James Walker Tufts, the businessman who founded the Pinehurst Resort at the end of the 19th century, enlisted Donald Ross to develop the golfing element on his enormous Sandhills property and the architect ultimately designed five 18-hole layouts, three of which are still in use today.
One of these tracks is the No.4 course, originally completed in 1919 and subsequently renovated by Robert Trent Jones Snr in 1973, with Rees Jones carrying out a further upgrade a decade later. All of the work done by the father and son’s design teams was rendered obsolete in 1999 when Tom Fazio conducted a complete rebuild of the layout.
In 2007, the course co-hosted the US Amateur Championship and was due to hold the third edition of US Amateur Four-Ball Championship in 2017, an event that has recently replaced the US Amateur Public Links tournament on the USGA calendar. However, in November 2016, Bob Dedman, Pinehurst Owner and CEO, announced that Gil Hanse would redesign No.4 and build a short course (The Cradle), consequently the 2017 Four-Ball Championship moved to the No.2 course.
“There’s a unique character at Pinehurst because of the landscape Donald Ross found when he arrived in 1900,” said Bob Dedman. “Back then, he may have been a minimalist by necessity, but we’re making a choice to present our historic golf courses in a natural state similar to that era. The overwhelmingly positive feedback we received from the work on Pinehurst No. 2 encouraged us to explore options that are a continuation of that effort. We think this is a thoughtful approach to the evolution of golf at Pinehurst, and we think Gil Hanse, with his timeless and natural design philosophy, is the right person for the project.”
The No.4 project began in autumn 2017 and completed twelve months later. Our knowledgeable contributor, Paul Rudovsky, played the renovated No.4 course soon after it reopened:
"I had a number of reactions to the redesign. It is very bold… opening up sweeping vistas by removing or thinning tree stands and replacing many small pot bunkers with bold and large waste and regular bunkers… akin to those installed on #2 by Coore and Crenshaw. However, this is in no way a copy of #2…the greens generally sit low against the ground (as opposed to #2’s famous crowned greens)… and while Pinehurst #2 is relatively flat (with the exception of #5, #13 and #18), #4 has always been blessed by more dramatic land movement.
The basic routing of #4 is essentially the same as before… but the greens are very different. Prior to Hanse’s efforts, they were fairly flat… today they are bold and feature strong slopes, mounds, and ridges. I thought the best holes were #2, #5, #7-10, #16 and #18. On the negative side, I thought some of the greens might be too extreme.”
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Pinehurst #4 has been done many times but finally it is nearly as good as it is going to be. Gil Hanse was the most recent architect to be tasked with making the #4 course both a more interesting and challenging layout. Mr. Hanse succeeded despite having some limitations put on him.
When asking the locals what their favorite course is of the Pinehurst resort, many say the #3 course, which is short in length but has small, interesting greens and good terrain. For them, the #2 course is too difficult with the rounds often taking too long. But with the restoration of the #4 course, this is quickly becoming a more popular option.
We played the Cradle and Pinehurst #2 the day before, on a day of two long thunderstorms that dropped 3 inches of rain and created ponds inside many of the bunkers. Yet the following day, May 30, 2020, the bunkers on #4 did not have any ponds in them, just large wet spots. Due to the Covid-19 impact, the bunkers were not raked with many of the faces needing some repair due to the crevices that had been created. Fortunately, it did not come into play for me although some of the playing partners had their balls wedge into those crevices so we played a free drop in the bunker.
The Cradle is fun, ranging in range from 40 to 110 yards with interesting greens. You play $50 for the day and can go around as often as one wants. My opinion is it is truly fun for parents-children, of groups of 8 or more after the main round has been completed prior to going onto dinner or after having drinks at the club. It is not as good as many other short courses such as at Colorado Golf Club, Ballyneal or Bandon Preserve, but it is enjoyable.
