By Tony Dear
In the decade since the Great Recession, the worlds of golf course construction and course architecture have undergone wholesale changes. The emphasis is now on quality rather than quantity, as well as natural over decorative, which means courses generally cost less to build and maintain and are far less harmful to the environment. A handful of courses exhibiting those trends are in the pipeline: Here are five of the most exciting, plus a few others that just opened.
IN THE WORKS
The Scottish government will have the final say on whether a new links course two miles north of Royal Dornoch can go ahead. The fate of Mike Keiser and Todd Warnock’s Coul Links will be decided when government ministers choose whether to uphold the local Highland Council’s approval of the project. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw have completed the routing and project manager Chris Haspell is coordinating efforts ahead of the hearing in February. “We have everything from ecologists to legal representatives building our case for the enquiry,” Haspell says. “We have the Highland Council’s endorsement and the Highlands in general are very much behind us.”
One hundred and ninety miles to the south near St. Andrews, another new links course is taking shape at Dumbarnie. Designed by Clive Clark on flattish ground next to Lundin Links, the public Dumbarnie is set to open in spring 2020. Project manager Paul Kimber says construction was completed last month and the course is now growing in. “The greenkeepers will perform routine maintenance over the winter,” he adds. “And we will tackle a few remaining areas in the spring.”
Tiger Woods’s first public course in the U.S. is scheduled to open late in the year at Big Cedar Lodge, the 800-acre wilderness resort in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains owned by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris. Payne’s Valley will slot in alongside Big Cedar’s four other courses—Top of the Rock, Buffalo Ridge Springs, Mountain Top, and Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw’s Ozarks National which opened last September. A tribute to three-time major champion Payne Stewart who grew up just 50 miles away in Springfield, Mo., the 7,308-yard course will enhance Woods’s growing reputation for designing very playable courses with broad fairways and open green surrounds. A 202-yard 19th hole, designed by Morris, will bring you back to the clubhouse.
Tom Doak will design the two other projects in our top five. LINKS wrote about Sedge Valley, the Sand Valley Golf Resort’s next venture, two months ago, and it was announced last week on thefriedegg.com that Doak will rebuild Houston Memorial Golf Club, a municipal course that Houston Astros owner Jim Crane is hoping for the PGA Tour’s Houston Open. Doak, who has become increasingly interested in designing a Tour course, will work alongside Brooks Koepka in creating something that not only challenges the best players in the game but also records 60,000-plus public rounds every year.
Also in the works: The Tom Weiskopf-designed Feddinch Club, a private club in St. Andrews that should open in spring 2021.
Mike Nuzzo’s three nines at Grand Oaks Reserve in Cleveland, Texas, which he says will open next summer when the new residential community’s roads have been built.
Three more Gil Hanse designs—an addition to Robert von Hagge’s original layout at Les Bordes in France; Ballyshear at the Ban Rakat Club in Thailand; and a recently announced, yet unnamed, course at the PGA of America’s future headquarters in Frisco, Texas. Hanse’s design, to open in 2022, will neighbor a Beau Welling course, and is slated to host future Senior PGA, Women’s PGA, and PGA Championships, and possibly a Ryder Cup in 2040.
In May, OCCM Golf (Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking, and Mead) completed a major overhaul of a 2009 Jack Nicklaus design at Lanhai International Country Club in China, creating the new Yangtze Dunes, turning a TPC-style layout into a sandy links.
Twin Dolphin in Los Cabos, Mexico, had been on the drawing board since before the recession but construction didn’t start until 2017. A Fred Couples Signature course, it features many arroyos and overlooks Santa Maria Bay 10 miles east of Cabo San Lucas.
New Giza Golf Club, 20 miles west of central Cairo, Egypt, had its soft opening last month following four years of construction on a rocky site eight miles northwest of the Great Pyramids, which form a cool backdrop at the downhill, par-three 4th.
Before he passed in August, 2016, Bob Cupp redesigned the city-owned Bobby Jones Golf Club in Atlanta, Ga., which had opened in 1933. Instead of retaining its cramped 18-hole routing, Cupp devised a reversible nine-hole course that his son Bobby saw to completion.
Gil Hanse’s acclaimed new build at the exclusive, match-play-only Ohoopee Match Club and his incredible redesign of Pinehurst No. 4 opened to similarly outstanding reviews in September and October respectively.
By Graylyn Loomis
“Innovate or die” is a common business axiom that readily applies to the ever-changing golf resort landscape.
It would have been easy for the iconic Pinehurst Resort to stop innovating after the Coore & Crenshaw renovation of its famous Donald Ross-designed No. 2 course and the 2014 U.S. Opens—men’s and women’s—that followed. Instead, owner Bob Dedman Jr. decided to double down, launching a long-term improvement plan for the 123-year-old resort that included new purchases, renovations, and additions. The latest piece of the plan was a redesign of another Ross course, No. 4, recently completed by Gil Hanse.
No. 4 was a far cry from the Ross original that opened in 1919 to great reviews. The layout was shuttered during the Great Depression, Robert Trent Jones did a redesign in the 1970s, and Tom Fazio renovated it again in the 1990s. Not only had much of the Ross been removed over the years, but much of No. 4’s original land was no longer available, with pieces taken over by real estate and the expansion of No. 2. Because of that, Hanse is quick to say his work was a renovation—not a restoration: He and partner Jim Wagner redesigned the course using Ross’s style, design ethos, and photographs from the original design, but it was impossible to fully recreate the original due to those land constraints.
