Gil Hanse puts fun factor back in game at new Pinehurst short course

The Cradle_Overview The Cradle/Pinehurst

Gil Hanse puts fun factor back in game at new Pinehurst short course

Ultimate Guide

Gil Hanse puts fun factor back in game at new Pinehurst short course

PINEHURST, N.C. – Despite being an all-world course architect, Gil Hanse will tell you he’s never been a great golfer. He drives the ball into the rough, finds bunkers and misses greens. In other words, Hanse is like most of us.

Yet, unlike most of us, Hanse is moving dirt around on some of the most cherished sites in the game. It’s a unique position to better serve the not-so-elite 99 percent of players, and he’s taking advantage of it.

One design at a time, Gil Hanse is on a mission to make golf fun again.

“I think it’s critical for the growth of the game and getting people involved that we never lose sight of that fact that it should be fun,” he said. “It’s a good game – in my mind, it’s the greatest game – but it’s still a game and you should be out here enjoying yourself.”

Hanse’s made these comments while overlooking his latest, and perhaps most fun, project – a nine-hole, par-3 Pinehurst course called The Cradle. The layout is situated just outside the clubhouse and offers a unique juxtaposition of the past and future of the game here. This is the land where Dr. Leroy Culver dug out the first nine holes at Pinehurst in 1898. Now, it’s a place for the next generation to discover its passion for golf.

With no hole playing longer than 127 yards, The Cradle offers an accessibility in design that the greatest properties haven’t always embraced. According to Hanse, there was a period of time in modern golf architecture where people wanted everything difficult – and that’s where a lot of golf architecture went wrong.

“There were so many golf courses being built, and so many were looking to make their mark,” Hanse said. “How do you make your mark? Some would say, ‘Well, our slope is 156.’ How is that fun for the average person?”

If you’re muttering to yourself about how it’s easy to help golfers find fun at a 789-yard track, then how about a stone’s throw away, at Pinehurst’s punishing No. 4 course? That’s where Hanse and design partner Jim Wagner are preparing to overhaul Tom Fazio’s 2000 redesign with a restoration closer to Donald Ross’ original layout. They’ll do so with a similar theme in mind – playable for everyone, but to score, you have to control your ball.

That’s a sweet spot not always easy to hit but one that’s top of mind as his team prepares to break ground next month ahead of a planned fall 2018 opening.

“We want to build golf courses that are playable, and there’s a difference between playability and scoring,” Hanse said. “If you want to just go out and play a golf course, you need to have width off the tee, you need to have room to maneuver and have choices. But if you really want to score on the golf course, the level of precision amps up. So it’s not OK to hit it anywhere on a 60-yard wide fairway – you have to be on the proper half of it to get the angle to the green where you might ultimately score.

“The options available and the different ways it can be played should lead to a lot of fun.”

This mentality is being embraced with both arms at Pinehurst, site of three previous U.S. Opens and another coming in 2024. It’s reflected in The Cradle’s pricing structure that allows those 17 and under to play free with a paying adult. It’s also evident in the adjacent 75,000-square-foot, 18-hole putting course called Thistle Dhu, which is four times larger than the original putting course opened in 2012.

Because young or old, beginner or pro, fun is at the heart of golf. Plus, as Pinehurst President Tom Pashley put it, “fun is undefeated.”

And who doesn’t want to have more fun?

(Note: This story appears in Golfweek’s Ultimate Guide.)

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