Fantastic No. 4 at Pinehurst Resort

By and |  November 19, 2018 1 Comments
Pinehurst No. 4, Hole No. 11 (Photo: Pinehurst Resort)

Pinehurst No. 4, Hole No. 11 (Photo: Pinehurst Resort)

When a course gets updated, management can get touchy about what to call the work — a renovation, a restoration, maybe a reimagining.

Alan Owen knows what he calls the work he and his colleagues did to Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort’s No. 4 course, for which he was lead superintendent.

“It’s a brand-new golf course,” he excitedly says in his English accent. “It’s visually dramatic. There’s an intimidation factor. But once you play it, you really enjoy it.”

“It’s not a Donald Ross restoration because the Donald Ross Course No. 4 doesn’t exist any more… some of it is housing, some of it is course No. 2,” says Gil Hanse, ASGCA. “It’s kind of a hodgepodge, but we looked at the old aerial photographs and we tried to take some of Ross’ bunker placements and some of what we’ve gleaned to be his strategies and thoughts and we implemented some of those on our golf course. So it was a tiny bit of restoration wrapped around a giant renovation and a couple new golf holes. It’s hard to describe what Course 4 is, but we look at it as a new golf course in our minds.”

Pinehurst No. 4, Hole No. 5 (Photo: Pinehurst Resort)

Hole No. 5 on Course 4, a par 4. “We looked at old aerial photographs and tried to… take some of (Donald Ross’) strategy and implement it on our course,” Hanse says. (Photo: Pinehurst Resort)

Play in the sand

Hanse, designer of the 2016 Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro, envisioned No. 4 as a “companion course” to its famed sibling, No. 2. Recognizing the seamless connection, the United States Golf Association named the two courses hosts of the 2019 U.S. Amateur.

Although No. 4 will be a natural counterpart to No. 2, it is not a duplicate. In fact, Hanse believes No. 4 features the most interesting topography on the entire property.

“It is a companion in the landscape, but it is not a tribute in the features. The greens are different, the approaches are different and we wanted to take advantage of the landforms, which are much more dramatic than those on No. 2,” says Hanse.

“It’s an incredible piece of property that had a good golf course on it,” says Bob Farren, CGCS, Pinehurst Resort’s director of golf course maintenance. “Now when you see it, you can see so much more natural topography. The vistas and views are much better than what they used to be. There were some trees taken down, but not a significant amount. Gil and his team took advantage of the natural landscape.”

Hanse equated redesigning No. 4 as a chance to “play in the sand,” as nothing in golf compares to the Sandhills region of North Carolina and its underlying soil. His team restored No. 4 to its original landforms by recreating the hole corridors and reconnecting the elevations and natural features.

Pinehurst No. 4, Hole No. 6 rendering (Photo: Pinehurst Resort)

On the left, a rendering of hole No. 6 previously, and how it looks today on the right. “There was a considerable amount
of earthmoving,” Owen says.(Photo: Pinehurst Resort)

No. 4 closed in October 2017. The first stage was all in-house work: tree removal, cart path removal, trying to salvage as much fairway grass as possible, mowing down rough. Beginning last November, Hanse Design came in, along with LaBar Construction, a small crew just to get work started. In January 2018, everything ramped up. Work was completed just last month.

“Gil’s design concept was to return the golf course to what he imagined the original landform was,” Owen says. “There was a considerable amount of earthmoving, with the objective of getting back to the original landforms. A lot of times Gil would tell the dozer operator to look at the bottom of the trees on the left side and look at the bottom of the trees on the right side, and connect them. No cuts, hollows or swails, just even from tree line to tree line.”

Hanse told the assembled media at Course 4’s national media day event that this was inspired by Course 2. Hanse encouraged his team to visit No. 2 every day and appreciate the subtleties of the course — how fairways bleed into wire grass, and wire grass then bleeds into trees.

