By Andrew Both
PINEHURST, North Carolina (Reuters) - The opening of a redesigned Pinehurst No. 4 has given North Carolina another championship course that will have its credentials tested as early as next year by a host of the world's best amateurs.
Seven years ago, the venerable Pinehurst No. 2 course was restored to its natural and historic character by the architect team of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore.
Among other things, they ripped out the grassed rough and replaced it with sandy natural areas more in harmony with the terrain on which the course lies.
Such was the widespread acclaim that greeted the restoration, Pinehurst's owners decided that No. 4 deserved similar treatment.
This time, however, they signed up architect Gil Hanse, perhaps best known for the Campo Olímpico course that hosted golf at the 2016 Rio Games.
No. 4 will have its coming out party when it co-hosts the U.S. Amateur Championship with No. 2 next August.
And while the resort's main focus for major championships continues to be No. 2, a positive reaction by the leading amateurs could set the stage for more marquee events on No. 4.
"No. 2 has been our primary championship venue since Donald Ross built it in 1907 and converted the greens from sand to grass for the 1936 PGA Championship," Pinehurst president Thomas Pashley told Reuters.
"However, having other championship calibre course options is certainly attractive."
No. 2 has already hosted three men's U.S. Opens -- in 1999, 2005 and 2014 -- and will next stage the 2024 championship.
The 2014 U.S. Women's Open, won by Michelle Wie, was also held on No. 2.
The crowned greens on No. 2 provide a stern and precise test, repelling all but the best struck shots, while Hanse designed No. 4 to be little more forgiving.
No. 4 also has more elevation changes, which Hanse has put to good use.
"When you stand on the sixth green you can see part of 15 other holes," Hanse said.
"I don't know if there's anywhere else in the Carolina sandhills where you have that opportunity that get that sweeping grand scale."
Hanse says No. 4 has similarities to U.S. Masters venue Augusta National, U.S. Open site Shinnecock Hills, as well as Pine Valley, the New Jersey course that is routinely ranked best in the world, even though it never hosts professional events.
"One of the great things about course number four is there are so many various ingredients that compare with other golf courses," he said.
"You have some of the roll and contour you might find at Augusta National. You have the scale and sweep and vistas you'd find at Shinnecock Hills."
And then there is the gaping cross bunker on the par-five ninth, some 100 yards long and almost as wide, that is meant to recreate Pine Valley's famous 'Hell's Half Acre'.
"We're hopeful the scale of our features match very closely to Pine Valley," Hanse said.
Pinehurst's Pashley is confident players will render positive verdicts on Hanse's work.
"Nothing will ever replicate the history and unique character of Pinehurst No. 2," he said.
"If No. 4 can provide a comparable competitive challenge, it would certainly provide some compelling options for future championships at Pinehurst."
(Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by John O'Brien)