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Pinehurst No.2 created by chance

Had it not been for the toss of a coin in Scotland in 1899, the renowned Pinehurst No. 2 course in North Carolina would not be hosting this month's U.S. Open.

Perhaps more to the point, had it not been for that same coin flip, the par-70 layout described by Jack Nicklaus as his favourite venue in the U.S. from a design standpoint would not even exist.

More than a century ago, emerging Scottish professional Donald Ross and John Sutherland, an early green-keeping pioneer and secretary of Royal Dornoch Golf Club in Scotland, were both keen to cross the Atlantic to seek their fortune in America.

However, they agreed only one of them should go.

"So they flipped a coin and Donald Ross won," recalled long-term Royal Dornoch member and village resident Donald Grant in 1998, the year before Pinehurst staged the U.S. Open for the first time.

"My mother and Mr. Sutherland's daughter were great pals and they lived side-by-side growing up. I heard the story often and have no reason to doubt its truth."

That coin toss paved the way for Scotland-born Ross to abandon his roots in Britain and spend the rest of his life designing more than 350 golf courses in his new homeland.

Pinehurst No.2, renowned for its inverted-saucer greens, is Ross's best known and widely regarded as his masterpiece creation.

Opened as an 18-hole layout in 1907, the North Carolina course was fine-tuned by Ross several times until 1946.

Since then, it has staged several leading golf tournaments, including the 1951 Ryder Cup, the 1962 U.S. Amateur, the 1994 U.S. Senior Open and the 1999 U.S. Open, won by the late Payne Stewart.

Long established as one of the world's greatest courses, Pinehurst No. 2 is laid out over rolling Carolina sandhills and is known for being a "thinker's" layout.

It requires a tight, short game around its slightly elevated and heavily contoured greens as well as inspirational putting.

Phil Mickelson, winner of last year's U.S. Masters, regards Pinehurst as the best U.S. Open venue he has played.

"I felt this was the first Open course I played that tested every area of the player's game, from the driver all the way to the short game," said the American left-hander, who finished runner-up there to Stewart in 1999.

"I think Pinehurst is the greatest setup for a U.S. Open."

Golfing great Nicklaus, a winner of 18 major titles, has long admired the Ross creation.

"I think Pinehurst No. 2 has always been my favourite golf course, from a design standpoint, in the United States," he said.

"The reason for that is that it's a totally tree-lined golf course without a tree in play unless you play a bad shot. And there's no water in play.

"I just always marvel at how good a test it has been over the years. It's a very special golf course."

Of course, Pinehurst would never have come into being based solely on a favourable coin toss. The person called in to transform the North Carolina landscape had to have the talent and the vision to deliver something special.

Ross, who was born in Dornoch in 1872, had golf -- and golf course design -- in his blood.

As a youngster, he helped out the green staff at Royal Dornoch before going on to learn his trade as a club professional under the guidance of four-times British Open champion Old Tom Morris at St. Andrews.

Once fully versed in the science of the golf swing, club-making, course design and green-keeping, Ross returned to Royal Dornoch for seven years before starting to think of the U.S. as his next port of call.

A visiting professor from Harvard University persuaded him America was the ideal place for a young golf pro and, following that coin toss, he made his way to Massachusetts in 1899 and found work at Oakley Country Club in Watertown.

While there, he ran the first indoor, wintertime golf school and gained his initial experience as a course designer in the U.S. when he was asked to remodel the Oakley Country Club layout.

As luck would have it, one of Ross's pupils was an acquaintance of Boston pharmacist James W. Tufts, who had bought a 2,000-hectare site at Pinehurst to develop into a winter resort.

At the time, golf was gaining in popularity and Tufts, after building a primitive 18-hole course at Pinehurst, decided to bring in Ross as his resident professional.

Ross moved to Pinehurst in late 1900, began revamping the resort's existing course and soon started work on what was to become the No. 2 course.

Through the toss of a coin, an important part of golfing history had been sparked, as well as the venue for this month's U.S. Open.


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