March 8, 2020 By: Gerry Dulac — PINEHURST, N.C. — Golf and the history of the game ooze through the charming village of Pinehurst like butter on roasted corn. No other destination in America embraces the richness of the sport and inhales the game’s memories like the Sandhills region of North Carolina.
But it is not just the nine courses that are part of the Pinehurst resort, the most famous of which is No. 2, site of past and future U.S. Open championships. Like four of the other courses on site, it was designed by Donald Ross, who once lived off the second fairway at No. 2 and is revered in town like Lombardi in Green Bay.
There are so many quality, public-accessible courses in the Pinehurst/Southern Pines/Aberdeen triangle (about 40 in all) that it’s almost impossible not to play a good one. The list includes Mid Pines, Pine Needles (site of the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open), Dormie Club, Mid-South Club, Talamore and Tobacco Road. Those with private-club connections can play Forest Creek Golf Club and the Country Club of North Carolina. Each has two layouts.
Of course, every golfer who comes to Pinehurst wants to play No. 2, which underwent a major restoration by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in 2010 and will host its fourth U.S. Open in 2024. To pass on the opportunity would be a golfing sin on the order of going to the Monterrey Peninsula and not playing Pebble Beach. Most resorts with multiple 18-hole courses on their property affix names to the layouts such as North and South, Blue and Gold, Palmer and Nicklaus, Fazio and Jones. Not at Pinehurst. The courses are known simply by number. Number 1, No. 2, No. 3, and so forth, right on through No. 9.
While No. 2 is the resort’s jewel, there is a new attraction on the block to match the feel and look inspired by the Coore/Crenshaw design team.
Gil Hanse, who designed the 2016 Olympic course in Brazil and has done redesign work on some of the top private clubs in the country, has done the same with No. 4, a 7,227-yard layout that is quickly gaining national acclaim. The layout, which was originally designed by Ross but reworked three other times by Robert Trent Jones (1973), Rees Jones (1982) and Tom Fazio (1999), has been renovated to have many of the same dramatic sandscapes and native grasses that became part of the new look at No. 2.
“What Gil was able to do, he really looked at it as an extension of the ground forms and landscape of No. 2 because it sits right next to No. 2,” said Bob Farren, vice president of grounds and course maintenance at Pinehurst who has been a member of the grounds staff since 1982. A recent inductee in the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame, Farren is known affectionately at the resort as “Keeper of the Greens.” “It needed to be a companion to No. 2.”
Hanse is no stranger to redesigning some of the country’s best courses. He completely redid the Blue Monster at Doral and has done redesign work at Merion, Winged Foot and Los Angeles Country Club, all U.S. Open venues. In 2004, he began the fantastic refurbishing at Allegheny Country Club in Sewickley that continues to this day.
Unlike those projects, which are all private clubs, No. 4 is completely accessible to the public. It opened in 2018 and was given instant acclaim when the final 36-hole championship match of last year’s U.S. Amateur was played on both No. 2 and No. 4 — a stunning achievement for a course so freshly refurbished. Golf Digest voted it as the second-best new public course in America.
“The reception we’ve had for No. 4 and the way it’s laid out and plays now with the native areas and the different textures and strategy, there’s no comparison to what it was before,” Farren said. “It’s been awesome.”
In many ways, No. 4 looks like an extension of No. 2, beginning right away with a 450-yard opening hole that doglegs around a yawning sandscape of native grasses. The 489-yard fifth hole, with a slightly rising fairway and elevated green, plays more like a par-5 than a par-4. And the lookback from the 217-yard, par-3 sixth hole, featuring a long, narrow green that falls off sharply to the right, acutely details the No. 2-like look Hanse was trying to recreate with his work.
Hanse did not change any of the fairways corridors at No. 4, but the greens are drastically larger and more undulating than the infamous bowl-shaped greens at No. 2. The only two greens that were completely repositioned were at the 153-yard fourth (raised away from the water) and the 174-yard 11th (completely new hole).
Speaking of par-3s, Hanse’s other creation at Pinehurst was the Cradle Course, a nine-layout that totals 789 yards and features many of the same ground forms and sandscapes that decorate No. 2 and No. 4. It has become a must-play for anyone at the resort.
“It’s not anything we could have ever imagined,” Farren said. “It was one of those projects we didn’t do a business plan or set expectations. Had we set expectations, I promise you we would have exceeded those.”
Gerry Dulac is host of “The Golf Show with Gerry Dulac” heard from 7-8:30 p.m. every Thursday on ESPN Pittsburgh.