As to #4, Mr. Hanse was handcuffed a bit in that he was giving a time constraint that the course could only be closed for his renovation until a certain date. In addition, the lake that Tom Fazio created when he did #4 remains at thirteen and fourteen. They are the two worst holes on the golf course. The lake feels out of place and the holes visually and architecturally do not fit with the rest of the course. In essence, one feels as if they are playing a Mr. Hanse course for sixteen holes and a Mr. Fazio course for two holes.
Mr. Hanse did build an entirely new par 3, the eleventh, which my caddie told me early in the round fits in much better with the current golf course. After playing the new hole and routing, I agreed with him. The green for the previous par 3 can be seen off to the left of the twelfth hole. The previous par 3 green is being maintained by the resort as a settlement to at least one, possibly three owners of large homes bordering the course who threatened to sue the resort since their large homes were no longer located “on the course.” It is absolute nonsense as there is nothing between their homes and the twelfth hole and thirteenth tee. Every now and then one does not understand what is the minds of wealthy people…..just my opinion. But now they have a green maintained by the resort for their personal usage to putt, chip and pitch balls onto. That is a smart move by both sides.
Mr. Hanse also relocated some greens slightly, such as the fifth hole, a shorter par 3 that he pushed into the hill on the left side.
As to #4, it has more rolling land than #2 although there are flat sections. The holes build throughout the round, with only one obvious mistake in setting the par. From the Orange tees, the course is 7227 yards, par 72, rated 74.9/138. They do not put out the orange tees unless there is a professional or top amateur tournament. The Blue tee is 6961 yards, rated 73.7/135. There is a combo tee named “Putter Boy” after the Pinehurst logo that is 6674 yards rated 72.0/131. We played the White tees due to the still wet turf as we had an early tee time which is 6428 yards, rated 70.8/131. The one mistake in par is that the fifth hole is 489/481/460 and is listed as a par 4, yet unless one is a very long hitter, you cannot make the rise in the hill which stops the momentum of the ball and sends it slightly backwards and to the right. Due to the rain the day before, our longest hitter made the hill but then had a hanging lie as he ball did not make it down into the valley on the other side. While Mr. Hanse and others will say that a hole’s par does not matter as a player should simply play their game and hit the shots they have the ability to hit, it is still humbling and no fun to know one has no chance at par unless they hit three very good shots and then one putt. The simple solution is to change the par on the hole to a 5 and have the course be a par 73.
I will reference the Orange, Putter Boy, and White tees only I was told most people play either Putter Boy or White. There are two other sets of tees and another combo called “lad,” that can reduce the course to 5260 yards.
Mr. Hanse has consistently been very good at placement, number, and shape of bunkers. He does a nice job of balancing fairness and a pleasant walk with a stronger penalty for a very wayward or poor shot. The routing moves in all direction with the tees and green sites primarily being located on the higher points of the ground. The greens are fairly large and undulating with some nice mounding and contouring near many of the greens. There is a good mixture of long and short holes. Recovery is possible around most of every green but there seems to be always one area near the green that you simply do not want to be. From these spots, recovery is very difficult. Much like #2, just off many of the fairways is sand, wire grass and pine needles. There are numerous doglegs on the course as well as some sandy areas and bunker placement that forces one to play a preferred side of the fairway over another.
1 – par 4 450/404. A flat hole with a sharp dogleg right. The fairway is wide although the right side has four large bunkers requiring a tee shot of about 280/230 to clear them. This is followed by two bunkers short right and two at the front left. The green is crowned and did not hole a fairly lofted shot as I went to the back edge even though I landed on the front. This is a visually attractive hole and it reminds me of the first on Merion East although slightly longer. Longer hitters can hit through the fairway here off the tee. I liked the hole also due to the ripples in the fairway as you approach the hole.
2 – par 5 512/498/473. This is perhaps the second most attractive hole on the course as you hit downhill from the elevated tee, perhaps a drop of 40 feet. The fairway tilts to the left. The green is built into the side of a hill with higher ground to the right and behind. The front and left side have quite substantial fall-offs of 12 feet with a very deep, almost cavernous bunker fronting the green. There are two bunkers just off the tee not in play followed by cross bunkers that are large and irregular coming into the fairway from either side. The green is very large and very undulated leaving only three – four pin positions. While the green is fun, it perhaps should be smoothed a bit to allow for some additional areas to place the pins.
