Sunday, June 15, 2014

Pinehurst No. 2

This is going to sound like I'm boasting, although that's really not my intent.

But I did get to play on Pinehurst No. 2. Twice. For free. (OK, so that part is boasting.)

That happened in 1999 and again in 2005. I was the sports editor for The Dispatch back then, and in those two years the U.S. Open was held in Pinehurst. So I applied for press credentials, was approved, and became part of the international golf media.

One of the perks of the profession — besides all the free food you can eat — was that you got to play in a media tournament on the very course on which the pros played. Although we did not play from the championship tees, the pin locations were the same ones used on championship Sunday both times.

So we had a sense of what the pros were facing. Theoretically, that was the point of the media event — to add perception and understanding of the difficulty of the golf course to our stories. Right.

I saw several of his relatives at Pinehurst No. 2.
 Now, to be truthful, the golf I play is purely recreational. A par for me is like a birdie for real golfers. Bogey golf, for me, is a great day on the course. For example, I regularly shot in the high 80s at Lexington Municipal back in the day, and felt good about it.

So let me tell you that I was tickled to death to card a 111 the first time I played Pinehurst, and a 107 on the second go around. Both times, I had one bad hole that probably kept me from breaking 100, which was my ultimate goal playing on one of the world's most difficult courses. I came close enough, I reckon.

To this day, almost 10 years later, I still carry some great memories of the place — all the sand in the fairways, the pines, the turtleback greens that served as ball returns if you didn't play precision target golf (I don't).

In 1999, our cart's battery died somewhere on the back nine, so my partner and I got to walk a couple of holes before we were brought a new cart. Imagine, walking Pinehurst No. 2 — just like Sam Snead or Ben Hogan or Byron Nelson...

One memory that won't go away are the black squirrels I saw on the course. Technically, they're southeastern fox squirrels, but they have mostly black fur with white noses. I'd never seen one before, but I saw several on each of my Pinehurst visits. They have since become ingrained in my brain. Whenever I think of Pinehurst, it's not Payne Stewart that comes to mind — it's black squirrels. Go figure.

Anyway, as I settle in to watch today's final round of the U.S. Open, I'll savor the memories. I'll celebrate the great shots, chuckle as pros see their imprecise approach shots roll off the greens and back onto the fairways, and look for black squirrels.

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