Luke DeCock

Pinehurst’s No. 4 course gets its moment in the spotlight at US Amateur this week

When it comes to Pinehurst golf courses, No. 2, shown here in this 2014 file photo, is always the big star. But that legendary course will share the stage with No. 4 this week.
When it comes to Pinehurst golf courses, No. 2, shown here in this 2014 file photo, is always the big star. But that legendary course will share the stage with No. 4 this week. AP

When it comes to Pinehurst courses, No. 2 is always the star: top of the poster, target of the paparazzi, living legend of golf. It has been that way ever since Donald Ross carved it out of the sandhills and wiregrass, then spent the rest of his life tinkering with it in search of perfection.

When the U.S. Amateur returns to Pinehurst this week, for the first time in a long time, perhaps ever, the iconic No. 2 course is going to have to share the stage. Not only will the remodeled No. 4 get all the love and attention No. 2 got after it was returned to its natural, historic state ahead of the 2014 U.S. Open, it also will literally share the stage: The 36-hole final match will be split, for the first time, over two courses. No. 4 will host the morning 18 holes. No. 2 the afternoon conclusion.

Just as the 2014 Open was the debutante ball for the rougher-around-the-edges remodel of No. 2, with Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore digging up yards of manicured turf in favor of waste areas and native bunkers, as Ross intended, the Amateur is the big national unveiling of No. 4, which has undergone a renovation by Gil Hanse that’s similar in spirit but broader in scope.

“You’ve got two distinctly different strategic courses that share a distinctly Pinehurst aesthetic,” resort president Tom Pashley said.

It isn’t No. 2 and will never be. But the hope is it can stand on its own, as suitable a venue for the championship as its more famous bigger brother.

“We were trying to build a golf course that was compatible with No. 2,” Hanse said. “We didn’t want to compete with it. That’s a losing proposition.”

Richard Tufts, left, and Donald Ross file photo

Hanse lived in Ross’ old house overlooking the fourth and fifth holes of the No. 2 course while working on No. 4, walking across the Pinehurst property to the neighboring course every day. His mantra was to maintain the context of No. 2 without copying it, and his commute forced him to evaluate — daily — just how seamless the transition was between the two courses.

Although the layout of No. 2 remained generally unchanged — the visual impact of the renovations, with the loose sand and parched grass, was shocking enough as it was — there was more work to be done on No. 4. Entire holes were reshaped — and in one case removed entirely — in an attempt to restore a Ross ethos long ago lost amid ill-advised real-estate development and the same California resort turf that once covered No. 2.

“If the renovations to No. 2 were a restoration of Ross,” Hanse said, “the renovations to No. 4 were an homage to Ross.”

And now, it’s showtime.

Wake Forest’s Akshay Bhatia, the world’s No. 1 ranked junior, is the top local contender this week, but there are many. The Amateur is one of golf’s great events, with galleries allowed to walk the fairways alongside the players, high stakes in a low-key atmosphere. There’s no better place for it than Pinehurst, a place where amateur golf has always been held in high esteem — and under the founding Tufts family, to the exclusion of everything else at times.

No. 4 was the second course for the two rounds of stroke play when Pinehurst last hosted the Amateur in 2008, with all of the elimination matches played on No. 2.

It’ll get a workout Monday and Tuesday, then sit idle until Sunday’s championship match, when it — however briefly — will nudge No. 2 aside and take center stage.

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.