LEE PACE: No. 4 Underrated?
Tom Fazio was handed an arduous task exactly one decade ago: Design a new golf course in the shadow of the world-famous Pinehurst No. 2; give it some marketing panache; make it good enough to take some traffic away from No. 2; and with it replace a course that had a respectable following of folks who said, "Leave it alone."
The new Pinehurst No. 4 was conceived in 1998 and opened in December 1999. It was a brand new course with all new holes routed on the site of the previous course that had become a hybrid of design ideas from Donald Ross, Richard Tufts, Peter Tufts, Robert Trent Jones and Rees Jones.
"We were told to start the golf course and stop it at the same location, but that's the only constraint," says Tom Marzolf, a design associate of Fazio's. "We came out and walked the site and said, 'What if there were no holes here? What could you do? What is the best golf experience to be found out there?' It's a great site, there are no limitations on money, it's at Pinehurst, in the sand, and we've got time to do it and do it right.
"What's missing? The only thing it won't have is some cliffs and the Pacific Ocean."
Marzolf returned to Pinehurst Monday to walk course No. 4, observe and make notes as it was played by 156 of the best amateur golfers in the world. The rest of the U.S. Amateur field competed on No. 2, then the fields flop on Tuesday for the second round of qualifying.
"No. 4 is one of the best things we've ever done, but it's overshadowed," Marzolf says. "No one gives it a chance. All the time we are asked, 'What's one of the greatest courses you've ever done?' I always say, 'Pinehurst No. 4.' That shocks people. When you think of Pinehurst, you think of No. 2. The rest of the courses kind of get lumped together. If this were the only course at a stand-alone facility, it would probably be higher ranked."
No. 2 will be in the spotlight this week when match play ensues, just as it was in 1999 and 2005 for the U.S. Open. But the opening of No. 4 nearly a decade ago has given the club and resort a second premium course and has more than filled the vision of Robert Dedman Sr., Pinehurst's owner prior to his 2002 death, who commissioned Fazio with the challenge.
"If someone calls me and wants to get on at Pinehurst, No. 4 is the toughest," says Don Padgett II, president of Pinehurst LLC. "The members love the golf course. It's the prettiest course we have playing out of the main clubhouse. It's popular with resort guests. And if you play it from the white or green tees, it's not as severe as No. 2."
Competitors in the Amateur are more familiar with No. 2, many of them having played in the North and South Amateur and watched on television as Payne Stewart and then Michael Campbell won Opens. But Monday they were learning the nuances of the thicker and sturdier rough, the clusters of pot bunkers and the fairways pinched in at their 280-to-300-yard landing areas.
"You can get into a really nice rhythm on four," says Kevin O'Connell, a semifinalist in the 2008 North and South. "Every hole for me is a driver and some kind of mid-iron. If you hit to the right spots in the fairway and pay attention to where the pins are, you can attack it pretty good. But it's a real penalty if you hit it in the rough. They're obviously trying to put more teeth into this course with the rough."
"The rough looks to be a little longer on four," adds Barden Berry, who shot a 2-under-par 68 on No. 2. "Hitting fairways is crucial on four. You can also have a few more shots out of the rough around the greens. On No. 2, you have a tight lie most anywhere around the greens. On four, you have to gouge a few out with a wedge."
Fazio and Marzolf crafted difficult greens on No. 4 with canted slopes around the edges in the style of No. 2. But from there the two courses have little in common. No. 4 has more water and more visual peril. You can make birdies easier on No. 4 but you can also take high numbers on water holes like 13 and 14. Meanwhile, you bleed to death on No. 2 riding the bogey train if your game's not razor sharp. No. 4 and its vast expanses of hard-pan sand and wire grass and its azalea beds framing greens like the par-3 fourth make for dramatic photos.
"There are a lot of different looks out here," Marzolf says. "Visually, it's so different. In spots it's like you're at Pine Valley, with waste areas and plants through the sand. Go to other areas and it's very formal. It's like Augusta, the fourth hole with all the azaleas and the water."
Nos. 2 and 4 each have direct ties to the home of golf in Scotland. Ross became smitten with Pinehurst in the early 1900s because of the similarities in the sandy soil of Pinehurst and his home in Dornoch. Fazio incorporated the pot bunkers popular in Scotland to tie the design of No. 4 to the British Isles. No. 4 features dozens of British-style pot bunkers, some of them with the ground around them shaped to swallow a golf shot -- thereby forcing the player to respect the area of the pot bunker and not just the bunker itself.
"Turn of the century golf courses when Donald Ross grew up used bunkers for drainage," says Marzolf. "They couldn't build drainage pipes or catch basins. The driest areas were the bunkers. So if you had a flat area, they would lift up a green with a little bit of earth work, then let the water slide into the bunkers around the greens. That's what we did here with the pot bunkers. The pot bunkers are set into collection areas, and if your ball is anywhere near them, they act like a magnet."
As Marzolf spoke, a score as low as 32 was posted for nine holes on No. 4 as golfers had the freedom to aim at flags because seventh-tenths of an inch of rain on Sunday had left the greens soft and pliant.
"I am interested to see how it stacks up to No. 2," Marzolf says. "Hopefully it will dry out some. My perception of the golf course is that it's great. But let's watch all these great players come through here and see."
Lee Pace is a Chapel Hill writer whose latest offering on the history of Pinehurst is "The Creed of the Amateur."
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