This past Monday, my Fried Egg Golf colleague Matt Rouches and I got to play Pinehurst No. 2 as part of the annual U.S. Open media day. First off, we’re pleased to report that the pace of play was delightful. We got around in four hours flat, a mark that my past media-day rounds have come nowhere near matching. Kudos to all involved.

Secondly, what a course! A genuine masterpiece, and a place that all golfers should try to see before they die. Here are three aspects of the Donald Ross design (restored to its 1930s/40s form by Coore & Crenshaw in 2010) that caught my attention:

They call them the Sandhills, not the Sandflats. The topography of the No. 2 course has a reputation for being fairly subtle. I suppose this is true, compared to the dramatic landscapes of most other highly ranked American championship courses. The properties at Shinnecock Hills, Oakmont, LACC, and Oakland Hills are obviously bigger and bolder. Yet I was struck during the media day by how eventful Pinehurst No. 2’s terrain is, and how cleverly the holes use the various slopes and undulations.

One thing Ross’s design does particularly well is incorporate the most interesting bits of topography into the landing zones for tee shots. Often there will be a tilt, dip, or swell right where most players’ drives will land. In these spots, the fairway will often run at an awkward angle to the line of play or swerve around a hazard. This combination of topographical movement and fairway orientation makes the tee shots at Pinehurst No. 2 uniquely challenging. Only players who choose smart targets and hit the preferred shot shapes with precision will find a lot of fairways here.

More than turtlebacks. The primary talking point about Pinehurst No. 2’s architecture has always been and will always be the “turtleback” design of the greens. (I prefer “upside-down saucer” as a descriptor, or, more simply, “domed.”) What I found more impressive than the severity of the runoffs at the edges of the greens, however, was the intricate contouring of the short-grass surrounds. On the first hole, for instance, there are two closely mown mounds just below the ledge on the right side of the green. When players miss right, their ball will not only kick right but also potentially end up in a fiddly lie on the side of one of the hummocks. These kinds of details lend variety and complexity to Pinehurst No. 2’s short-game test.

Finisher. The 18th hole at the No. 2 course: it’s hard. This is not a new observation, but when I played this bruising par 4 on Monday, I found myself chuckling. How can anyone play this hole successfully under pressure? If you hit your drive to the wide part of the fairway on the left, you’ll be faced with a very long approach into an exacting green. If you try to push farther up off the tee, you’ll have a hard time holding the increasingly narrow, tilted fairway. And to cap it off, the green—which has the shape of a sine wave, with peaks front and back and a trough in the middle—puts stringent demands on short-game and putting skill. The whole thing is just really, really difficult.

On a brighter note, all of you hardos out there will be pleased to hear that if an unpopular leader blows his drive way right on the 18th hole at Pinehurst No. 2, he will not have much of a chance of making par.

This piece originally appeared in the Fried Egg Golf newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.