3 – par 4 431/378. Playing downhill again. This is a very fine dogleg left features numerous bunkers down the left side and on the right side the sandy area ending with a bunker on the right pinches the fairway. The squared off green has a single bunker nearly the length of the back of the hole. It is a good hole.
4 – par 3 153/140/119. Played against the side of the hill that has the third fairway above you, this is a sharply banked green left to right that is shallow at the front. The entire left side is bunkered with a fall-off on the right. It is an okay hole.
5 – par 4 489/460. I have already commented that this hole should be changed to a par 5. Teeing off on higher ground behind the second green there is a forced carry of about 180 yards over a waste area to a wide fairway but the land rises sharply. If one does not make it up the hill they have a blind shot on this dogleg right. There is a valley after the initial rise and then the land rises to even higher land. Down the right side are trees and sandy areas. The ideal line finds the left side of the green but there is a bunker there. The green tilts sharply left to right with a spine horizontally through it. There is another sandy waste area off the right side. As a 4 this hole is too difficult to be enjoyed and as a par 5, it would increase the fun of it even if it resulted in birdies. I took a 6 as the sidehill lie after my tee shot pushed my ball into the woods on the right.
6 – par 3 217/184. This hole plays from an elevated tee to a green that seems slightly higher than the tee box. There are bunkers down the right side with a substantial fall-off to the right as the land falls sharply down to the thirteenth fairway. The miss here is to the left of the green. The green seemed to have three tiers to it and slopes left to right. It is a good hole.
7 – par 4 439/421/404. This hole feels like it plays longer. It is a dogleg right with sandy areas and bunkers down the right. Trees line the left. The bunkers on the right come into the fairway. Fronting the left side of the green is a bunker that is like an inverted “u.” The green is crowned with fall-offs on all sides. This is one of the better holes on the golf course although it is flat.
8 – par 4 409/402/374. A second consecutive flat hole that features bunkers on the right that cut the fairway in half. Longer hitters can carry these bunkers. There is a single small bunker front left. The green is undulated and a good one. The hole is challenging and fun.
9 – par 5 527/517/484. This hole might have one of the longest tee boxes in the world as it seems 80 yards long. There is a nice view of the course as well as Pinehurst #2 from the top porch of the halfway house. There is a forced carry and then a “hells half acre” ahead to a fairway going to the right but the green is angled back to the left. The green is raised and tilted left to right. The very long and deep bunker has a finger eating into the green which I found with my ball tumbling down the bunker. I missed the green by a foot and was 50 feet away. There are two bunkers set well off to the right to catch those trying to reach the green in two. I felt this to be the second best par 5 on the golf course due to the elevated green complex.
10 – par 4 432/392. As good as the ninth is, the tenth is better although it is another dogleg right. Bunkers and trees line the left side of the fairway with a sandy area on the right. The green is angled back to the right and is raised with the bunker fronting the green being about 6 feet lower. Bunkers are also at the left/back of the green which slopes sharply to the left with all sorts of burrows in it.
11 – par 3 174/165/137. This new hole has two bunkers left and one right. The caddie told me he felt this to be the most difficult green on the course but I did not share that opinion. I did think it to be the best par 3 on the course although overall I felt the par 3’s to be a bit weak compared to the other holes.
12 – par 4 453/387. This hole has an uphill blind shot over a short, forced carry. The dogleg left features sandy waste areas on either side and then a bunker left nearer the green. There bunker on the right side before the green is raised, long and deep. There is another bunker right of the green with another fall-off behind the green. This green has two substantial horizontal ridges in it and is one of the better greens on the golf course. For me this is the best par 4 on the golf course and completes a fine stretch of holes going back to the sixth.