“With that template to restore the landscape, we set about one of the biggest earthmoving projects we’ve ever had,” Hanse says. “Hopefully (golfers) won’t notice. We did it to put the ridges back where they should go, to put the valleys back where they should go and to tie into the tree lines. We wanted to make it feel seamless as it transitions from No. 2 to No. 4.”

Pinehurst No. 4, Hole No. 9 rendering (Photo: Pinehurst Resort)

A rendering of No. 9 on Course 4, showing how the hole looked last year compared to how the hole looks today. (Photo: Pinehurst Resort)

Washed away

There were some challenges along the way, of course. Material movement was the biggest headache.

“Back (in England) we get 40 to 50 inches of rain annually, but it is soft and steady, a little at a time all year long,” Owen says. “We get the same amount of rain here in Pinehurst, but it’s a different kind of rain — a quick 2-inch afternoon frog-choker. It can be heartbreaking when you’re on top of things, there’s a big storm, and then you’re back to square one.”

After these “frog-chokers,” the crew would return and do a little choking themselves… they’d see their hard work washed downhill.

“No. 2 is a unique piece of property, there’s nothing like it, the sand there and its ability to drain naturally,” Owen says. “Since 1920, Course 4 has been tweaked many times, and it’s lost that natural ability (to drain.) With the elevation changes and the slopes, it would not be an exaggeration to say the sand would move and we’d have 18 inches to 2 feet of sand in low areas. That’s not the look you want.”

Hanse, who Owen calls “superintendent friendly,” didn’t want to leave the crew with a monster to maintain. So they did some recontouring and incorporated Centipedegrass into the layout.

“(Centipedegrass) is lazy and slow-growing, and it won’t out-compete other natural grasses that we desire,” Owen says. “It was never mentioned, it just evolved. Course 8 has Centipede on a little area, so I’m familiar with it. It doesn’t need to be managed, it just needs to stabilize… we ended up using almost 15 acres.”

Honored and impressed

The result is a spectacular course that looks daunting but plays fair. The fairways are generous, like No. 2. There are some spectacular vistas. From the 6th green, golfers probably can see 70 to 80 percent of the golf course.

Owen’s parents came stateside from Southampton, England, for a visit. But despite their son’s hard work on No. 4, they elected to play The Cradle, a 789-yard short course built by Hanse Golf Course Design last year. That’s more their pace, he laughs.

Owen, who was the superintendent on No. 6 and No. 8 before being pulled off those courses to lead the No. 4 work, came away from the whole experience honored and impressed by his co-workers.

“(Hanse’s) role was more than directing his team. He spent many hours on a dozer himself, designing many of the green complex placements and final shape. Between him and his partner, Jim Wagner, the two of them were responsible for all green construction by being equipment operators alongside their fellow shapers,” Owen says. “Gil also lived on-site for a few months during the project.”

A fond memory of the project for Owen will be how Hanse built camaraderie among the team. Hanse held an afternoon golf outing on No. 4 for Owen, Golf Maintenance Manager Kevin Robinson, CGCS, and Assistant Superintendent Daniel Whisenant, along with the lead men from LaBar and the Hanse design/shaping team during construction. Afterward, Hanse invited everyone back to his house for a cookout and cold beer.

Now that the course is open for play and receiving positive reviews, the cast of characters is happy — yet relieved — that the project is complete.

“This was a huge team effort here, nine or 10 guys put their hearts and souls into this, and it shows out there in their creativity,” Hanse says. “It allowed Jim (Wagner) and I to be editors of their work, as opposed to authors. We just had to point them in the right direction.”

“Daniel, Kevin and I have spent more time with each other working on No. 4 over the past year than with our significant others,” Owen says. “To find co-workers that you get on so well with and have respect for one another made being part of the project a touch easier and definitely more enjoyable.”

1 Comment on "Fantastic No. 4 at Pinehurst Resort"

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  1. ANTHONY OWEN says:

    Very nice article,thank you, we are Alan Owen’s parents who live near Royal Birkdale Southport in the North West of England, that is a long way from Southampton in the South…… 🙂

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