Feature Interview with Don Padgett II
Donald Padgett II came to Pinehurst as President in July of 2004. A PGA member for the past 30 years, Padgett is also an accomplished golfer and past PGA Tour professional (1972-74) who qualified for six PGA Championships and three U.S. Open Championships. Formerly Vice President and General Manager of Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, Padgett has served in the ClubCorp family since 1980. In 1989 he won the World Golf Pro-Am on Pinehurst No. 2. He is also the son of Donald Padgett Sr., former Director of Golf at Pinehurst and past president of the Professional Golfers Association.
Padgettâ€™s extensive golf accomplishments include induction into the Indiana, Delaware County Sports, Northern Ohio PGA and Summit County Sports Halls of Fame. His playing accomplishments are equally impressive, including Indiana Amateur champion, two-time Indiana Open champion, two-time Indiana PGA section champion, four-time Northern Ohio PGA Champion and Ohio Open champion. His most thrilling round came during the 1977 U.S. Open, when, paired with Lee Trevino in the third round, he shot a tournament-low 66.
Padgett is a graduate of Indiana University with a B.A. in Marketing. He resides in Pinehurst with his wife Gabrielle.
1. How did Pinehurst No. 2 look and play in 2008, the year that you hosted the U.S. Amateur?
The look of Pinehurst No. 2 in 2008 for the U.S. Amateur was very similar to the look during the 2005 U.S. Open. 22-28 yard wide fairways and 3-inch rough. The course played much softer for the Amateur due to the heat in August versus June. After the 2005 Open, we made the decision to leave the fairway widths the same as they were during the Open and allow an everyday â€œOpen experienceâ€ for our members and guests. We shortened the rough from 3 inches to about 1.5 so it wasn’t nearly as penal.
2. What then was the impetus for making changes?
We’re always looking at the key assets of Pinehurst and making decisions on updates and improvements. For instance, the entire Carolina Hotel was renovated between 2006-2009. Specific to No. 2, we started having conversations in 2007 about making some changes. Those talks became more involved during the 2008 U.S. Amateur. The golf course was set up a bit differently than the 2005 U.S. Open. For instance, the tee was moved up on 7th hole encouraging players to cut the dogleg right corner and go for the green. In watching these top amateurs play that hole, we felt some of the playing characteristics were lost as the only penalty for driving through the fairway was bermuda rough. We had some initial conversations with the USGA during that week and found them to be very receptive to us making some changes prior to the 2014 U.S. Opens. Those initial conversations only focused on a handful of holes, but the resulting project was a complete restoration of the course.
3. Why were Coore & Crenshaw hired? After all, Fazio, Nicklaus, Palmer and Rees Jones are the ones that have worked in the Pinehurst area before.
Clearly, their work speaks for itself. Bill and Ben consistently produce great golf courses. With over a century of history on Pinehurst No. 2, we felt it was important to research and study the various eras during which No. 2 evolved. Ben Crenshaw’s knowledge and respect for golf history made us very comfortable. And Bill Coore grew up in North Carolina and played No. 2 on many occasions. So they really offered a perfect combination of a proven track record, respect for history and tradition, and knowledge of the course in different eras.
4. Ground was broken March 1, 2010. What has been accomplished so far?
One of the first steps in the restoration was to change the fairway mowing patterns to essentially widen the fairway widths by 10-20 yards. Almost immediately, shot angles were restored allowing players more strategic choices as to how each hole could be played. With the narrower fairways, the tee shot was more of a mandate to find the middle of the fairway. The wider and firmer fairways allow so many more interesting options. And it restores the ground game, promotes unpredictable results and adds more interest to a round of golf. From there, we began the extensive removal of 35 acres of bermuda grass. Large industrial size sod cutters and smaller hand cutters were used resulting in hundreds and hundreds of bales of sod. Folks throughout the area would come by and pick up sod for their yards, high-school practice fields, even other area golf courses. The next step was to eradicate the bermuda as it attempted to regrow throughout the summer. In order to eliminate the turf, it must be sprayed when it’s growing. This necessitated watering many of bare areas where the grass was stripped. Golfers watching us water these sandy, dirt areas thought we were crazy. But we had to get the grass to grow to eliminate it. When the bermuda was fully eradicated, the process of planting wire grass began. Over 100,000 plants have been added throughout the course and surrounding wooded area to restore the look and feel of the 1940’s-era.