13 – par 5 529/521/504. Playing from an elevated tee to a fairway that slopes right to left towards the lake. Bigger hitters will try to reach the green in two on this sharp dogleg. For shorter hitters, the turn of the dogleg is narrowed with ground sloping towards the lake. The left side of the fairway is a long sandy/waste area while the right side has an unnecessary bunker for either longer hitters that unfairly penalize a good shot while shorter hitters have no hope of a par if they reach it in two. The narrowed area at the turn in also unfair. The green is sat right against the lake on its left side with a large sandy area and bunker behind the green. Simply put, I hate the hole both visually and in playing it.
14 – par 3 216/179. The green is set against the lake on the left side with bunkers on the right and behind the hole. You have to carry over a bit of the lake to a left pin. I could not wait to get finished with the hole as thirteen and fourteen visually bear no resemblance to the rest of the course and destroy the continuity of the course. As I said, I was told Mr. Hanse was not given the time and perhaps not the budget to truly re-do these two holes.
15 – par 4 398/331. Thankfully after the previous two holes, we walk uphill to higher ground and start a stretch of four very nice finishing holes. This slightly uphill dogleg left has one of the wider fairways on the course with two bunkers set off to the left. The real challenge to the hole is the bunker fronting the green on the left and the three wrapping around the right side. The green is tiny with fall-off left and has mounds and spines. It is a good hole.
16 – par 4 321/298/274. This is the drive-able risk-reward par 4 on the course that parallels the road. There are bunkers down the left not in play. The two bunkers set a bit back from the front left of the green are in play for the longer hitters. The green has some substantial movement in it such that I thought my approach shot had gone over the green but was in one of the swales. It is a fun hole.
17 – par 5 590/573/536. Both visually and in playing this hole it is my favorite on the course. The land falls away from the tee down to the green and it is very pretty walk. This hole also parallels Morgantown Road (supposedly many greens are sloped away from it). The approach shots have you navigating bunkers left and right that narrow the fairway at differing lengths followed by three on the right and a large one left. There is a valley before the green which has spines in it. It is a very good golf hole.
18 – par 4 487/408. This dogleg left has the green sat back to the right. Going right to avoid the sandy areas on the left both lengthens the hole and creates a semi-blind shot into the green that has a long waste area and two bunkers on the right with a waste area behind. This is a challenging hole, not quite as much fun as the previous three holes but a nice hole nonetheless finishing on a green that has depressions and hollows in it.
Mr. Hanse and Jim Wagner have designed some very good golf courses such as Boston Golf Club, Ohoopee Match Club and Castle Stuart. They have taken other projects where they changed holes as well as restored others such as Los Angeles North. They have also very successfully restored courses such as Sleepy Hollow, Winged Foot, Southern Hills, Oakland Hills, and Aroninink. Pinehurst #4 is neither a restoration nor is it a new course due to holes thirteen and fourteen that have too much of Tom Fazio left behind. It is a Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner course for sixteen holes. While not comparable to Pinehurst #2 in terms of quality, it is a very worthy course to play. There are two beautiful par 5’s (second and seventeen) and some very good par 4’s (seven, eight, nine, ten, twelve, sixteen and eighteen). The par 3’s are a bit weak in comparison to what one would expect to find on a top-tier course. The green contours are excellent as are the placement an shape of the bunkers. If in Pinehurst, the three courses to play are #2, #4 and Tobacco Road.
The most compelling aspect of the work architect Gil Hanse did in revamping #4 at Pinehurst is how the actual look dovetails with what was done a few years back by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore with the renowned #2 course. In years past, #4 was a layout that seemed to be build on top of the existing terrain -- far from blending in and providing a meaningful connection to the sandhills area.
Hanse smartly tempts players with angled holes -- where line of attack has to be carefully assessed by players. You see that starting right from the outset at the 1st. Long hitters may believe that carrying the bunkers on the inside corner of the opener can result in a pay-off but the execution has to be of the highest level.
The green contours are also done well -- enough tilt and movement but not so silly as to be over-the-top. Players who do not hit the ball long distances can also succeed as the holes allow for run-up shots of all different types.
