Prepping Pinehurst No. 2 for the 2024 U.S. Open

The 124th U.S. Open at the historic Pinehurst course is a humbling and proud time for superintendent John Jeffreys and his team.


John Jeffreys walking on Pinehurst No. 2.
Pinehurst No. 2 superintendent John Jeffreys is in his element at the course he has overseen for 10 years. Photos by Matt Gibson

Those who know John Jeffreys best say he is even keeled. Consistent. A leader. On one rare occasion, however, he had to contain himself.

Eighteen years ago, as he stood on the driving range at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club Course No. 6, Jeffreys was informed that he would have a new role on the famed grounds in the village of Pinehurst, N.C.  “They told me they wanted me to come over to Course No. 2 to be an assistant. I wanted to jump up and down,” says Jeffreys, who staying true to his traits refrained from jumping up and down.

Still, what a leap.

Ten years ago, Jeffreys made another monumental climb. Soon after Pinehurst No. 2 staged the U.S. Open and Women’s U.S. Open back-to-back, Jeffreys was promoted to superintendent there. Besides Jeffreys’ rise, so much has happened in that 10-year span at Pinehurst. This month, Course No. 2 will host the 124th U.S. Open scheduled June 13-16. As Jeffreys and his team ready themselves for another major moment in the sandhills of North Carolina, he reverts to his feelings a decade ago when he was asked to oversee one of the most recognizable properties in the world.

“They put a lot of trust in me and what our team can accomplish together,” says Jeffreys, a GCSAA Class A superintendent and 12-year association member. “When Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore were here for their project to restore No. 2 leading up to 2014, listening to Crenshaw talk about how special Course No. 2 was to the world of golf, to the architecture world, put a whole new perspective on how lucky I am to be where I am.”

Bob Farren and John Jeffreys
Jeffreys, right, with one of his mentors, Bob Farren, CGCS, director of golf course and ground management at Pinehurst.

History in the making

How do you top hosting the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens one week after the next? Pinehurst didn’t waste any time to respond.

Shortly after those back-to-back championships 10 years ago, Pinehurst embarked on a landmark regrassing at Pinehurst No. 2. Bottom line: This month’s championship will become the first men’s U.S. Open contended on Champion ultradwarf bermudagrass greens. The grass replaced A1/A4 bentgrass. The decision to make the change significantly altered what Course No. 2 can accomplish on the calendar.

“Now, whether it be the U.S. Open, the North & South tournaments, U.S. Kids, member-guest, all those things happen in that window from May until October, and we knew that was when bermuda was at its best,” Jeffreys says. “If you draw a graph of when our play volume is the greatest and bermuda is at its peak performance, it matches up now, where it was completely opposite on bentgrass. So for us, not only the bermuda greens, but eliminating overseeding allows us to create better conditions more days in the year.”

Any day with Jeffreys at Pinehurst No. 2 is a good day to Darin Bevard, USGA senior director of championship agronomy. One characteristic about Jeffreys that wows Bevard is his recall. “You ask a question about 2014 and what was the height of cut on closely mown, and that we had 0.275 in course prep, and he said we never got that close. It was 0.300. He’s sharp as a tack,” Bevard says. “In working with John, what makes it special, whether preparing for the U.S. Open or daily play, there’s a calm about him. He embodies a calm during the whole process. He’s just a calm guy and has a lot of fun doing what he does.”

Bevard points out that the bermudagrass has been tested for big moments. Pinehurst No. 2 held the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball in 2017 and the U.S. Amateur in 2019. “In August for the Amateur, those things were mint,” Bevard says. “A TV analyst there said, ‘Where do you go from here? Those greens are so smooth, so perfect.’”

Asked if the Stimpmeter will likely exceed the 10.5 mark of 1999 when the late Payne Stewart won the U.S. Open, Jeffreys laughed and said, “It sure will. We’ll leave that up to Darin and his team, Chris Hartwiger and Jordan Booth. It’s so much fun to work with them and the entire USGA team. We’ve had so many opportunities to work with them. It’s like a family reunion when all of us are together.”