5. How has the scope of their work evolved since then?
The scope of the work certainly evolved the more time Bill and Ben spent here and with our encouragement and the support of Mike Davis from the USGA. Some of the initial changes that began to take shape were more aesthetic in nature. They would have certainly altered the appearance of the course, but not altered the playability in a major way. The more time they spent walking the ground, studying the pictures and talking with interested parties, we were emboldened to expand the scope to make much more aggressive changes.
6. What are examples of returning Ross playing characteristics to the course?
One great example is the 11th hole. Players stand on the tee and have to make a choice on which side of the fairway to favor. Shots down the right side are ideal if the hole location is on the left-side of the green. Taking the ball down the right brings the expanded sandy wire grass area into play. The left side of the fairway always featured a large fairway bunker, but the bermuda rough between the fairway and bunker often stopped balls from finding the bunker. We’ve now eliminated all grass rough so offline shots will continue to roll into either the bunker or the sandy roughs on both sides of the fairway. You stand on the tee with so many options now as opposed to previously just trying to hit a 22-30 yard wide fairway and play from there.
7. The course was shut to all play on November 17th and will re-open March 3rd. What work is being accomplished during this period?
The course was closed in mid-November for the winter season to allow some of the more extensive work to be completed. During this time, we replaced the centerline irrigation system that had been in place since the 1930’s. Over the years, secondary irrigation lines were added to allow more consistent watering of the grass roughs. Those irrigations lines and heads were removed as part of the irrigation changes. The total number of sprinkler heads went from 1100 down to 450.
There has also been an incredible amount of work on bunkers during this time. All bunkers on the course were reshaped to have a more natural, rugged finish around the edges. Some fairway bunker faces were raised to allow more lure and visibility from the tee. In addition, several bunkers were added to the course based on analysis of historic photography.
8. Talk about the grassing scheme that will emerge when the course re-opens. Is it true that there will be no rough, there will be grass at green height and then all the other grass will be at fairway height?!
Yes, that is true. The course no longer features any manicured/irrigated grass rough. The areas that were formerly grass rough have been replaced with hard-packed sand, wire grass and pine straw. They are still a ‘rough’ if you will, but a sandy vs. grassy rough. We’ve begun referring to them as sandy roughs. The tees and fairways will be mowed at one height and the greens another. The resulting look is very interesting.
The greens were changed from G2 bent to A1/A4 bent grass. The A1/A4 is slightly more heat resistant and offered us an opportunity to eliminate the poa annua from No. 2’s greens. Structurally only 2 greens were slightly modified. The green on hole 15 was extended about 6 feet to the right to bring the greenside bunker back into play. On hole 17, the front greenside bunker that had flashed up due to years of sand accumulation was lowered. This allows the front right portion of the green to gain a new hole location.
10. When the course re-opens, how will it play differently for the touring professional? For a seven handicap? For a fifteen handicap? For high handicap golfers?
There has been much speculation about this question and it seems the only answer is that time will tell. The wider fairways should be helpful to all skill levels, but the firmness of the fairways will allow offline shots to continue until they come to rest in the sandy roughs or bunkers. Higher handicap golfers will no longer have to contend with thick rough and will most likely get more distance as their ball runs through the hardpan sandy areas. So they will have shorter shots into the greens, but might occasionally find a wire grass plant that forces them to play a shot they’ve never encountered.
The greens have always been the heart and soul of Pinehurst No. 2 and they have not been altered. As long as they play firm, they tend to defend themselves regardless of the distance or angles of approach shot.
