During this interview, I gained much insight into how to play a course like Pinehurst, golf in general and a little life lesson that the game can teach us all.
SM) Have you ever played Pinehurst?
NH) Yes indeed. I played it last May when I was over for an event that we did with the Country Club of North Carolina.
SM) Did you ever play it before the renovations done by Crenshaw and Coore?
NH) Unfortunately not.
SM) How did your day go?
NH) Well, we played the first seven holes in torrential rain. The caddies couldn't keep up with keeping everything dry. Right when we decided to pack it up, the rain stopped. After a few minute break on hole 8, the sun came out and we finished the round with brilliant weather.
SM) Maybe Mr. Ross heard your pleas for sun?
NH) [Chuckle] Maybe indeed.
SM) What did you think of the course?
NH) I loved it. ... I will say that we thought that the changes of adding the waste area may have made the course a little easy. The fairways are quite generous and the lies we had in the waste areas were not very penalizing.
SM) Funny you mention that because I came upon a tv interview last night on the golf channel and they were saying how the original intention of having little vegetation in the waste areas has been lost as native plants have taken over. They are now fearing that the waste areas may be too difficult.
NH) That's good to hear. One wouldn't want for the players to have an easy time playing over those areas with no fear of penalty.
SM) Of course, one of the topics that gets most of the attention here are the green complexes. Knowing that Ross comes from Dornoch, did you see similarities that indicate that Dornoch served as inspiration for his courses here in America and in particular the course at Pinehurst?
NH) Most definitely. Dornoch has many crowned greens and roll off areas. The greens here at Dornoch, however, are much bigger than at Pinehurst and the slopes are less dramatic as well. We couldn't have slopes like that here because the course would be unplayable with the conditions we have. The slopes around the greens at Pinehurst are treacherous in places.
SM) After playing golf on a links like Dornoch for much of your life, what advice do you have for playing Pinehurst?
NH) Playing links golf demands imagination. You need to be able to see all the different ways that you can get the ball to the hole. You need to be able to see the ball rolling over the different swails. Even from 100 or 200 yards out, you need to see the ball rolling up to the green. In links golf, total distance of a course and the holes means almost nothing. The playing distance is going to change every time. Today's courses are being pushed to 7,000 yards and more. At Dornoch we play to 6,700 yards from the back and it is not any easier to score on it.
SM) Are there any written or oral records of Ross sending back his thoughts of America and Pinehurst in particular?
NH) Not much to my knowledge. I think the only written record is what he wrote himself in his books. I don't know of any correspondence that he had with people back in Dornoch. What we know is that as a lad he trained as a carpenter and fancied himself a good golfer. He came to the club and got some training in greens keeping. The club then sent him to St. Andrews to get more training. And then he left for America. As I know, he made only a couple of trips back to Dornoch.
SM) I've played some links golf and always loved it. It is definitely different than golf here in America. it seems that we spend a lot of time trying to perfect things, from our swings, to our equipment and to our course conditions. As someone who has played a lot of links golf, what is your opinion on the role of luck in championship golf?
NH) I think that luck is essential to the nature of golf. Golf is a game played outdoors, in the wind, the rain and the sun. The conditions change from day to day and so should the way we play a course. Course conditions can even vary from green to green. We try to make greens consistent, but there is no reason for them all to be identical. That is why we have the most beautiful game of all. That's what makes golf fun and exciting. Luck is what adds to the excitement of golf and especially to championship golf. How a player handles the good breaks and bad breaks is what makes him a good golfer. A good bounce can send a ball toward the hole making for an easy birdie as opposed to a bogey. That gives us more confidence on the next tee shot. That is the essence of the game.
Besides, I think that we all know that the breaks eventually even themselves out in the end. It is how you deal with the breaks that makes you. Now, they may not even themselves out during the course of a round or even a tournament. Maybe not even during a season. But when we get older and we are sitting in our chair thinking back on things, we realize that we get all the breaks we deserved and that we all had a fair crack at it.
Neil Hampton is the General Manager of Royal Dornoch Golf Club, Dornoch Scotland, birthplace of Donald Ross.