The creation of the "new" par-3 at the 4th is a great testament to the imagination of Hanse. The old hole was a formulaic approach over a pond. The new holes is quite exciting with the green pushed to the left and including a steep drop-off to the right for those missing to that side. The hole is much more in alignment with the terrain and avoids the predictable belief that a par-3 with water included is an absolute necessity. The new 4th is quite invigorating.
Driving the ball at #4 is always an issue -- but never of the "sink or swim" variety. Hanse added preferred angles and in a number of the holes you have clear positions aiding the player with one's approach shots.
The total character and consistency of the course is what carries the day at #4. The Tar Heel State is a very competitive one because of the gamut of layouts one can encounter. I've played my fair share of courses stretching from Wilmington to Asheville and what Hanse has done with #4 clearly puts the layout into prime contention for a top ten position.
Those going to Pinehurst had best include #4 on the golf agenda. It's fun, thoughtful and clearly back in alignment to the fundamental character of the facility.
M. James Ward
Soon after Gil Hanse redesigned the Blue Course at Doral, PGA tour professional Billy Horschel told him he didn’t like the changes. “Now I have to think on every hole,” was his reasoning. Chances are Billy wouldn’t like what Hanse has done at Pinehurst’s #4 course, either.
Time and again, the player stands on the tee confronted by the line of charm: how close to trouble to place one’s tee shot to get the most advantageous angle to the green. And the same challenge is found on the second shot on all four of the par 5’s. Strategic options abound on approach shots as well. Only one hole (the 2nd) requires an aerial approach. The challenge is not diminished once the player arrives at the putting surface either: Hanse’s trademark undulating greens are also present in abundance. They were quite slick in November 2019, in fact the entire course played firm and fast. This is no mean accomplishment on a public course—a testament to the fine work of superintendent Kevin Robinson and his staff.
Hanse also did a fine job restoring the course’s walkability. Long walks to the 5th, 11th and 13th tees have been eliminated……though the requirement that buggies stay on cart paths also helps to encourage walking.
Number 4 is a super course. I believe Gil Hanse captured the spirit of Pinehurst with embracing the old and leveraging the new. The first hole is a slight dogleg right. Do not get greedy, aim at the 150 marker to keep the waste gunch out of play. Number two is a reachable par five, but is extremely well protected with bunkers on the left and right of this elevated green. Depending upon the pin location this can be an extremely difficult green, although there is a trough in the center running from the front to the back that will funnel all putts back. On the par 4 3rd you will be tempted to cut some distance off by carrying the waste bunker on the left. I would advise against it, there is plenty of room right. Pay attention to the pin location, this is a large green and three putts were the norm in our group. The short par3 4th is a gimme to set up the number one handicap beast of a par 4 5th. At 460 yards and uphill bogey is your friend. The par 4s 7 and 8 are eerily similar slight doglegs right, favor the left side off the tee. The par 5 9th is another reachable par 5. A good tee shot sets up a green light. There is a large waste area that you will need to carry on your second shot. This will leave you with a flip wedge in.
The par 4 10th is another dogleg right. Best to be left off the tee and take an extra club to this elevated green. On the short par 3 11th aim a little left of the desired ball flight as the green slopes right. Number 12 is a long dogleg left. Pay attention to the pin location, above the hole is death. The par 5 13th is an awesome par five. You can’t quite reach the water with your drive and then it’s how big is your appetite to clear the water hazard. The green will break hard left towards the water. The par 3 14th is a good hole, however aim a good five yards right of your desired target line as everything will go hard left. The short par 4 dogleg right 16th is an excellent birdie oppty. The par 5 17th is straightaway and what you see is what you get. This brings us to the demanding 18th. It is a long dogleg left with a deep bunker on the inside elbow, thus, be right. Setting up your second shot to a large elevated green that is protected by a large bunker. Good finishing hole. 4 does not have the panache of 2, but it is worthy of standing on its own two feet.
I thought the course was good, but slightly overrated by other online reviews. The pothole bunkers don't fit the style of the course well and I am looking forward to the restoration.