Pinehurst Resort's Course Number 4 -- Harmonic Marriage of the Elements

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos By Kevin Gaydosh

PINEHURST, NC -- Ever wish you could just start over again?

Pinehurst Resort -- The Home of Golf

We've all had the feeling.  You go through years of the doldrums, devolving into the same old habits, looking for more patchwork solutions, not really coming, not really going.  But then some bit of inspiration strikes and you're starting over again, fresh and new.

That's the feeling you'll get when visiting Pinehurst Resort's Course 4.  Some of Course 4's holes lay aside its more famous sibling, Course 2, and its roots stem from the same legendary Scottish mind, Donald Ross.  And like Course 2, it starts out from Pinehurst's main clubhouse area, and returns there -- providing a comparable spectacular finishing backdrop to the legendary layout just a few hundred yards away.

The 510 yard, par five 13th hole is risk-reward all the way. Hit close to this waste bunker off the tee, then fly the lake to reach it in two.

But despite the similar architectural originations and close physical proximity, in the late-nineties, Course 4 needed a facelift -- heck, it needed reconstructive surgery.  And Golf Architect Tom Fazio was just the 'surgeon' to perform the operation:  "The Course 4 project was interesting because it was something the Pinehurst people were considering for quite a long time."

"Even when we (Tom and his uncle, George Fazio) worked on Course 6 in the mid-seventies, there was discussion about how Course 4 was really a combination of several different elements -- some Donald Ross holes, some Robert Trent Jones holes, and some other people had been involved with adjustments and changes over the years, too."

Fazio continues, "So Pat Corso (President of Pinehurst) called and said they wanted to take a serious look at Course 4, to see what they might be able to do to bring things into one common set of reference points.  The fact that it's so close to the legendary Course 2, being the adjacent golf course to a world famous layout, made it very different than my involvement with Courses 6 or 8, both of which were obviously off the property from the main country club."


There's that certain quality to Pinehurst that's hard to put a finger on.  Because it's the 'Home of Golf,' and because Course 2 dominates the thinking of so many people who ponder Pinehurst, you've got to think that re-working anything nearby the legendary links would present an intellectual challenge.

The 445 yard, par four 7th hole is Course 4's number one handicap hole. It's certainly an illusion, but the waste area appears wider than the fairway.

It might've been even more than that, as Fazio explained:  "The fact that Course 4 literally touches Course 2 on that one side, made it even more of a special operation.  I mean, we're out there working and conceiving and building golf holes, and you might pause and look over there at Course 2 -- and if you're there on a misty day, and you might've had too much to drink the night before, you're thinking 'Is that Donald Ross walking out of those trees over there?  What's he doing... is he staring at us?...  Is he upset with what we're doing over here, or what's the deal?'"

Talk about pressure.  To this day, Ross wields so much power and influence that perhaps his reach extends beyond time and consciousness, to put an invisible hand on the workings of the present.  After all this is Pinehurst.

But Ben Bridgers, Director of Golf at Pinehurst, says Fazio's work did nothing but please the powers-that-be, though he personally won't speak for the spirit of Donald Ross:  "Course 4 really is a marriage of the best elements of Pinehurst.  The green complexes have a lot of similarities to the Ross style on Course 2, but it also has the natural waste areas and sand that you'll see a lot on the restored Course 2 and also Course 8 (which Fazio designed several years before working on Course 4)."  

"It's also got a character all its own, with the different pot bunkers and fairway bunkers (188 bunkers in all, so there's a lot of sand).  Course 4 has a great variety of holes, with the different sets of tees, so you can really mix it up.  It's got a nice blend of par fours, a couple short, a couple longer, a couple reachable par fives, and one that's not reachable for most players.  It also has its own look because there's a lot more water that comes into play on Course 4 than really any of our other golf courses," Bridgers said.

The water element alone might've stirred Ross's ghost, since he felt it had no place on a golf course because of its potentially penal nature.  But who could argue that he's smiling with approval with the balance of improvements made to Course 4?

The 'Pinehurst Look' greets you on the very first green. If you're not on the putting surface, you're certainly hitting back up to it.


The course originally opened in 1919, the fourth layout at Pinehurst designed or 'touched' by Donald Ross.  Ross designed or redesigned over 400 courses in his lifetime, with Course 2 certainly being his masterpiece -- and receiving the greatest share of his attention. 


As a result, Course 4, though certainly not an afterthought, hadn't received the same sort of scrutiny from Ross that its close neighbor had.


Looking back at the par three 14th hole. There's quite of room to bail right off the tee, but you're serving up quite a tough up and down if you chicken out.

So there wasn't much trepidation about completely changing it, according to Fazio:  "I kind of refer to the Course 4 project as a 'blow up.'  Even though there had previously been a golf course in that location, we basically built a brand new golf layout there.  Every inch of land was touched and graded and shaped and contoured and grassed and irrigated and fine-tuned and landscaped.  We did use some of the existing corridors -- but it was a totally brand new golf course from clearing, to earthwork, the whole deal."

And because Donald Ross had his hand in the previous golf course on site, however attenuated, they were careful to preserve whatever they could:  "We were always trying to figure out which elements belonged to Ross, but it was very difficult to do that. Where we discovered some things, we often couldn't even tell why they were there."

