The upcoming U.S. Open in Pinehurst, N.C., will feature a nostalgic kind of golf course -- and perhaps a glimpse at the future of the sport.
Pinehurst Resort officials have removed acre upon acre of rough that used to line the fairways of their No. 2 course. In its place, they have restored the sandy areas and wire grass that were part of architect Donald Ross' original design.
"We lost the uniqueness of being this beautiful, 30 miles wide, 80 miles long, sand hills of North Carolina," course owner Bob Dedman said. "We wanted to restore that and restore some of the character of the course."
The change could bring economic and environmental benefits.
According to a 2012 U.S. Golf Assn. study, rough sucks up an average of 41.9% of all water sprayed on golf courses. No other features -- not fairways, not greens -- require so much irrigation.
"At the USGA we would say the biggest threat ... to the game long-term is water," said Mike Davis, the association's executive director.
Pinehurst now expects to save on irrigation -- some 700 sprinkler heads were removed -- and also the chemicals used to treat turf. Course workers won't have to mow as much, though the natural areas might need other types of care.
The shift will take some getting used to. When it comes to the Open, players and fans are accustomed to seeing wayward drives burrow into deep, treacherous grass.
Now, players might get off easy with a recovery shot from hard sand. But they could also land on softer ground or difficult vegetation. Davis called it "a different type of challenge" and an experiment well worth trying.
"We hope that this kind of shows the golf world that this can be done in other places too," he said.