Two of golf's most recognizable and historic brands - the United States Golf Association and Pinehurst Resort - have collaborated to significantly alter the future of the North Carolina Sandhills.
The implications will reverberate well beyond the borders of the Tar Heel State as well.
The USGA, a 501c3 non-profit with its "Golf House" headquarters based in Liberty Corner, N.J., announced Sept. 9 that it will invest $25 million to create "Golf House Pinehurst" as a secondary headquarters and will host five U.S. Opens on Pinehurst No. 2 by 2047, creating the very first "anchor site" for the major championship. The two new buildings of "Golf House Pinehurst" will include a new equipment-testing facility, innovation hub, museum/visitor center and offices built on donated resort grounds by 2023.
USGA CEO Mike Davis said Pinehurst's proximity to North Carolina's famed "research triangle" of universities and its history played a major role in the decision.
"It is pretty amazing," Davis said at the introductory press conference. "If you take those five U.S. Opens and those things that we are mentioning here, over that period of time, it is estimated to be over a two billion dollar impact to the area. That’s not even noting the international and domestic exposure that some of these big championships give. We think it’s ground-breaking, and we couldn’t be more excited.”
The Pinehurst Impact
Government tax incentives reported to be upwards of $43 million helped usher in the deal. Representatives from the state, county, village and resort levels all spoke at Wednesday's press conference, extolling the virtues of the agreement that started as a conversation between Davis and Pinehurst Resort owner Bob Dedman Jr. roughly five years ago. Serious talks lasted about a year.
North Carolina State Senator Tom McInnis noted that, with the government hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, private donors and philanthropists stepped up to help finalize the terms. Davis said the USGA has committed to employ 50 full-time employees within the state and host U.S. Opens in 2024, 2029, 2035, 2041 and 2047. The USGA will also bring its other premier championships to the state at an "increased rate," including, but not limited to, the U.S. Women’s Open, U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Amateur, U.S. Women’s Amateur, U.S. Junior and U.S. Girls’ Junior. The Pine Needles Resort & Club in nearby Southern Pines is already scheduled to host its record fourth U.S. Women's Open in 2022.
The news - coinciding with Pinehurst's 125th anniversary this year - continues the resort's incredible run of growth and investment in recent years. Since No. 2 was restored by Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw in 2011, Pinehurst has built The Cradle, one of golf's top new short courses; purchased Pinehurst No. 9; hired Gil Hanse to completely redesign No. 4; constructed the Pinehurst Brewing Co. in the village and completely modernized both the main clubhouse and Manor Inn with new bars/restaurants, common areas and more.
Davis was clear that the USGA will continue to operate its museum in New Jersey, but will share artifacts with Golf House Pinehurst. "We have so many more artifacts than we can showcase (in New Jersey) that we think having a satellite museum here makes so much sense," he added. "There's roughly 1 million golfers a year who come through the Pinehurst area. Why not engage with those golfers more?"
The Major Championship Impact
This isn't the first time that the USGA, founded in 1894, and Pinehurst, founded a year later in 1895, partnered for a new idea regarding major championships. Pinehurst hosted back-to-back men's and women's U.S. Opens in 2014. This unprecedented run of upcoming majors essentially gives Pinehurst a U.S. Open every 5-6 years, which is a much more compact window than normal. Only the Old Course at St. Andrews could be used as much or more in this time frame.
When asked about future anchor sites, Davis said Pinehurst likely won't be the only one but declined to elaborate. Having an anchor site allows the USGA to build key infrastructure that will make the event better for both players and fans. That's not the best news for courses like Chambers Bay, Erin Hills and Los Angeles Country Club hoping to land their second U.S. Opens. LACC's North course, revamped by Hanse, hosts its first Open in 2023.
"Key people in our championship department have been talking about for a handful of years how there's an advantage when we take a U.S. Open to a golf course that's recognized by the players, the familiarity, and also where you can invest in some of the infrastructure," he said. "The idea here became, if we came to Pinehurst more often, there could be some investment. So often when we hold U.S. Opens, the player will see that venue one time, and then they are off the Tour by the time it comes back again. The idea is, go to some of the most treasured sites, hopefully more often, (and) invest in those sites. The byproduct is it allows the fans watching to be more familiar with those courses."
Iconic, popular venues like Pebble Beach Golf Links need not fret about being left off of the USGA's short list of U.S. Open candidates, but other hopefuls probably just had their dreams dashed.
Are you interested in seeing more U.S. Opens at Pinehurst and other USGA events in North Carolina? Let us know in the comments below.