"Some of those relics were in out-of-play areas, such as in the woods -- they looked like bunkers from an earlier golf operation -- but you couldn't tell for sure.  You could only assume that maybe some of those were from when Ross built the golf courses, because we knew he'd worked in those areas," commented Fazio.

Sounds a bit like an archeological mission.  It's only appropriate that the 'digs' at Pinehurst concerned a golf mystery -- quite a contrast to the Indian burial mounds or early English settlement expeditions that you'd normally associate with tearing up some unknown plot of earth.  At Pinehurst, the history is golf.

As mentioned earlier, there was a goal to make Course 4 distinctive, despite its proximity to Course 2.  That too, came with the knowledge that all comers would probably compare the 'new' course to its companion layout, and perhaps not so favorably. 

True to Fazio's word, the bunkers and waste areas frame the shots you'll need to hit on Course 4. Here, keep right off the tee of the par four 16th hole.

Fazio says that's okay:  "Some people might say Course 4 will always be the 'stepchild' of Course 2 -- that might be, but I've also had lots of people say they liked it just as much as Course 2.  That's kind of sacrilegious in a way, but people really have said that.  It'd be like saying, 'I like St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, but I also like the Methodist Church down the street, too.'  You can do that -- it doesn't have to all be the same."

And as Bridgers alluded to earlier, one of the ways they tried to give Course 4 its own 'look,' was to put in distinctive bunkering.  Just by looking at the view from the first tee, you'll notice you're not on Course 2 anymore. 

Fazio elaborates:  "We weren't trying to create a 'gimmick' or story behind Course 4's bunkering -- it just seemed to fit that way as we were building the course.  We wanted to do the greens in what I call the 'Pinehurst Look,' and the bunkers in an old-style 'look,' but also provide a framing for each of the golf settings that would allow the course to stand on its own."

There's more:  "We wanted Course 4 to have its own personality and unique style, because when you think about it, if you've got rolling terrain and dense pine trees, and needles on the ground, and turf grass, you have a lot of common looks.  If you don't do something distinctive, you'll have a bunch of golf courses looking pretty much the same."


Though not directly on the lake, the par three 6th hole still provides some water glimpses.

"So, we made Course 4's bunkers with longer, lower, grassed edged faces with the sand.  If we'd used the same bunker styles as Course 2, and combined them with similar styled greens, it would've looked like we were trying to copy Course 2.  Why would we want to do that?"


They didn't.  Course 4 certainly has a look all its own, with the beauty of the lake that borders hole number 4 and a couple others on the back nine, along with its grouping of pot bunkers -- in clusters of five, seven or nine, spread throughout the course.

Bridgers says the bunkers can be difficult if you find them, but they're definitely not penal or unfair:  "I think the bunkering makes Course 4 a good test off the tee, but it's a fair test.  There are quite a few fairway bunkers (there are 180 pot bunkers total on the layout, not all in the fairway, of course), but they're positioned in places where you've got generous 'safe' landing areas.  Now, the bunkers are tough if you hit into them, but they're fair.  They're pretty small in size, and you can advance the ball forward in the vast majority of situations."

Seeing as there's nice variety on the course, Bridgers says there's variation in the challenge, too:  "On most courses, you'll have one or two elements that really test you -- like difficult tee shots, deep bunkers, sloped greens, etc...  On Course 4, the test really varies.  Some of the holes, it's the severity of the crowning of the greens -- then the test becomes not only your ability to hit the green, but reaching the right portion of the green (like Course 2)."

The 18th tee certainly suggests a draw, but straight isn't so bad, either.

"Other times, the test is positioning the tee shot.  Still others, it's knowing where to miss if you're a bit off in your approaches to the greens -- short, long, left or right.  But I think overall, the greatest challenge on Course 4 is hitting the greens.  It's really hard to get it up and down if you miss the putting surfaces in the wrong spot," Bridgers added.

Hole highlights (these are only two of our favorites, the entire course is excellent) include the fourth hole, a downhill 197 yard par three over water.  The green is tucked at the bottom of a large 'amphitheater,' and presents a 40 yard wide surface to aim at.  Obviously there's plenty of room to miss in the lateral sense, but what hole four gives up in width, it takes back in depth.  Because of the open nature of the setting, wind certainly will be a factor.  Beauty and challenge -- that's golf.

On the backside, the finishing hole is spectacular.  Bridgers describes it:  "The eighteenth hole is a dramatic way to close out the round.  You're firing out of a 'chute' off the tee, and you'll need good distance to leave as short a second shot as possible (the hole measures 456 yards from the back tee).  The green is tough but fair -- it's crowned, and most of the time you're hitting a longer iron into it.  It's a hard green to hold, too.  Then you've got the clubhouse in the background -- what a gorgeous finishing hole."

No disagreement here.  You can't help but feel part of the Pinehurst experience when you finish up, with fellow golfers all around in the practice area, the clubhouse just a stone's throw away, and a satisfying round of golf just completed. 

It almost makes you want to start over again -- and makes you immensely glad that the folks at Pinehurst already had done that, when they signed up Tom Fazio to rebuild Course 4.


Pinehurst Resort's Course 4
1 Carolina Vista
Village of Pinehurst, NC 28374

Reservations: (800) 487-4653


Course Designer: Tom Fazio (Donald Ross and others did the previous design)
Director of Golf: Ben Bridgers
Pinehurst Resort is owned and operated by ClubCorp.














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