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Pinehurst toughening up for 2005 US Open

When players arrive at Pinehurst next summer for the 105th U.S. Open, they'll find a golf course that will play longer and tighter than it did for the '99 Open, and one that just may be the longest in U.S. Open history.

Payne Stewart may have been the only player to break par during the '99 Open at the famed No. 2 course, but Pinehurst officials wanted to ensure that the course remains a severe test for the game's growing number of long hitters. The project of adding nearly as much as 125 yards to the course should be completed by the end of the month and could bring the total length to 7,300 yards.

"I think it brings the same clubs back into play as '99," said designer Rees Jones, while checking on the progress last week. "But I think the course would have stood up even without the new tees."

Five tee boxes have been pushed back, including one that extends the 11th hole from 453 to about 485 yards. The second, fourth and 11th holes will also be extended about 30 yards apiece, while the tee at the seventh has been moved back and to the left to create a more severe dogleg.

Whether the USGA actually uses all of the tees won't be clear until next year, but executive director David Fay said. "I think the expectation is we'll use them all."

Fay said the changes weren't required by the USGA and weren't necessary for the Open's return -- which will be the quickest for a U.S. Open since Canterbury Golf Club played host in 1940 and 1946.

But, with an eye toward technological advances, Pinehurst officials began discussing changes soon after Stewart sank his unforgettable putt to win in 1999. That year, John Daly was the only PGA Tour player to average more than 296 yards off the tee. This year, there are 11 such players.

"This will bring into play the Donald Ross chipping areas a lot more and the recovery game," Jones. "What Ross did when he built this course was scoop out the chipping areas. So even if you missed the green you're not that far away. A lot of chipping areas take your ball into the woods. This really gives players options on how to approach the shot."

At 7,214 yards in 2000, the Black Course at Bethpage State Park remains the longest course in Open history. Pinehurst No. 2 played at 7,175 yards in 1999.

Nevertheless, Fay called Pinehurst's changes "minimalist," believing that once finished, they would seamlessly fit the character of the course.

"Basically, you've got the same furniture, you're just moving the chair a little farther away from the TV set," Fay said. "Unless (players) have an encyclopedic mind, which some do, some of them might not even pick up on the new tees."

If the length isn't enough, Pinehurst should be much tighter next summer. Course superintendent Paul Jett said the fairways will be cut 24-26 yards wide -- with the exception of the third (narrower) and fifth (wider). In 1999, fairways were cut 28 to 32 yards wide.

"With the added length and the narrower fairways," Jett said. "there's no reason to say this couldn't be three to four shots harder this time."

One thing that's clear, though, is there may be many comparisons to come. Fay indicated that the success of the '99 Open has elevated Pinehurst into that unofficial rotation of U.S. Open courses that includes Pebble Beach and Shinnecock.

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