That all-for-one, one-for-all mentality has Pinehurst No. 2 in mind, whether Tiger Woods is in the house for the U.S. Open or a club member is taking swings in the summer. “We get a lot of play. We’re a popular place. We’ll get 50,000 rounds a year on Course No. 2,” Jeffreys says. “Bermudagrass has been actively growing in November, December, January, February, March, April, so a lot of traffic at a time the grass is dormant, not growing. Once we start growing, in April forward, we do have growing weather then. But managing golfers’ expectations — they are coming, and they expect it to be U.S. Open conditions Jan. 1 all the way through Dec. 31. They expect that, so how can we mimic the U.S. Open experience for them, either through our customer service or friendliness or attitude or course conditions? We do whatever it takes to make sure they’re satisfied when they leave.”

Jake Brazinski and John Jeffreys outdoors on Pinehurst No. 2
Spray tech Jake Brazinski, left, chats on the course with Jeffreys.

About those greens

The legendary turtleback greens at Pinehurst No. 2 didn’t always look that way.

“We have pictures from back in the day. From 1907 to 1935, they were sand,” Jeffreys says, “so they were sand putting surfaces, and they were little rectangles of sand that were flat. They had to figure out a grass type that work here in the sandhills.”

They had to figure it out in a hurry. The first major ever at Pinehurst No. 2, the PGA Championship scheduled for 1936, was on its way. “The warm-season issues were not good for putting, and greens died in the winter, and the ryegrass and bent died in the summer,” Jeffreys says. “They finally found a combination with rye that was overseeded into a bermuda-type putting green. They had to figure it out because of the PGA Championship, and they had to have grass on the greens.”

Icon architect Donald Ross spent the next 12 years tweaking putting surfaces on greens, which look similar to those from nearly 100 years ago. “I could take you out to the fourth green, and a picture from the 1930s looks identical to the way it did then,” Jeffreys says. “Or the second, eighth or ninth greens. There’s speculation that they (greens) crowned more with topdressing and different things. All in all, I think everything changes a little bit, evolves, and I think the putting surfaces are pretty true to what Ross intended.”

Turtleback greens on Pinehurst No. 2 are as large as 7,600 square feet; the smallest is 5,800. “But the playing surfaces, the pinnable locations and the area that you can actually use, are so much smaller,” Jeffreys says. “A 6,500-square-foot green has only 2,000 square feet of pinnable locations. Yes, the greens are large in square footage, but in pinnable spaces, they’re small, and the room for error hitting into them is so tight. If you miss some greens, you have backstops. You’re banking off of a ridge to the right and left. Here, it’s a plateau. It’s the top. And there’s no room for error, even on your approach.”

Two completely opposite adventures on the greens at Pinehurst No. 2 went down on the same day 25 years ago. John Daly had quite a meltdown on the eighth hole. He was behind the green and tried putting up a hill. The ball rolled back to him. Daly tried again; same result. On the third attempt, a frustrated Daly took a swipe as the ball came back his way, and he was assessed a two-stroke penalty for hitting the ball while it was moving. Daly carded an 11 on the par 4, part of his final-round 83. Stewart, meanwhile, drained a clutch 15-foot uphill putt on the 72nd hole for the victory.

As a junior at North Carolina State University, Jeffreys attended a practice round in that 1999 U.S. Open. “I grew up 90 minutes from there (Wendell, N.C.). I didn’t know about the tradition, the history at Pinehurst,” Jeffreys says.

Little did he know, one year later it would become his home away from home. Still is.

Pinehurst No. 2 fourth hole
A look at Pinehurst No. 2’s fourth hole.

One way to No. 2

Wil-Mar Golf Course no longer exists. Still, the memory of the impact Jeffreys made there remains vivid.

“He’s the crème de la crème that came out of Wil-Mar. He worked here in high school. He had a hunger and a work ethic. You can tell if somebody is going to achieve great heights. We knew he’d go a long way. Pinehurst is a really long way,” says Fran Wilkerson, part of the Allen family that owned and operated the public course near Raleigh, N.C., for 60 years and also was a former women’s golf coach at North Carolina State.

John Rosser was the superintendent at Wil-Mar. He recalls Jeffreys as a “tall, lanky, skinny kid who was polite and did whatever he was told to do.” The Allens urged Jeffreys to get out of his comfort zone and think big. In that region, there wasn’t anything bigger than Pinehurst. “He proved his mettle and put things in his bank of knowledge,” says Rosser, who’s retired. “You want them to learn, advance, do something different. That’s what John did. I couldn’t be prouder of him.”

