning at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club, Abegail Arevalo – a rookie on the Epson Tour who played college golf at San Jose State and is at the US Women’s Open as a spectator this week – shook her head and said, “You can ‘t tell from television how hard it is to hit these greens and leave yourself in the right spot (to putt). ”
Those sorts of comments are common at classic courses. Even experienced players show up at Augusta National for the first time and comment on the elevation changes. Last June at Olympic Club, players at the US Women’s Open commented on how they didn’t realize the severity of its slopes until they were there. Most can be excused. Television is a two-dimensional medium. No matter how hi-def the images, they don’t capture the crowns and rolls that make places like Pine Needles so special.
“It’s definitely about the approach shots here,” said renowned coach Gary Gilchrist on Saturday as he walked up the fourth fairway to a green that looks like a wedding cake. “You think you hit a bad tee shot and still be in the fairway, but you miss an approach and get on the sides of these greens, you’re in some real trouble.”
Real trouble is an understatement. On Friday, Danielle Kang made triple-bogey on the par-5 first after finding the greenside bunker in regulation. On Saturday, Anna Nordqvist made a 7 on the first hole after having an approach shot inside 100 yards.
Despite the low numbers through three rounds, everyone acknowledges that the greens at Pine Needles give you no margin for error. That’s why the first page of the leaderboard features the top four players in the Rolex Rankings as well as a three-time major champion – Anna Nordqvist – and the No.2 amateur in the world – Ingrid Lindblad.
“It’s pretty generous off the tee so if you can get it on the fairway then you’re going to have a good look into the greens,” championship leader Minjee Lee said. “I’ve been feeling pretty good with my irons, so I think that’s really important here. It’s a second-shot golf course, so I feel like that’s really been a help this week so far. ”
Mina Harigae, who reached 10-under par on her 40th hole of the week, agreed with that assertion. Harigae did not miss a fairway until the seventh hole of the third round and said, “you have to be patient and accept that you are going to have some 20 footers.”
Lindblad, the Swedish darling of the week who held a share of the lead at one point in the third round, said, “The green areas are tough. You have to hit the right section of the green to not run off the slopes and everything. It’s a great US Open course. ”
Whether you were at the top of the leaderboard or fighting to make the cut, the comments were the same.
– Pia Babnik (@PiaBabnik) June 4, 2022
“I think overall it’s a course that doesn’t suit one type of player,” said Rolex Rankings No.3 Lydia Ko, who shot 66 on Saturday to enter the final round in a tie for fifth. “I think I said that earlier in the week, as well and it just showed on the leaderboard. There are some longer hitters; there is an amateur (near) the top of the leaderboard; there are some shorter hitters. It’s very different.
“I think at some courses, it gets dialed down to one type of player. But a course like this, it doesn’t fit just one. No matter what kind of game you have, no matter if you play a fade or a draw, you can all get around the course. I think that’s why it’s showing (on the leaderboard). ”
So, what makes the Pine Needles greens so special?
Well, imagine trying to stop a mid-iron on a pitcher’s mound. That’s what it’s like out there. Typical of Donald Ross designs, the greens conform to the contours of the land on which they sit. Nothing is contrived. That’s what makes it unique. Any architect can build rollercoaster putting surfaces. It takes an artist to look at the humps and knolls of the raw land in the Sandhills and find greens that present a difficult but fair test. Ross was that genius. Not only was the Scotsman the most notable golden-age course designer, he lived about three miles from Pine Needles on another of his masterpieces, Pinehurst No.2.
“The course is in really pure condition,” Ko said of Pine Needles. “If you hit good shots, you’re rewarded. But at the same time, it’s really small margins between being a perfect shot and being just off the green and short sided. ”
“I like it,” world No.2 Nelly Korda said after a 1-under par 70 on Saturday. “I like a really tough Donald Ross with a lot of falloffs. You have to hit really good quality shots into the greens. You’re definitely very hesitant with some of the pin positions, but you can be more aggressive than you think you can just because the greens are pretty soft. ”
Ross’ portrait still hangs over the fireplace at the Pine Crest Inn, a hotel and restaurant that he owned in the village of Pinehurst. But his biography is written on the ground at places like Pine Needles and is read with awe and respect every so often by the world’s best players. Like this week as we enter the homestretch of the US Women’s Open.