PINEHURST, N.C. — The U.S. Open's return to Pinehurst is the first time in over a century that the U.S. Golf Association has awarded four opens to a single site in a span of 25 years. That makes the 124th U.S. Open a historic event for both the golf world and North Carolina.

What You Need To Know

  • Round two of the U.S. Open is happening Friday in Pinehurst
  • The championship’s return marks the first time in over a century that four opens are played at a single site in a span of 25 years.
  • Lee Pace, a freelance writer and author, believes Pinehurst is a unique place for the U.S. Open

“Pinehurst is a golf-centric village. It lives, dies, eats, sleeps, breathes golf,” Lee Pace, a freelance writer and author, said. “It’s been called the St. Andrews of American golf, connecting Pinehurst to the home of golf in Scotland.”

Golf is synonymous with Pinehurst, but Pace will be the first to tell you that wasn’t the plan.

“Pinehurst was conceived in 1895 by a man from Boston named James Tufts who wanted a wintertime escape for folks from New England who were frail of health and needed someplace warmer. At the time, Florida had not been developed,” Pace said. “Golf was not part of the original equation.”

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The history of the sport and North Carolina’s ties to the U.S. Open live in his mind.

“One thing that happened leading up to the ’99 Open was that the entire state, and particularly the business community, embraced the event,” he said. “They said, ‘We're not going to let this fail.’”

Pace is full of knowledge about Pinehurst.

“Pinehurst was conceived as a wintertime resort, so it was open from October through April, and then it closed down. The staff went to other places where it was cooler, so it was never possible for the U.S. Open to be played at Pinehurst on a course that was considered one of the best in the country,” he said. “It was not until the 1970s and the advent of air conditioning that Pinehurst became a year-round resort. So that's when they were able to start having conversations. It still took a number of years to work out a lot of logistics and a lot of elements to the golf course. But finally, in the 1990s, the USGA, which runs the U.S. Open, was confident No. 2 could stand up and be a great test for the world’s best players.”

The 1979 UNC grad has been writing about golf for almost four decades.

“I started out as a sportswriter for the Asheville Citizen and then the Durham Morning Herald. One of my many jobs was to cover golf. The more I wrote about it, the more I wanted to play it and the more I played it, the more I wanted to write about it,” he said.

Pace has put much of what he knows about golf into three books, including one that focuses on the restoration of the course that started in 2010.

Lee Pace, a freelance writer, holds one of his books at Pinehurst No. 2. (Spectrum News 1/Kyleigh Panetta)

“This is very much as it looked 125 years ago when James Tufts came here and created this village and Donald Ross came here and started designing golf holes,” Pace said.

He says the demographics of the volunteers have a lot to do with the event's success in North Carolina.

“There are a lot of retired residents here who love golf, and they have the time to be volunteers to do everything from scoring to shuttles to player hospitality, all the things that they need volunteer help. Well, they've got a built-in labor force here,” Pace said.

He was here the last time the U.S. Open was at Pinehurst in 2014 and says that year brought something new to the competition.

“In 2014, something that had never been done before was to hold the men's and women's back to back. That was a novel approach, an aggressive approach by the USGA and Pinehurst. But they were able to pull it off, and it was a very successful two weeks,” Pace said.

This year, there’s a lot of talk about the type of grass that athletes will be playing on.

Lee Pace, a freelance writer and author, watches Tiger Woods at Pinehurst on Wednesday. (Spectrum News 1/Kyleigh Panetta)

“They've also converted the greens from bent grass to Bermuda grass, so they're a little firmer, a little faster. This is the first U.S. Open that's ever been held on Bermuda grass greens, so that's going to be an interesting element to see,” he said.

Even for someone who’s covered the sport for this long, there’s something captivating about standing within feet of players like Tiger Woods. It’s an admiration for a game that’s hard for anyone to perfect, part of its magic.

“To bring the U.S. Open here, it brings the national championship to a town that loves golf and that exists because of the game of golf,” Pace said.

The U.S. Open runs through Sunday.