The Southern Pines, N.C. club underwent a restoration in 2017 under the guidance of Kyle Franz that changed the grass on the greens, rebuilt the bunkers and added more in strategic locations, and removed the rough—replacing it with wiregrass and sandy areas to give the course a more rugged look.
Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C. is preparing to host its fourth U.S. Women’s Open, The Fayetteville Observer reported. It is a record number of times the USGA has brought the Women’s Open to one course.
The previous three winners at this location are Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam in 1996, Karrie Webb in 2001 and future Hall of Famer Cristie Kerr in 2007, The Observer reported.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” said Pine Needles president Kelly Miller. “The course has produced some great champions. I think it’s a tribute to Donald Ross [the designer], the strategy, the shot integrity and everything else.”
Miller is the son-in-law of the late Peggy Kirk Bell and her husband Warren “Bullet” Bell, who purchased the course in 1953, The Observer reported.
Pine Needles will be hosting the Women’s Open for the first time in 15 years. It underwent a restoration in 2017 under the guidance of Kyle Franz that changed the grass on the greens, The Observer reported. He also rebuilt the bunkers and added more in strategic locations. The final touch was removing the rough and replacing it with wiregrass and sandy areas to give the course a more rugged look.
“The course is a lot different than it was in the previous Opens,” Miller said. “No. 1 is the Bermuda greens, which are much firmer and have a lot more contouring since the restoration. The Open at Olympic Club last year had very deep rough and here we don’t have virtually any rough. We have wiregrass but the course will play very wide and, hopefully, very fast. Whoever wins here will have to be a great thinker and be able to execute their shots.”
Sorenstam won by six shots at Pine Needles in 1996 with an 8-under par score, The Observer reported.
“The course is challenging but it’s fair,” she said. “It has a variety of holes and it may look straightforward but it’s not as wide open as you think. You have to have accuracy on top of distance.”
Course superintendent David Fruchte has been at Pine Needles for 32 years and believes accuracy could be more important than distance in winning the 77th U.S. Women’s Open, The Observer reported.
“The most challenging thing for the women will be their second shots coming into the greens,” he said. “These Bermuda greens seem to be firmer than what we had before with bentgrass. Coming in at the right angle and getting the ball to stop will be the key.”
Surprisingly, the course will play slightly shorter than it did in 2007, The Observer reported. It is still a par 71 but the yardage this year is 6,638 yards compared to 6,664 in 2007.
Advances in ball and club technology have helped players hit the ball farther than 15 years ago, forcing most courses to get longer, not shorter, The Observer reported. It is a testament to the strategy required to score well at Pine Needles.
“The biggest thing is we got rid of the rough and brought in a lot of wiregrass which can make it play tougher,” Fruchte said. “There could be some difficult lies. We have also narrowed the fairways. Before we had 28- to 32-yard-wide fairways and three inches of rough. It’s a Donald Ross golf course that stands up to the test of time. We’ll see how it stands up from 2007 to now.”
John Bodenhamer, the Chief Championships Officer, said the USGA includes Pine Needles on a list of courses it calls “cathedrals of the game,” The Observer reported. Other courses on that list include future U.S. Women’s Open sites such as Pebble Beach, Riviera, Inverness, Oakmont and Pinehurst.
“We are going to the game’s greatest places,” Bodenhamer said. “It’s the litmus test the USGA uses for the Women’s Open. It’s just an amazing lineup that we are proud of.”
But Pine Needles will rank at the top of the list by hosting its fourth national women’s golf championship, The Observer reported.
“We like to think of Pine Needles as an incredibly special place,” he said. “There is a reason this is the only place in the game to host four U.S. Women’s Opens. Just think about the honor roll of past champions here. Great courses produce great winners.”