50 Words or Less
The redesigned Course No. 4 at Pinehurst demonstrates that a great course doesn’t need tricks or gimmicks to be engaging. Fun, challenging greens create plenty of strategic interest.
Originally designed in 1919 by Donald Ross, Pinehurst No. 4 has been the subject of numerous renovations and redesigns. The current version, designed by Gil Hanse, opened this fall and is already slated to host the 2019 US Amateur along with No. 2. Will the new No. 4 become Pinehurst’s second flagship course? My bet is that the answer is yes.
Pinehurst is home to some of the best practice facilities you’ll find anywhere. There’s a large range that’s a stone’s throw from a short game area with two greens and two bunkers. Near the first tee, next to the starter’s hut, there’s a putting green to use while you wait to tee off.
Between The Cradle and the range, you’ll find a massive putting green. There are several holes for conventional putting practice, but why would you want conventional when you have Thistle Dhu? Thistle Dhu is the recently-opened 18-hole putting course. The “holes” at Thistle Dhu range from tame 15-footers to roller coasters that scream “3 putt.” If you want to know how much fun Thistle Dhu is, walk out of the clubhouse in the evening and see how many golfers are still out there, smiling and laughing.
Customer Service & Amenities
Throughout my stay at Pinehurst, the people I encountered could not have been nicer. It’s hard to call it southern hospitality because so many of the people are transplants from other places, so I’ll just call it Pinehurst hospitality. Everyone – even other guests – was eager to know if I’d played golf that day, which courses I’d played, and how my stay was going.
As far as resort amenities, Pinehurst is absolutely first class. The Carolina Hotel has throwback charm paired with all the modern necessities. Throughout the resort there are a wealth of dining options, my favorite being the new Pinehurst Brewing Company. As good as their beer is, their barbecue is even better.
Getting back to the golf, Pinehurst No. 4 does offer carts, but they must remain on the cart path. In spite of the elevation, walking the course is probably easier than going back and forth to the path. Caddies are available and will certainly help save strokes with their local knowledge.
Beauty & Scenery
Pinehurst No. 4 is a beautiful walk through the pines. It features more elevation than No. 2 which leads to more long views and opportunities to check in on other holes.
What it shares with No. 2 is a sense of place. This combination of elements – the pines, the sandy waste areas, the blue skies – feels like it exists only in this place and only for the purpose of golf.
I was able to see Pinehurst No. 4 under a variety of conditions, from a rainy, grey morning to a glorious blue sky afternoon. The course is beautiful in any light, but the color palette under partly cloudy skies – the orange pine needles, white clouds, blue skies, and every shade of green – is completely breathtaking.
Gil Hanse took a decidedly modern approach with the fairways at Pinehurst No. 4, making them very generous. Just like the restored No. 2, there is no rough at No. 4, so even wayward drives are not punished. That said, when you hit the ball into the sandy waste areas, you are rolling the dice. You can draw a clean, firm lie, or you can find your ball up against a clump of native grass.
Most holes are tree-lined, but you need to be substantially crooked to find the pines. The trees are sparse enough that there are plenty of recovery opportunities, but, again, you run the risk of a bad lie or poor angle.
Due to the elevation, this course plays significantly longer than its measured yardage. Pull driver often and swing hard. No. 4 will forgive a little crookedness and will only reward those with adequate length.
Much of the elevation on No. 4 comes on the approach shots. Because the elevation looks natural it’s easy to overlook, but you’ll realize it’s there when your shot comes up short of the target. Listen to your caddie, break out your slope-enabled rangefinder, and take a little extra club.
Similar to another Gil Hanse course, Streamsong Black, the greens at Pinehurst No. 4 are large and easy to hit. They’re also similar in that they’re firm and fast. I saw plenty of approach shots ejected because they didn’t have the appropriate landing angle or spin. Running the ball onto the green is almost always an option and almost always a good one.
Greens & Surrounds
The greens are what makes Pinehurst No. 4 go. They are some of the smoothest, quickest putting surfaces I’ve played on, and they’re certainly the creme de la creme among resort courses. At first glance, they don’t appear to have too many sharp breaks. When you start putting, however, you realize that the speed combined with the slope creates some very difficult putts. Make sure to read every foot of your putt unless you enjoy 8-foot come-backers.
These greens are defended with slopes and elevation far more than bunkers. If you’re paying any attention to strategy, you will find that staying out of the sand is fairly easy. What’s more difficult is avoiding the hazardous curves. The tightly mowed surrounds give you lots of short game options, but those options will not be worth much if you’re short sided.
I enjoyed my walk around Pinehurst No. 4, and in thinking back on the course, I appreciate it even more. The course eschews visual tricks, opting instead to put the challenge squarely in front of the golfer. Good shots are rewarded, but bad shots aren’t fatal. The bunkers can be nasty, but they are so few and so large that any penalty incurred feels deserved.
While I did pick some favorite holes, there are no weak stretches on this course. The opening and closing holes are fun and memorable. There’s great variety in both the par 3s and par 5s. The last third of the course is home to back-to-back par 4s that are nearly driveable. No matter where you are on the course, you’re going to be fully engaged in the round.
#2 – Par 5 – 498 Yards
When I previewed the course, this hole jumped out to me as an example of praiseworthy restraint in design. Many architects do too much, especially on the large canvas of a par 5. This hole has just three bunkers, all of which effect play, and the green complex does the work of making golfers question how bold they want to be.
#4 – Par 3 – 140 Yards
The shortest par 3 demands focus and an accurate tee shot. Golfers will want to aim away from the bunker left, but the steep drop off to the right may be the more penal hazard. If you don’t hit the green, you can easily run up a big score playing over the green from side to side.
#9 – Par 5 – 517 Yards
Another example of a great mental hazard is the waste area that splits the fairway on this par 5. If it were grass, golfers would have no problem hitting their normal lay ups or going for the green. However, the waste area gets in players’ heads and causes loads of mishits. When you approach the green, favor the right side to avoid the cavernous bunker short left.
Pinehurst No. 4 will never catch up to No. 2 when it comes to major championships and historical significance (no new course can), but I can easily see it becoming a peer in terms of guest play and enjoyment. This is a great design that balances challenge with enjoyment and is accessible to all levels of golfer. If you’re headed to Pinehurst, make playing No. 4 a priority.