Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Day With Gentle Ben At Pinehurst No. 2

    Walking up the 18th fairway at Pinehurst No. 2 Monday afternoon, Lorne Rubenstein, the outstanding golf writer for the Toronto Globe and Mail, said he was reminded of the axiom that says sports writers are underpaid and over-privileged.

   We were finishing a round at No.2 with Ben Crenshaw, who along with his partner Bill Coore, has done a spectacular job in restoring the Donald Ross classic to its former glory. Gary Williams, host of 'The Morning Drive' on The Golf Channel, was also in our foursome and the only regret was that the day had to end.

    There may be no more accurate nickname in golf than Gentle Ben. He loves the game but, perhaps more than that, Crenshaw loves all that comes with it. He loves the history, the personalities and the way golf can make you feel. That's why he and Coore were the perfect -- and only -- choice to take Pinehurst No. 2 back to what it was.

    They get it.

    They were bold enough to strip away all the rough, returning the areas off the fairways to the natural, sandy and unkempts state. They've put ragged, worn edges on the bunkers, added a few fairway bunkers in spots and recreated a masterpiece. You may have played No. 2 before but, unless you've been there in the past month, you haven't played this No. 2.

   Playing with Crenshaw was a rare treat. For those of us unaccustomed to playing in front of a gallery -- if you can call the 50 to 100 people who followed us a gallery --it's a little unnerving at the start to have spectactors watching you play golf. But they were there to watch Ben, who took the time to talk with people walking along, telling them about the course or listening to their stories.

   He's proud of the work he and Coore did at No. 2 and he should be. As we went around the course, Crenshaw would point out features both big and small that were tweaked or restored.

   He can still play, too. He doesn't bomb it off the tee but he never did. But he could always putt and he still can. Little Ben, the Wilson 8802 putter he's used since he was a teenager, was in his bag and he used it hole back-to-back birdie putts midway through the round. He has 13 models of the same putter but he still uses the original.

   During the day, the conversation ranged from the work he did on each hole to what he sees in Tiger Woods' putting (he thinks Woods has a more rounded stance and has his hands lower than a few years ago) to topics outside the game.

   He was encouraging and complimentary when the three of us would hit good shots -- and we all hit a few once we got accustomed to having a few dozen people watching. Crenshaw made it feel like we were playing golf with an old friend.

    There is an uncommon grace about Ben Crenshaw. Getting the chance to spend an afternoon with him at Pinehurst No. 2 was as special as the surroudings.


Freddy said...

How much does it cost to play #2 now? I remember going there back in the mid-80's and playing that course for about $70. I suspect it's a bit more now, but hopefully still affordable for those not in the top tax bracket.