11. Given that golf is played year round in Pinehurst, shutting down the most famous course at a resort is not without financial consequences. Where is the return for this undertaking? Are you going to raise the rates once the work is complete?
The timing of the closure this winter allowed us to complete the majority of the work during our offseason. As it turned out, the cold weather in North Carolina in December and January resulted in a much lower than average rounds played on all Pinehurst courses. Even if we’d been open, the weather kept much of our offseason business at home.
We have not increased the rates for No. 2 this spring. In terms of a return on the investment, we take a long-term approach to that equation. Pinehurst No. 2 had lost much of the distinctive character that made it unique among the top courses in the world. By restoring that character, we anticipate that golfers will want to return to Pinehurst or visit for the first time to see what’s been accomplished. This is the course that was once a favorite among the likes of Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, and Arnold Palmer. And its been restored to the same look and playing characteristic of that era. History is a permanent part of Pinehurst and we’ve highlighted our history by restoring our most highly regarded asset.
12. Given the increased width to the fairways, what changes are you making to your irrigation system?
The irrigation system had been expanded in recent years to include perimeter heads to support the treeline to treeline overseeding. We determined very early in the process that these heads would have to be eliminated in order to maintain the sandy roughs in a more natural state and to minimize the weed encroachment. We reduced the total heads from 1100 to 450 including green surrounds and tees.
13. How will all this impact how the course is maintained going forward?
The sandy roughs will require a great deal of attention but we feel most of these resources will come from a redistribution of hours spent mowing 35 acres of lush bermuda turf. We do not intend to overseed the course which will enable us to significantly reduce the total amount of irrigation applied resulting in a much firmer surface. We will also focus on increased sand topdressing on the fairways as we work to achieve our goal of firm and fast playing conditions.
14. Given how the ball will run out, are new tees being added in preparation for 2014 Men’s US Open?
We did add a number of new tees to allow the USGA flexibility with the golf course setup. Tees were extended or added on holes 2, 7, 8, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18. The total yardage available is 7,485 versus 7,335 previously.
15. Why go through all this work if the USGA is going to mandate narrowing the fairways for the 2014 Men’s and Women’s United States Opens?
Weâ€™ve worked closely with the USGA since the inception of the restoration plan. Mike Davis visited the course 3 times during the process and has been incredibly supportive. He worked closely with Bill and Ben to ensure that the changes to the course prior to the 2014 Opens will be minimal. One example is the 13th hole. At just 385 yards, itâ€™s a short hole by U.S. Open standards. This fairway was narrowed in landing area for top caliber players and denser wiregrass added on the left side. Everyone was intent on eliminating the need to grow rough on the hole and have it play out of character with the rest of the course.
16. Essentially then is it easier to host these events back to back because there are no concerns regarding the height of the rough?
True. When the decision was first made to bring back to back Opens to Pinehurst, the restoration plans were not in place. The USGA intended to lower the rough height by approximately ½ inch after the conclusion of the U.S. Open. Now, the absence of manicured rough takes that decision out of the equation.
17. Other than the placement of the tees, how will the course set-up differ from the Men’s Open in the first week to the Women’s Open in the second week?
As you know, that is completely a USGA decision. In our conversations with Mike Davis, he expects the green speed to be comparable from week to week. The green firmness will be reduced somewhat for the Women’s Open. Their swing speed does not produce the same amount of ball spin, so reducing the firmness slightly will allow the course to play virtually identical from week to week.
18. Watching the work that is being done, I have no doubt that the No. 2 will open to rave reviews. What is the likely outcome of such reviews on the other courses at the resort?
We certainly hope the reviews are as positive as you suggest. As for the other courses, we’d like to see each course play true to its original design criteria. In the case of No. 2, that meant going back to the sandy, wiregrass roughs of the Ross era. Courses 4, 6, 7 and 8 all play the way they were conceived and intended to play. We might consider introducing some of the concepts from the restoration of No. 2 to courses No. 1 and 3 over time.