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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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.