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Short On Yardage, Hanse’s Cradle Long On Fun

by Ron Green Jr. - October 09, 2017

PINEHURST, NORTH CAROLINA | Take a moment and think about your favorite times on a golf course.

Maybe it was the day when all the pieces, typically scattered like an unworked jigsaw puzzle, came together.

Maybe it was a late-afternoon walk, playing nine holes alone as the shadows stretched across the fairways.

Maybe it was a round with your mom or your dad or your kids.

I’m guessing what you remember is the fun.

At the bottom of it all, beyond birdies and the big drives, the game is supposed to be fun.

That is the simple guiding principle behind what designer Gil Hanse created at the Cradle, the new short course at the Pinehurst Resort. It is a masterstroke of imagination, ingenuity and intention.

Pinehurst No. 2 may not be for everyone but the Cradle – all 789 yards of it – is for everyone and therein lies its beauty.

“It’s built on a small scale but the fun is as large scale as anything we’ve ever built,” said Hanse, who along with his partner Jim Wagner has constructed one of the most respected résumés in course design.

Tom Pashley, the president of Pinehurst Resort, likes to talk about having 60,000 yards of golf among the resort’s nine courses in the North Carolina Sandhills. But it’s the 789 yards Hanse created in his mind, then on paper and finally with a bulldozer, that now draw the attention.

This is part of another aggressive step by Pashley and resort owner Bob Dedman Jr. to keep Pinehurst current without sacrificing its timeless charm. A year ago, they opened the Deuce, a pub behind the 18th green at No. 2, allowing visitors to have a local brew at a bar that features open-air views to the famous finishing hole. The Deuce filled a gap at the resort and it was just the start.

What Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw did brilliantly in their restoration of Pinehurst No. 2, bringing back the sandy, scruffy look that defined the property when Donald Ross lived there cultivating his masterpiece, Hanse and Wagner are building upon.

The backhoes already are at work on course No. 4, a fine design reworked several years ago by Tom Fazio. Choosing to extend the Pinehurst look and feel – think spiky wiregrass and unraked sandy patches – the decision was made to turn No. 4 over to Hanse. A year from now, No. 4 will look and feel different, many of the existing corridors retained but with new textures and features.

Hanse and his wife will move to Pinehurst early next year, living in the house Ross owned just off the third green at course No. 2. Hanse said he nearly cried when he learned of his housing arrangement, and not just because his commute to work will be a short walk or cart ride but because of the spirit and symbolism of who lived there decades ago.

Pashley and Dedman deserve credit for taking the bold step of converting the first holes on courses No. 3 and No. 5 into a short course. They have seen the success of Bandon Preserve – a Coore-Crenshaw par-3 layout at Bandon Dunes in Oregon that is almost addictive.

It’s what prompted them to create the short course adjacent to the Pinehurst clubhouse on the same land where Dr. Leroy Culver built the first nine holes at the resort. It sits adjacent to the clubhouse, allowing guests to watch play and, should the desire strike, put down their beers and go out for a quick nine.

The same for Thistle Dhu, a 75,000-square-foot putting green/course that Hanse says may have been the most fun part of the project for him.

It goes back to the theme of having fun. It costs $50 to play the Cradle (Pinehurst is known as the cradle of American golf) and replays are free. Kids 17 and younger play for free with an adult. It is a great way to introduce young players to the game, eliminating much of the intimidation of starting on a big course.

Whether it’s a short course or Topgolf, making the game accessible and unthreatening to new players is essential. Getting people on a putting green after dinner or in the middle of the afternoon strengthens the game’s heartbeat.

There is a place for big, demanding golf courses but too many have lost their way, focusing on quick Stimpmeter readings and difficult tee shots. The idea isn’t to get beaten up playing golf, at least it shouldn’t be.

At the Cradle, the longest hole is 127 yards downhill. The shortest is 56 yards but the tees are sometimes moved up. During a recent media event, two players made holes-in-one. Ev Merritt aced the third hole the day the Cradle opened.

In the simplicity there is brilliance. Three short clubs and a putter are enough to play the Cradle.

“This is an experience I will probably never have again, to put this much focus on fun at one of the premier golf resorts in the world,” Hanse said.

“Just look around and find the fun.”


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