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Pinehurst's No. 4 golf course emerges from shadow of big brother No. 2

Tom SpoustaBy Tom Spousta,
Pinehurst Resort - Course No. 4
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No. 4 is probably the most scenic of Pinehurst Resort's eight golf courses (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)

PINEHURST, N.C. - With such a large shadow extending across Pinehurst Resort, it would be understandable if seven of its eight golf courses were diagnosed with inferiority complexes. After all, the crown prince of American golf, Pinehurst's No. 2 course, resides here in all its royal splendor.

Hey, if you were Course No. 4, you'd probably feel the same way, sort of like the rest of the PGA Tour fighting for attention in the Tiger Woods era. (All of Pinehurst's layouts were paid their due again in 2008, winning the Best Golf Resort in America award for the third time as determined by Travel & Leisure magazine.)

Tom Fazio has paid homage to Donald Ross' original design with a 2000 renovation that catapulted No. 4 to a new level. It earned its major tournament chops to rave reviews this past summer during the U.S. Men's Amateur, and the USGA didn't take it easy on the field, narrowing the fairways and growing 5-inch rough like the pros faced in the 2005 U.S. Open at No. 2.

Indeed, Fazio set the table with enough bumps, humps, ridges, plateaus, curves and slopes worthy of a seaside links in Scotland, which happens to be Ross' homeland.

Pot bunkers are the main course, served on a platter that only the immense, daily breakfast buffet in the Carolina Dining Room might surpass.

Fazio situated 150 or so of them around the course. He also sticks with a theme of occasional huge waste bunkers (a topographical characteristic of the Carolina Sandhills region), where you are allowed to ground your club.

Fazio's subtle touches (and not so gentle) are evident in his trademark approach to risk-reward design. He doesn't waste time in setting just such a tone. At No. 2, a 487-yard par 5, he takes you straight downhill toward seven pot bunkers dotting the landing area on the left. On your layup, you face seven more pot bunkers on the right. The green is easily reachable in two shots, but it's a classic example of how he forces you to execute a plan and play all the angles while hitting away from obvious danger.

Ross' influence remains intact around the greens, which are smallish overall and shaped like a tea saucer placed upside down. They are a true Ross characteristic, and a good example of him at the height of his powers. Outside of No. 2, many consider these greens as the most treacherous at the resort.

A lake in the middle of No. 4's layout defines several of its strongest and most scenic holes.

"This is my favorite stretch of holes," said Kelly Hall, a caddie at the resort who was playing No. 4 with his father, Norm. "Each one has a little different variety to it."

Hall was referring to three holes. The fourth is one of those photogenic par 3s that every course seems to have. It's 170 yards to a green that sits down in a hollow with the lake in front. Oh, and it's at least a one-club drop in elevation.

The par-5 13th goes slightly downhill toward a lake at the end of the fairway, which pushes you to a narrow strip on the right side. A layup in front of the lake looks like a safer play, but then you have a long iron entirely over water. (There's a lot more room to the right than it looks from the fairway.) "My favorite hole," Hall said.

The 14th features a two-tier green with a sharp ridge in the middle. A 190-yard par 3, it sits across the lake from the 13th green and runs parallel to No. 4, creating the course's best vistas.

Pinehurst No. 4: The verdict

Fazio lets you know where things stand immediately. At No. 1, you'll be greeted by a crowned green that falls off on all sides.

Then at No. 9, you hit another risk-reward special. This short par 5 creates the most dangerous layup shot on the course. The fairway slopes hard left at the 100-yard marker, and on the right, 15 pot bunkers guard every inch all the way to the green. Another standout feature: Most of the 400-yard-plus par 4s are broad, sweeping doglegs (Nos. 5, 7 and 11) and easy to visualize.

Members and frequent guests rank No. 4, along with Course No. 7 and Course No. 8, as favorites. And while Course No. 4 might be in the shadow of its storied brother, No. 2, it has emerged nicely with its own identity.

Planning a Pinehurst golf trip

For help in planning a golf vacation to Pinehurst, visit ResortsGolfAndSpas.com or call 800-767-3574.

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Pinehurst Resort - Course No. 4Pinehurst Resort - Course No. 4

Veteran golf writer Tom Spousta keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. He has covered golf and other sports for USA Today and The New York Times. Tom lives on a Donald Ross-designed golf course in Sarasota, Fla.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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