Salisbury scramble: Locals descend on nearby U.S. Open

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, June 18, 2024

PINEHURST — Millions watched as memories were cast against an unforgettable backdrop at the Cradle of American Golf over the weekend. While all eyes were on the sport’s biggest stars, a series of locals were on site, some watching, some working, but each witnessing history.

The U.S. Open returned to Pinehurst No. 2 last week for the first time in a decade. The club is hallowed ground for golfers. The always-dapper Payne Stewart, tragically taken too young, won America’s hearts there a quarter century ago with an oft-replayed putt and more oft-replayed celebration to seal victory on 18.

As for the course, it is the only one to have hosted all five of the U.S. Golf Association’s five most prestigious events: U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open, U.S. Amateur, U.S. Women’s Amateur and the U.S. Senior Open. It was also designed by the same man who designed the Country Club of Salisbury, Donald Ross, the famed Scottish golf course designer who moved to the United States and made Pinehurst his home.

That connection proved fitting as numerous locals made the roughly hour and a half journey to Pinehurst last week. For Jacquelyn Jensen, the weekend offered a chance to share a special memory with her husband, Chace.

“I am here for the good company and socialization and bringing this guy out since he is such a big golf fan,” she said.

Chace started playing golf about 16 years ago through friendly connections. As the years have passed, the sport has grown into a passion for him, and like many avid fans, one golfer’s name stands out.

“Tiger Woods is my favorite player,” Chace said. “He changed the sport.”

While he lamented not being able to see Tiger Woods, who missed the cut, bowing out on Friday, a stacked weekend leaderboard did not disappoint.

“It’s one of those situations, if you look at the leaderboard now, it’s just stacked,” Chace said.

For another Salisbury couple, Ann and Parker Hatchett, the festivities began long before the weekend. They signed up to volunteer as workers at the course throughout the entire event.

“As volunteers, you have to commit to four different days and four-hour shifts,” Ann said.

They applied to volunteer last year as soon as the 2023 U.S. Open concluded.

“Throughout the course of the next few months, they ask you what your first, second and third choice of job is,” Ann said.

They opted for the merchandise tent, which, in addition to air conditioning, had a few perks.

“It was so fun,” Ann said. “We met people from all over the place that this is what they do every summer. They apply and travel to the tournaments.”
With it being Father’s Day, Ann said a lot of guests were buying merchandise as gifts for their old man. For the Hatchetts, who worked the Friday before the event opened, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, it was nice to be able to put their feet up and relax at home on Sunday, taking in the final moments from the luxury of their living room. Although now home, a piece of Pinehurst followed them back.

“It’s a true experience and an incredible experience to have in North Carolina,” Ann said. “It’s such an iconic town and course and to be able to see the players up close and realize how athletic they are is really special.”

Former Salisbury High School golfer and current Clemson student Will Fowler’s stint at Pinehurst began even before the Hatchetts.

Fowler applied to be an intern at the course this summer and started helping set up the event more than a month ago.

“It’s a tough job,” Fowler said. “It’s been long hours, but it definitely has its benefits. And it’s been cool to get to know everybody.”

On Saturday, Fowler was marshaling for the final pairing of eventual champion Bryson DeChambeau and Sweden’s Ludvig Aberg.
“I will be walking a shot ahead of them,” Fowler said. “If they need help looking for the ball or working the crowd, that’s where I come in.”

Fowler said on Saturday that his favorite golfer is probably Rickie Fowler, no relation, who also missed the cut, but that did little to diminish the significance of the event for the young college student from Salisbury.

“Tomorrow will be a really cool day,” Fowler said. “We will be able to walk the 18th (hole) together, gather around the green and take a picture with the winner.”

While the event provided a chance for a few golf fans to follow the sport to Pinehurst, it offered one couple in Salisbury, that actually moved from Pinehurst, to return to their old stomping grounds.

Cheryl and Jan Gunter are members of the historic golf club. They moved to Salisbury a few years ago and restored a home on Ellis Street. Cheryl said her husband is a zealous acolyte of Donald Ross, and loves to play his golf course designs.

“Jan plays all over the Carolinas,” Cheryl said.

Over the weekend, though, Jan, like Cheryl, was watching the world’s best. Jan served as a marshal on hole No. 9, where he has a hole-in-one to his name. Cheryl worked in the corporate hospitality facility at the championship tent.

Affirming a sentiment echoed around the course, Jan said last week that “this little village is sacred ground for us.”

Even a place with a million eyes squarely focused still needs security. That’s where Salisbury native Jeremy Alderman, an assistant special agent in charge with the N.C. State Bureau of Investigations came in.
Alderman described himself as a sports fanatic.

“I love any sport I can watch,” Alderman said.

Ten years ago, when the event was last held at Pinehurst, Alderman volunteered to work the event.

This time around, Alderman was assigned to Brooks Koepka’s personal detail, putting him front and center for every stroke of the five time major champion.

Despite Koepka’s rarefied air among golf’s finest players, Alderman said outside the ropes, he was approachable and friendly.

“When it was time to practice or play, he was all business, but downtime in between, we joked around,” Alderman said. “He was very personable.”

Over the weekend, Koepka’s pairing was playing behind world No. 1 ranked Scottie Scheffler. Despite neither superstar really being in contention, their loyalists were out in droves.

His assignment also lent itself to an experience that likely will never be replicated. On Friday, Alderman watched live what most people only saw through their screens — Francisco Molinari’s ace on No. 9 to steal a spot in the weekend. With only one hole to play, Molinari’s 7 over par seemed all but certain to be a disqualifier for the weekend’s cut. As he teed up his shot on the par-3 9th, only a hole-in-one could extend his tournament hopes. A perfect tee shot bounced on the dance floor left and short of the cup before turning homewards. When it dropped into the pin, no one, Molinari included, could believe it.

The next day, Molinari and Koepka played together. As Alderman made his way around the course, he heard the crowd whisper, “There he is. That’s the guy who made the hole in the one.”

One set of Salisbury eyes was not just on what was playing out on the course this weekend, but what the future might hold. While he might not be old enough to play in the U.S. Open the next time it is at Pinehurst, the already-scheduled 2035 installment of the tournament could see Camden Honeycutt, an up-and-coming Salisbury golfer, among the ranks.

Camden was at Pinehurst this past weekend with his father, Ryan, and mother, Meredith. Ryan has played his own fair share of golf, inspired as a young adult 25 years ago, in person to witness Stewart’s memorable triumph. Now Camden has his own memory of DeChambeau’s victory.

Camden is still just a young teenager, but his competitive golfing has led to numerous encounters with other aspiring young athletes like himself.

“When you play competitive junior golf, you meet many, many families,” Meredith said.

Many of those families were at Pinehurst, also soaking up the special occasion. Of course, in competitive junior golf there are no off days. Camden was back at it, playing on Monday.

Meredith explained that they are a Scheffler family. They made sure to follow him around the course, even if he wasn’t in the hunt on Sunday afternoon. For the Honeycutts and especially young Camden, the experience represents a moment in his personal journey.

“The other part with all this, with (Camden’s) accomplishments so far in the youth golf world, it is fun to go and dream about the future, too,” Meredith said. “Every one of the golfers has a story.”

Now, thanks to last weekend’s U.S. Open, Camden’s story has its latest chapter.