November 10, 2016 By: Matt Ginella – Tom Pashley, President of Pinehurst, knew it was the right thing to do. He grabbed a jacket, got in his car, and drove four hours from the Sandhills of North Carolina to Hendersonville to meet with Tom Fazio face-to-face.
“It just shows you how much they respect the game,” says Fazio. “And I appreciate it. But I told him I could’ve saved him eight hours in the car. He could’ve just called me. I’m on Team Pinehurst. If they want to make changes, that’s their prerogative.”
No shock that “The Cradle of American Golf” is constantly looking to make enhancements to an otherwise storied and historic resort, but what’s somewhat surprising is that the changes are to one of their most notable offerings.
Pashley’s news to Fazio was that he, along with owner Bob Dedman Jr., have hired Gil Hanse to completely renovate Pinehurst No. 4.
“Sometimes you need new ideas, new thoughts,” says Fazio. “Gil is very talented. He’ll do a great job, and I’m sure people are going to love it.”
“The restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 was the game-changer,” says Pashley, who was vice president at Pinehurst when the Donald Ross original was restored in 2011. “When it became what it is, we started looking at everything differently.”
Pinehurst consists of nine courses, with Nos. 1 thru 5 surrounding the main clubhouse. Nos. 6 thru 9 are all a short shuttle ride away. If No. 2, host of multiple U.S. Opens and the Women’s U.S. Open in 2014, gets 35,000 rounds per year, No. 4, which was the companion course for the 2008 U.S. Amateur, gets roughly 32,000 annual rounds. (In light of this news, the 2017 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship moves from No. 4 to Nos. 2 and 8.)
No. 4 was originally built by Donald Ross in 1919. Changes were made by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in the late 1950s, and again by Rees Jones in the early 1980s. Fazio made his significant alterations in 1999.
Now Hanse gets his chance.
“To have our name associated with Pinehurst is an honor and an accomplishment,” says Hanse, on his cellphone from Winged Foot, where he was finishing restorations to the West Course.
Which is to say, Hanse and his partner, Jim Wagner, are on a roll. From the Olympic Course in Rio, they have built Mossy Oak in West Point, Miss., and Streamsong Black in Bowling Green, Fla. (opening in 2017). They’ve made restorations to Los Angeles Country Club, Merion in Philadelphia and Winged Foot in New York. And now for a complete redo at Pinehurst.
“Gil is a great person and he gets the vision,” says Dedman. “He is hands on, pays attention to detail and he’s a true artist. He was the right man for the job.”
Pashley says the work won’t be limited to changes to No. 4, which Hanse will start next fall. In June, Hanse will use what are the first holes of courses No. 3 and No. 5 for a 10-acre short course.
“It needs to make sense for my 10-year-old son, buddies trips, and the corporate non-golfer who just wants to go out and hit some shots,” says Pashley.
Hanse suspects there’s room for seven to ten holes on the land that is usually used as a driving range during a U.S. Open.
“We will figure out the best set of holes and that’s how many we will build,” says Hanse. “And the design will be about fun and not so consumed by shot value. I’ve learned that if you make a hole a blast, people will figure out how to play it.”
According to Dedman, these changes are all a part of his master plan. The addition of the short course will call for slight alterations to the routings of Nos. 3 and 5, which might be done by Kyle Franz, who worked with Hanse on the Rio Olympic Course and who has been busy down the street restoring Mid Pines and Pine Needles.
The putting course at Pinehurst, Thistle Dhu, will be enlarged and moved closer to the clubhouse, which recently opened The Deuce, the new bar and grill that overlooks No. 2’s 18th green.
Pashley’s presidency, which began after back-to-back U.S. Opens in 2014, is off to an impactful start. Following in the rather large footsteps of his predecessor, Don Padgett, who’s legacy will be hosting successful U.S. Opens, and for hiring Coore-Crenshaw to restore No. 2, Pashley is making a name for himself by picking up right where Padgett left off.
Meanwhile, Hanse is also on Mike Keiser’s short list to build another course at Bandon Dunes. And if he gets that job, which seems inevitable, he’ll share a Pinehurst, Bandon Dunes and Streamsong trifecta with Coore-Crenshaw, who have also done work at the three popular resorts.
“If that were to all come true,” says Hanse, “boy, oh boy, that’s pretty amazing to think about.”
And yet, some fans of the current No. 4 might wonder why Dedman and Pashley aren’t building what would be Pinehurst No. 10.
In 2011, Pinehurst purchased The Pit, a course a few miles from Pinehurst’s main clubhouse, which was in foreclosure and remains closed. Coore-Crenshaw have done a routing on what would make for a memorable addition to the Pinehurst golf portfolio. But after much deliberation, Pashley and Dedman opted first to continue putting the shine on the hub of their business.
“The challenge was the unknown,” says Pashley. “Better off to create new, or spend millions enhancing something already here? In the end, we felt like focusing on something here, which will now be a vibrant spot to be.”
Not much will be recognizable about the new No. 4. Hanse says he has already spent a lot of time at Pinehurst, has a routing, and although he will utilize certain corridors that Fazio and the architects before him utilized, he’s not restricted and considers this a blank canvas.
Hanse plans to remove almost all cart paths and move greens and tees closer together, which will make it more walker-friendly. There will be lots of exposed sand, which will bleed into the trees.
Expectations are high for the finished product. Dedman hopes for something in the league of No. 2, and something also worthy of hosting major championships.
“I can’t say we’re going to build something better than No. 2, but we can draw from it,” says Hanse. “We will be influenced by it, we’ll be inspired by it and appreciate that level of greatness. And in the end, our hope is something really special.”
Pashley says it will be a far cry from the original, but he hopes that Ross would recognize the character, aesthetics and playing conditions of the new No. 4.
“It’s not a Ross restoration,” he says, “but the spirit will be here.”
A spirit that seems to be disseminating from Pinehurst leadership, architects and staff, all of which is benefiting the avid amateur.
“A golfer walking off the main steps of this historic clubhouse,” says Dedman, “we want them to see heaven on earth.”