Pinehurst’s “Back to the Future” Design Echoes Machrihanish Dunes’ “Way Golf Began”

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With the U.S. Open being contested this week over the recently redesigned Pinehurst No. 2 course—and the U.S. Women’s Open being played on the same course a week later—much is being said about the changes that were made to the course at the hands of golf architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Coore and Crenshaw’s goal was to restore the course to what it looked like back in the1930s and early ‘40s, when original designer Donald Ross was still tweaking the layout, consider by many to be his masterpiece.  The duo removed more than 35 acres of rough, replacing it with sandy areas spotted by native plants including wire grass and, dare we say it, weeds!  The U.S.G.A. then conditioned the course to play firm and fast, with so little water being given to the turf that the course started browning out in spots even before the first tournament shot was hit. It’s estimated that with the removal of all that thirsty Bermudagrass, the course’s use of water has been reduced by more than 60 percent, making No. 2 a far more environmentally sustainable field of dreams—and also a model for what future courses should be like.

The applause for the changes to No. 2 has been heard far and wide. “This is what a golf course is supposed to look like,” many have said. ‘It looks so much more natural.’ And they’re right. What Coore and Crenshaw did at Pinehurst was to create a far more natural course—one that hearkens back not just to the 1930s but, to borrow a phrase, to “the way golf began.”

None of this is anything new to golfers in Scotland—and particularly to those who have made the pilgrimage to Machrihanish Dunes. Unlike Pinehurst, though, Mach Dunes will never have to re-engineer itself, primarily because it will never see acres of American-style rough intrude on its idyllic landscape. The course that David McLay Kidd uncovered on this pristine Kintyre seashore, set as it is on environmentally protected land, will forever eschew the onslaught of all things modern. If it rains, the course will be green; if it doesn’t, it will be browner—and play even firmer and faster. There’s no irrigation system at Mach Dunes except for a couple of hose points, and there never will be.

Truly, this is golf as it was meant to be played, with Nature’s hand always dealing the cards. Just as in the day when Old Tom Morris was turning linksland into golf links, it’s about accepting the land for what it is and doing battle with it—and with par—on its terms rather than Man’s.

Machrihanish Dunes and the new Pinehurst No. 2 are excellent examples of how paying homage to yesteryear can also be a model for more environmentally intelligent golf course development in the future. Let’s hope the rest of the golf world is paying attention.