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The US Open is back in Pinehurst. So is Tiger Woods, and a commitment from the USGA

2024 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 on Monday, June 10, 2024.
Mitchell Northam
/
WUNC
Tiger Woods takes a swing at Pinehurst No. 2 during a U.S. Open practice round on Monday, June 10, 2024.

After 10 years, the pinnacle of golf has returned to the Sandhills of North Carolina.

For the fourth time ever, Pinehurst No. 2 will host the U.S. Open, one of four major championships in men’s professional golf. Officials with the U.S. Golf Association are expecting more than 225,000 people to ascend upon Moore County this weekend for the prestigious tournament.

To accommodate guests, 12,228 grandstand seats and 1,290 premium seats have been installed. There is a merchandise tent spanning more than 34,000-square-feet where the USGA expects more than 100,000 hats to be sold. The USGA estimates that the tournament will bring a nine-figure economic impact to Moore County.

Consistently ranked among the best golf courses in the world and famous for its hard, fast, dome-like greens that can be unforgiving to putts, No. 2 — one of now 10 courses at the Pinehurst Resort — originally opened in 1907 and was designed by Scotsman Donald Ross. More than a century later, it remains respected and a favorite among the top golfers in the game.

“Pinehurst is no joke,” said Bryson DeChambeau, currently in the top 40 of the Official World Golf Ranking. “This is a ball striker's paradise.”

Pinehurst is particularly special for Raleigh native Webb Simpson. The 38-year-old grew up coming here to play with his dad.

“This place is my favorite place,” said Simpson, who earned a spot in the field through local qualifying. “This is a golf course that I feel like I know really well. I feel comfortable on it. I just didn't want to miss the U.S. Open in my backyard.”

Simpson won a U.S. Open in 2012 at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, California — his lone major championship title. This will be his 13th time competing in it. He finished 45th in the 2014 U.S. Open, the last time Pinehurst hosted.

Pinehurst No. 2 also hosted the U.S. Open in 1999 and 2005.

The first time Pinehurst held the event, in 1999, has been immortalized in a statue that now stands at the No. 2 course. It’s of winner Payne Stewart celebrating his narrow victory, pumping his right fist while standing on just his left leg after making a putt for par on the 18th hole to give him a one-stroke win over Phil Mickelson. Stewart tragically died in an airplane accident just months later.

Tiger Woods tied for third at Pinehurst No. 2 in 1999 and then lost to Michael Campbell by two strokes in 2005. While recovering from back surgery, Woods didn’t compete in the event in 2014. And so, despite owning 15 major championship wins — the second-most all-time to only Jack Nicklaus — Woods has never really had his moment at Pinehurst.

But the 48-year-old is in the Sandhills this week and competing, still chasing Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. Despite winning just one major since 2008 — the 2019 Masters — Woods still might be the most recognizable face in professional golf. This is the first U.S. Open he’s competed in since 2020. He has nine USGA titles, matched only by Bob Jones.

While practicing this week, Woods had his 15-year-old son Charlie with him on the course.

“I love the tests of U.S. Opens,” Woods said. “I've had a little bit of success here back in '99 and 2005. I'm looking forward to this week and getting it underway… I trust (Charlie) with my swing and my game. He's seen it more than anybody else in the world. He's seen me hit more golf balls than anyone. I just want to see the balls rolling. He reminds me every now and again, which is great.”

2024 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 on Monday, June 10, 2024.
Mitchell Northam
/
WUNC
Tiger Woods places his ball on the green for a putt at the 2024 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 on Monday, June 10, 2024.

Online sports betting has been legal and active in North Carolina for a few months now. The favorite to win the U.S. Open is Scottie Scheffler at +300 — or 3-to-1 odds — according to DraftKings. The 27-year-old from New Jersey is ranked as the world’s No. 1 golfer and has five professional wins this year, including the Masters back in April.

“I think (Pinehurst No. 2) is great. It's extremely challenging,” Scheffler said. “I don't really think they have to do too much to trick it up with the way the greens are if they want the scores to be high. So, it should be a good test and a fun week.”

What makes the U.S. Open unique is that the field includes amateurs too — 16 of them this year. One is Colin Prater, a 29-year-old ninth-grade biology teacher from Colorado. Another is 19-year-old Bryan Kim, the youngest player in the field and the 2023 U.S. Junior Amateur champion. More than 10,000 golfers entered into qualification for this year’s U.S. Open, but only a field of 156 remain to compete in Pinehurst this week.

Practice for the U.S. Open began on Monday, while official competition runs Thursday through Sunday. The winner will receive $4.3 million.

The Sandhills won’t have to wait another 10 years for the U.S. Open to return though. Beginning in 2029 — when the men’s and U.S. Women’s Open will be played at Pinehurst No. 2 — the community will see the tournament return a total of four more times over the next 23 years. After 2029, the men’s U.S. Open will return to Pinehurst again in 2035, 2041, and 2047. Between now and 2047, Pinehurst will host seven other USGA championships too.

USGA chief championships officer John Bodenhamer talks to reporters on Wednesday, June 12, 2024, at Pinehurst No. 2 ahead of the U.S. Open.
Mitchell Northam
/
WUNC
USGA chief championships officer John Bodenhamer talks to reporters on Wednesday, June 12, 2024, at Pinehurst No. 2 ahead of the U.S. Open.

It’s a product of what many see as the USGA’s increased commitment to Pinehurst — and also thanks to a $25 million incentive package the USGA received through House Bill 807.

Nevertheless, the partnership between the community and the ruling body of American golf is growing. Earlier this year, the USGA opened Golf House Pinehurst, a seven-acre campus that serves as a second headquarters for the organization. That campus also includes the World Golf Hall of Fame, which originally opened in Pinehurst in 1974, then moved to Florida in 1998, and has now returned to Pinehurst.

“People here get the game. When they feel it, it fits. We fit here at Pinehurst because it's about golf,” said chief championships officer John Bodenhamer. “It's at the center of this community. It bleeds through everything that's here.”

Added USGA CEO Mike Wahn: “It's not just the history we have. We've got a future here… And now we’re neighbors.”

Mitchell Northam is a Digital Producer for WUNC. His past work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, SB Nation, the Orlando Sentinel and the Associated Press. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and is also a voter in the AP Top 25 poll for women's college basketball.