By Lee Pace
Gil Hanse launched his golf design firm in 1993 and for nearly two decades carved a niche doing restoration work on classic courses across the United States, among them Merion, Winged Foot, Fishers Island, The Country Club, Los Angeles Country Club, Oakland Hills and Baltusrol.
It was only a matter of time before he landed the opportunity to create a golf course from scratch, and he drew accolades for his work for developer Mark Parsinen in creating Castle Stuart outside Inverness, Scotland, and in building the Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro. His new course at Streamsong in Florida stood up well alongside courses from Tom Doak, and Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw in the 54-hole complex carved from an abandoned mining quarry.
Hanse was an ideal fit for Pinehurst Resort in 2016 when the club set about retooling its No. 4 course in the appearance and personality of its next-door neighbor, the No. 2 course that had been renovated five years earlier by Coore & Crenshaw. No. 4 since its opening in 1919 under the design acumen of Donald Ross had become over many decades an amalgamation of work by Ross, Richard Tufts, Robert Trent Jones and Rees Jones before a total overhaul by Tom Fazio in 1999.
The course closed in October 2017 and Hanse and design partner Jim Wagner set about their facelift that was unveiled one year later and in 2019 was co-venue for the U.S. Amateur. Hanse mostly used the corridors of Fazio’s layout but discarded one hole and added a new one, adjusted fairway widths and angles and rebuilt every green and bunker. Like the No. 2 course, all the Bermuda rough was removed and in its place was cultivated the natural hardpan sand and wiregrass indigenous to the Sandhills.
“It all started with Coore & Crenshaw,” Hanse says. “They were brought in to bring back the character and to restore the sandy waste areas and Ross’s vision for what Carolina Sandhills golf looks like. We’ve carried that a little further in this presentation. It’s not a tribute course to Ross or course No. 2. But we feel it will be a good companion golf course.”
Hanse lived in Dornoch Cottage for his year in Pinehurst and drew on the spirit of Ross’s old home along the third green of No. 2 for inspiration. He was walking to work one morning when he was struck with the idea that he and Wagner were on the right track.
“There was one morning where it was just beautiful out and I was crossing hole No. 10 on course No. 2 and I saw we had finished hole No. 9 on No. 4, and it felt like it belonged,” Hanse says. “That was the moment I felt we had done something really special here as it relates to course No. 2.
“We wanted to build a golf course that felt comfortable sitting next to course No. 2, but we didn’t want to build a golf course that was either going to compete with it or copy it. We really tried to build something that, if you’re playing No. 2 and you look over at No. 4, you’d think, ‘Okay it feels like a continuation of the same landscape and the same theme and presentation.’”
While No. 4 was being “reimagined,” in the words of Pinehurst’s marketing staff, another key initiative was taking hold. Pinehurst had built in 2011 a massive putting complex in the manner of the Himalayas putting course at St. Andrews, and the facility had been embraced for offering a fun and informal option to actually playing 18 holes of golf. Pinehurst officials thought a logical extension of that concept would be to create a nine-hole “short course” and they asked Hanse and Wagner to take the lead.
The Cradle course that opened in the fall of 2017 was so-named as it’s positioned on ground where in 1898 some of the first crude holes were routed in what was to become known as the “Cradle of American Golf” and/or “The St. Andrews of American Golf.” Pinehurst officials removed the first holes of courses No. 3 and 5 and reconfigured them within the existing routings on the west side of Hwy. 5 and assigned those 10 acres to the new course, which includes holes ranging for 56 to 127 yards long (789 yards in all).
Hanse applauds the first two aces on the Cradle — one from a 14-year-old, the other from an 84-year-old.
“That encapsulates exactly what we were hoping for,” says Hanse. “We have built a playground where kids and elders can enjoy the game — they can hoot and holler and high-five all they want. It’s a relaxed and comfortable feeling.
“We all remember what brought us into golf in the first place — to hit it hard and laugh and giggle. No one at the beginning sweats over a 3-foot putt. Hopefully, we can connect with that innocent, fun part of the game.”
Chapel Hill based writer Lee Pace has written about golf in the Sandhills since the late 1980s and has authored a dozen books about clubs, courses and the people who’d made it special over more than a century.