January 10, 2019 By: Jason Lusk — How do you copy some of the most famous, trickiest, golf ball-repelling greens in the world, especially when they await next door?
Simple answer: You don’t.
Much is rightfully made of the raised and crowned greens at Pinehurst No. 2, built by Donald Ross, restored by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and ranked No. 14 on Golfweek’s Best Classic Courses list. When Gil Hanse and his design partner, Jim Wagner, were commissioned to rebuild the resort’s adjacent No. 4 course that reopened in September, they took several styling cues from No. 2 – but not the greens.
“We didn’t want to build a tribute course to No. 2,” said Hanse, whose notable course projects include the Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro, Streamsong’s Black and Doral’s Blue Monster in Florida, Boston Golf Club and Los Angeles Country Club. “We liked the aesthetic and we liked a course that fit the landforms more closely, but we didn’t want to build greens like No. 2. We thought that would be stupid, because the best examples of that kind of greens are literally next door.”
Compared to No. 2, Hanse and Wagner’s Ultradwarf Bermuda greens are much friendlier, unlikely to make a player attempt the same chip shot multiple times after a ball rolls off a domed putting surface. Instead of propelling slightly mis-hit shots into bunkers or scrub, as frequently happens on its famous neighbor, the greens at No. 4 are more accepting of ground-game approaches. Shots are frequently funneled to one section of green or another, even as more daunting target areas accept only perfectly played approaches on well-chosen angles of attack.
“I would say there’s a nice variety to our greens (on No. 4),” Hanse said. “Some just lie on the ground, some are perched up. And some just lie on the ground but we kind of dug out the surrounds, so they feel kind of like they’re perched up, but when you look closely they’re not. We probably have more slopes that are feeder slopes, where they’ll take balls to the greens, whereas a lot of slopes on No. 2 kind of repel balls away.”
What does more closely resemble No. 2 is all the exposed sandy scrub, wire grass and pine straw that replaced more than 10 acres of irrigated rough on No. 4.
“The whole reason for what we did, and why the whole thing started, was because of what Bill and Ben did,” Hanse said of that pair’s 2010 restoration of No. 2 that replaced grass rough with native sand. “They restored the beautiful landscape palate.”
Along with No. 2, the new No. 4 will host the 2019 U.S. Amateur. Both courses will be used in stroke-play qualifying before match play is contested on No. 2.
Working off plans and photos supplied by local historians and Ross biographer Chris Buie, Hanse and Wagner restored the ruggedness and hilly terrain of the No. 4 course originally built by Ross in 1919 and that had undergone numerous renovations, most recently by Tom Fazio in 1999. As with the work done by Coore and Crenshaw next door, the sand restores Ross’ original and crunchier aesthetic that presents much different challenges than does wall-to-wall grass.
“The options for recovery are much better than what you get with rough,” Hanse said. “Jim and I really like to encourage players to take more chances. And (the sandy environment) gives players the chance to hit a more exciting recovery shot versus a more mundane recovery shot from rough.”
The new width – minus the rough – is all part of a vast landscape that presents a panorama of strategic lines, challenges, lies and stances.
“Of all the courses at the resort’s core, I think No. 4 has the best landscape,” Hanse said. “It’s so big, and it’s got hills and valleys, and it’s really much more dramatic than any of the other courses. So we wanted to get a scale where the hazards needed to be big and the fairways needed to be wide to match up to that landscape.”
Most of the time the sandy waste areas run parallel to the fairways, encroaching only in spots. Then there’s the par-5 ninth, with its in-your-face tribute to the Hell’s Half Acre bunker at Pine Valley. The waste area, which replaced several clusters of pot bunkers, stretches the width of the fairway, and at its narrowest to the left requires a 60-yard carry. Players attempting bolder second shots up the right might need a 200-yard carry to set up a better-positioned third shot into the green.
“Part of what we see when we look at great examples of course architecture, there comes a point in time that you have to hit a quality golf shot,” Hanse said. “You just kind of have to deal with it.”