“What the heck are you doing?!!??” That was the pointed question from a resident of the Village of Pinehurst in 2011 to course architect Bill Coore one day as he strode through the parking lot at famed Pinehurst No. 2. That’s when it really sunk in – the magnitude of his project.

After all, when over 40 acres of turf are being stripped up and excavated from a world-renowned course like Pinehurst No. 2, these are the sorts of reactions one might expect.

Pinehurst has hosted all sorts of USGA championships, including the 1999 and 2005 US Opens. Famously, in 1999, Payne Stewart won his second and final national title with an electrifying 18-foot par putt make that earned him the trophy by a single stroke over perennial runner-up Phil Mickelson.

But the immaculately classic course those two golf titans waged battle on will be nowhere to be found in 2014. Gone will be the graduated rough that required competitors to hack out back into the fairway, effectively serving as a one-shot penalty. This kind of diabolical rough will be notably absent.

In its place, Pinehurst will be going all natural, restoring the authenticity of original course architect Donald Ross’s designs. USGA Executive Director Mike Davis says this is the way golf is meant to be played – with luck and fortune featuring prominently.

imageCoore says he’s proud of his work alongside golfing legend Ben Crenshaw. He says they’ve given Pinehurst back its identity and brought to life the vision of Ross once again.

It may not be as aesthetically pleasing as in the past, but Coore, Davis and company are confident Pinehurst is leading the way for the future. And this future includes combatting the single-most dangerous enemy to the game of golf: water.

The Pinehurst No. 2 staff and grounds crew have decided to scale back on irrigation projects and allow nature to take its course for two valid, novel reasons: economics and conservation.

Saving money and preserving water are tough premises to argue with. Pinehurst is leading the way in both areas this June.

image (7)What’s more, this year’s US Open championship will be making history. In unprecedented fashion, Pinehurst will host the men’s and women’s national championship tournaments in back-to-back weeks.

The USGA has admitted the daunting task ahead of them, but they believe the potential positives for the sport are worth any risks. The women will be teeing it up on the same course just a week after the men. But will they be playing out of a field of divots? Only time will tell. Good luck, grounds crew!

But the overall statement this makes for the game of golf is undeniable. A newfound appreciation of golfing women will be forged as the best on the LPGA combat the challenge of one of America’s finest and most revered golf layouts.

A connection to the past and vision for the future is an intoxicating mix. I could feel that combo Monday at the US Open Media Day. It reminded me a bit of Augusta National with a distinctly North Carolina feel added in.

image (4)We were treated to a delicious Southern BBQ lunch complete with slaw, salad, sweet tea and red velvet cupcakes. I strolled outside the clubhouse, plopped myself down in a white wicker rocking chair overlooking the 18th green, and closed my eyes.

I could sense the rich history of this Sandhills club. I could practically see Payne kicking his leg in the air as he drained the winning putt in ’99. Yet its members are still striving for more. They aren’t satisfied – as evidenced by the bold 2011 restoration project. And that’s what makes this place so special. June can’t get here fast enough.

The US Open is the hardest examination in all of golf, despite what Mike Davis of the USGA may espouse. That fact, coupled with the mystique and aura of Pinehurst No. 2, should provide awesome theater as the world’s best golfers descend on North Carolina’s golfing gem.

And as for the question posed to Mr. Coore, the answer will be emphatically provided a couple months from now. I, for one, can’t wait to take it all in.

You can follow Matt on Twitter @moakes3