Normally a newly remodeled layout like Pinehurst No. 4 would need seasoning and study before anyone would declare it to be a great golf course. But thanks to the kingmakers at the United States Golf Association, the year-old Gil Hanse redesign has been declared the equivalent of the resort’s storied championship venue, Pinehurst No. 2.
USGA officials selected No. 4 and No. 2 to host the 2019 U.S. Amateur Aug. 12-18. Not just the stroke-play qualifying rounds—the amateur field has more than 300 players, so two courses are always needed—but the championship final round, too. The early rounds of match play will all be on No. 2, but the climactic 36-hole Sunday finale will be split. The morning 18 will be on upstart No. 4, the afternoon 18 (or whatever holes are needed to declare a champ) on the more famous No. 2, ranked 29th on Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses.
Preliminary grass had barely rooted when it was suggested that No. 4 might be just as good as No. 2, the sublime Donald Ross course restored in 2010 by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. “We had to wait and see if No. 4 would be another masterpiece by Gil,” says the USGA’s Ben Kimball, director of the U.S. Amateur. “Once it was finished [in September 2018], we made the call.”
No. 4 began as nine holes built by Ross in 1912. In the early 1950s, owner Richard Tufts created a new 18 on the site. Twenty years later, Robert Trent Jones redesigned the course, and 10 years after that, his son Rees redesigned it again. In 1999, Tom Fazio refashioned the whole thing.
Hanse’s redesign more or less follows Fazio’s routing, except for some new par 3s, but it re-established greens atop ridgelines in place of Fazio’s recessed putting surfaces. Hanse flowed many formal bunkers into adjacent native-sand areas that were handplanted with wispy wiregrass and clumpy broom sage, nearly always at the low end of the bunker, leaving the impression of giant sugar bowls tipped over. This will pose the occasional rules issue about whether a ball is in a bunker, but Kimball is not concerned. “We don’t want to establish a definitive line that would make the course not play as it was designed. So rules officials will make their decisions on a case-by-case basis as to each bunker they observe.”
If hosting national championships is your measure of greatness, then Pinehurst No. 4 is now a great new golf course. It’s also a candidate for Golf Digest’s 2019 Best New Course award. Those results will be announced at year-end.