Jeffreys says he was happy at Wil-Mar, noting that he thought at the time he could be a lifer there. Ultimately, he took it upon himself to visit Pinehurst in 2000. First, he applied there for a job and followed it up by dropping off a résumé for Bob Farren, CGCS, currently Pinehurst’s director of golf course and ground management. It paid off. Jeffreys started 24 years ago as an intern on Pinehurst No. 7, worked his way up to assistant in 2001 on Pinehurst No. 6 and was promoted five years later, setting the stage for the spot he has held for a decade. Folks such as Farren and Kevin Robinson, CGCS, Pinehurst golf course maintenance manager for course Nos. 1-5, were rewarded for their belief in Jeffreys. “He’s respectful. Really good with people. Thinks before he speaks. He knows more about so many different things, whether sports trivia or common sense,” Farren says.

As for dollars and cents, Jeffreys mentioned this bit of trivia: “I only have had paychecks from two places — Wil-Mar and Pinehurst.”

Group photo of John Jeffreys and crew outdoors on Pinehurst No. 2
Jeffreys, center, flanked by his team that he credits often for their work in making Pinehurst No. 2 go. Read more about Pinehurst No. 2 assistant superintendent Andrea Salzman (fifth from left). Photo by Matt Gibson

Ready for action

David Chrobak took a cue from Jeffreys and found his dream job.

Prepping for a U.S. Open wasn’t exactly on Chrobak’s radar. He earned an accounting degree from Wesleyan College, but figured the golf industry would be his future. “I was looking for a career change. I met John and loved what Pinehurst had to offer,” says Chrobak, who along with Eric Mabie and Andrea Salzman are Jeffreys’ assistants. “I started here during COVID-19, but I still felt I found my calling.” Added Mabie, a four-year GCSAA member, “I wanted to be part of something big. This is as big as it gets. Our team is a great core, can be trusted to do anything.”

Beyond the switch to bermudagrass, not a whole lot has changed at Pinehurst No. 2 in 10 years since Martin Kaymer and Michelle Wie West triumphed in those back-to-back Opens. Plant materials in native areas, including wiregrass, were added here and there. As for the fairways, Jeffreys says, “One thing that is unique and nice about us is we don’t have to narrow our fairways. Our fairway widths (on average 35 yards wide and some as much as 50 yards) are what they are.”

There are others like Jeffreys who were there in 2014 and carry on, such as foreman Arlindo Lagunas, who missed one day during the men’s championship for a special reason. “We probably thought he was joking when he said he needed the day off (for Saturday’s third round). We were like, ‘Yeah, right.’ But he wasn’t joking. He got married that day. He said his wife scheduled it,” says Jeffreys, who is pleased to report that Lagunas showed up to work on championship Sunday.

Jeffreys marvels at Pinehurst’s growth over his tenure there. The place defines mecca more than ever. It’s a place where the status quo isn’t part of the plan. In September 2020, the USGA announced Pinehurst Resort as the first anchor site of the U.S. Open. Besides this year (Pinehurst No. 2’s fourth U.S. Open in 25 years), the U.S. Open will return in 2029, 2035, 2041 and 2047. The women will also return in 2029. 

And, Pinehurst opened The Cradle, a short course, in 2017. Pinehurst No. 10 opened this year, and there’s plans in the works for more courses. USGA established Golf House Pinehurst, a 7-acre campus featuring equipment testing and research facility. The World Golf Hall of Fame, which opened 50 years ago at Pinehurst before relocating to Florida, is back and opened in May.

Member play at Pinehurst No. 2 was to be halted May 28 as Jeffreys leads the team for a U.S. Open, for a June date that has been circled on his schedule for quite some time. Twenty-four years after settling in at Pinehurst, this moment is surreal and satisfying. 

Sharing it with others, including his wife, Stacie, and children, Rylee and Reid, makes it even sweeter. “This (U.S. Open) is what you do it for. It motivated me for a long time to be considered a superintendent at a U.S. Open and get to work with the quality of people I do to prepare for this,” Jeffreys says. “It’s kind of mind blowing. I never would’ve envisioned myself doing something like this when I came here to watch in ’99. I never thought this would be the reality, but a lot of people had a lot of faith in me.”

Howard Richman ( is GCM’s associate editor.