SOUTHERN PINES, North Carolina – Kelly Miller might be the busiest man in golf these days, but the president of Pine Needles Lodge & Club and Mid-Pines Inn in Southern Pines, N.C., is taking it all in stride.
“The lull before the storm,’’ said Miller, who recently managed to take off a few days to play golf at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, FL.
The storm that’s brewing, of course, is the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open, June 2-5, on Pine Needles’ famed Donald Ross 1927 layout. That this will be the fourth Open in his 40-plus years at Pine Needles, explains the calm in Miller’s voice.
“We have a great staff, so it’s not all-consuming. But it will get busier as the U.S. Open gets closer. We will start building stuff in February and March, and then really get going in April and May. Then comes June.’’
Annika Sorestam, in 1996, won the first U.S. Women’s Open played at Pine Needles, a golf resort founded by the legendary Peggy Kirk Bell and her husband, Warren, in 1953. Karrie Webb won at Pine Needles in 2001 and Cristie Kerr in 2007.
Helen Alfredsson won the 2019 U.S. Women’s Senior Open on Pine Needles, two years after Kyle Franz’s fine-tooth-comb restoration brought back much of the ambience and character of Donald Ross’s original design.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the Pine Needles course in three previous U.S. Opens and 2022 U.S. Open will be that the field will be playing off Bermudagrass fairways and greens. The previous Opens were played on overseeded ryegrass fairways and Bentgrass greens.
In addition to changing out the grasses, Franz added indulations to some greens that Miller said, “makes them much more tricky’’ than before.
This past winter and summer some of the fairway landing areas were narrowed at the U.S. Golf Association’s request.
“They wanted us to do it with rough, but we actually did it with sand scape,’’ said Miller, who is married to the Bell’s middle daughter, Peggy Ann. “That turned out really cool. We also added some tees which make the course a little longer. And we took some of the back Ross tees and moved them forward a little bit. We want the course to play very firm and very fast.’’
Miller said he expects the course to play between 6,400 yards and 6,800 yards, although it can be stretched to 7,000 yards.
“We’re excited about the prospect of getting another great champion. I think it will be someone who is on top of her game. Based on track record, I would expect her to be one of the top 10 players in the world.’’