What it’s like playing the Gil Hanse-redesigned Pinehurst No. 4 for the first time

July 30, 2019

Welcome to our all-new “A Round At…” series, where a resident GOLF staffer runs through a recent day at a course you might see in your future. On this occasion, we’ve got Gil Hanse’s newly-redesigned Pinehurst No. 4 course.

There were no delusions of grandeur when I stepped up to the first tee at Pinehurst No. 4. No expectations of ease, nor realistic hopes of a clean scorecard. For this 20-handicap, the experience was meant solely as a stroll of enjoyment. And in that regard, for four-and-a-half hours it exceeded every hope.

Course designer Gil Hanse — who spearheaded the renovation of No. 4 last year — said Pinehurst caddies have relayed to him that No. 2 is more challenging for the average golfer, but No. 4 might be more of a challenge for the upper-echelon golfers. That certainly bore out in my experience, with No. 4 providing an ever-so-slight level of forgiveness that was ever-so-appreciated.

The combination of a more forgiving design, a diverse array of hole layouts and the distinct Pinehurst aura, provided a golf experience not soon to be forgotten.

Course: Pinehurst No. 4

My tee time: Wednesday July 10, 8:00am

Course type: Public

How I got on: Media invitation for the U.S. Amateur Preview Event.

Difficulty: Challenging, no doubt, but more room for error than the U.S. Open peer it hugs.

How to get there: Pinehurst is about halfway between Raleigh and Charlotte. The hour-long drive from the Raleigh-Durham airport flies with ease. The resort also offers a shuttle to and from the airport if you so choose — though it’ll cost $94 per person each way.

Fun Facts: The new No. 4 will get its moment in the sun at next month’s U.S Amateur, when the first 18 holes of the 36-hole finale will be played on No. 4. It will be the first time utilizing two courses for the championship match. It comes just less than a year after the redesign was unveiled.

Notable/Favorite Holes: The 13th hole is the one that could just make or break your round. It’s a 529-yard (from the tips) par-5, dogleg left, with water playing a prominent role, looming off to the left. A solid tee shot leaves you with a classic risk/reward proposition.

Do you take the water out of play entirely? If so, you’re going to leave an iron into the green.

Do you try to clear it and leave a measly wedge into the green? If so, how far up are you willing to take it?

Do long-bombers go for it in two and throw it all on the line? Good luck getting it there and keeping it up. There are scenic views, mental hurdles, scoring opportunities and pitfalls galore.

It’s the best of golf all rolled into one. And it all comes at a pivot point in the round, when a good score can catalyze a strong finish or one mistake can send the entire round tumbling.

I loved: It has the trademark Pinehurst sand and brush, but also dares to stray from some conventions. The water comes into play, notably on 13 and 14, just offering different sights and challenges. The variety of hole types and dog-legs flexes the diversity of your golf muscles. I must have played every club in my bag, a testament to the course’s variability. And frankly, when you’re playing Pinehurst on a beautiful Wednesday morning, what’s not to love?

I didn’t love: Not playing well? Is that a respectable answer?

There was a point walking off the 6th green (a disappointing three-putt bogey), when I turned right and looked around. That green rests on top of a hill, the highest point on the course. The famed pine trees feature prominently, coating the drastic elevation changes. The body of water sneaks just into view, decorating the back-drop as the sun peaks just above scattered clouds. From that green, you can see portions of 15 different holes. Not bad for a Wednesday morning. The perfect motivation for your tee shot on seven.

That moment epitomized a lot of my highlights from this new Pinehurst No. 4. It’s a course that successfully manages to enter into a modern era of golf while staying true to its historic roots. And it does so while appealing to everyone from the scratch golfer to your everyday hacker.

View from behind the par-3 6th green on Pinehurst No. 4.
Max Marcovitch