Hanse also explained that No. 4 was one of the biggest earth-moving projects his crew had undertaken—an unusual claim from an architect known for minimalism. “We looked extensively at aerial photos and maps from the archives,” he says. “We recreated the original ridges and valleys in the landscape and designed around those features.” Every day of construction, Hanse insisted that his crew take the time to look at the neighboring No. 2—Ross’s lifelong project—to inspire their shaping work.
The new No. 4 has wide fairways, large undulating greens (much more receptive than No. 2’s), and large sandy waste areas in place of the small pot bunkers Fazio introduced in the ’90s. A player in my group summed things up perfectly: “It’s as if they created ‘the best of Pinehurst’ with the elements from No. 2, Pine Needles, and Mid Pines.” It’s true. Everywhere you look No. 4 offers reminders of Ross’s best courses in the area but on a big, modern course that complements the classics.
If you played No. 4 before, you won’t recognize it today. The design is greatly improved and much more in keeping with the Ross style we’ve come to love in the Sandhills of North Carolina. Dedman and the Pinehurst team keep giving us reasons to come back.
By Colin Callander
There are few British or Irish golf clubs that can claim a direct link with the great Ben Hogan. One that certainly can is Panmure Golf Club, situated on a rugged piece of rolling linksland just over a mile west of Carnoustie.
It was there that Hogan, together with caddie Cecil Timms, practiced for a fortnight ahead of his victory at Carnoustie in his sole appearance in The Open back in 1953. To this day, a visitor can find a bunker at Panmure that was built on the recommendation of the great man himself. The Panmure club was already more than 100 years old when Hogan arrived in Scotland to complete the third leg of that year’s Triple Crown, but the course where he practiced did not open until the end of the 19th century. There is some speculation that four-time Open champion Old Tom Morris had a hand in the original design, but what we know with a great deal more certainty is that five-time champion James Braid drafted plans for a redesign in the early 1920s, and with the odd exception, today’s course remains much as he envisaged back then.
Panmure is not long at 6,551 yards, but it is tight and lined with gorse and heather and challenging enough to have staged both Open Championship and Women’s Open Championship Final Qualifying as well as numerous Scottish national amateur events.
The course starts gently enough with a short par four and a 488-yard par five, but from then onwards provides a marvelous test even on those rare days when little more than a gentle breeze is ruffling the flags.
Its championship credentials are apparent on many holes, not least the tough 436-yard, par-four 10th and the 396-yard, par-four 12th, situated alongside the adjacent Monifieth links and protected by the Buddon Burn that winds its way snake-like across the fairway.
There is also a fine set of short holes, starting with the 144-yard 5th with its punchbowl green and culminating with the 234-yard 15th, where par is an achievement in any weather, as well as an excellent par five, the 533-yard 14th, which is laid out alongside the main East Coast railway line that takes travelers north to Aberdeen and south to Edinburgh and was extensively remodeled by English course architect Donald Steel back in the late 1980s.
However, Panmure’s stand-out hole is undoubtedly the 6th, a 414-yard par four that requires a semi-blind tee shot to an undulating fairway followed by an uphill second to a tight, raised green. The hole is named after Hogan and features the bunker referred to earlier, which sits hidden from view short and to the right of the green.
It is said that in the aftermath of his Open triumph at Carnoustie Hogan was asked by the assembled media to name his favorite hole on the course. Without hesitation, but presumably with a glint in his eye, the legendary American responded “the 6th at Panmure.” It is easy to see why.
By Dave Seanor
Anonymity is the number-one amenity at Calusa Pines Golf Club. When you set foot on the property, you become one with nature, unshackled from the sights, sounds, demands, and distractions of everyday life.
At least that was club founder Gary Chensoff’s intent 20 years ago when he envisioned this golf purist’s enclave situated a few miles east of I-75 in North Naples, Fla., a dream that became reality in 2001. The 530-acre property is hemmed in on all sides by the sort of development that is continually encroaching on the Everglades, but standing on any tee box or sitting on the clubhouse veranda, you’d never know it.
Chensoff—a Chicago-based hotel and real estate developer—engaged the design team of Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry to transform an unremarkable patch of Florida scrub land into a course unlike anything else in the state. Vast swathes of coral rock were dynamited to make way for 72 acres of lakes. The excavated rock was used to enhance topographical features. A variety of mature trees were located offsite, uprooted, then transported to the golf course and replanted on the new landforms, lending visual continuity. Colossal waste bunkers delineate holes elsewhere on the layout.
Design aficionados may disdain such artificiality, but they can’t dispute Hurdzan/Fry’s thoughtfulness in concept and strategy. Each par three and par five is aligned to a different point on the compass, meaning wind poses a challenge unique to each hole. Nearly every hole is secluded from those adjacent to it. The architects were generous in their presentation of short risk-and-reward par fours, including No. 8, which plays from 228 to 291 yards and has the distinction of having yielded the course’s first hole-in-one.
The course is 7,203 yards from the back tees, with a rating of 75.3 and 148 slope. Lesser mortals can move as many as four boxes forward (down to 5,348 yards). Walking is expected; the club has a corps of accomplished caddies, who come in handy since it’s the challenging green complexes that give Calusa Pines its teeth. Success is dependent on pinpoint accuracy tee-to-green or a wickedly deft short game.
Alas, membership at Calusa Pines is by invitation only, and capped at 275. The club is closed from June through September, and starting times January through April are locked up almost exclusively by members, leaving few windows for unaccompanied guest play. In other words, start networking.
By Tony Dear
Golf course design priorities have seen a welcome shift in recent years. The emphasis on demanding, arduous golf has started to give way to fun, sustainable courses that you’d want to play again and again. The new wave is seen in the boom of short courses across the country (Pinehurst’s Cradle, Bandon Dunes’s Preserve, Sand Valley’s Sandbox, Big Cedar’s Top of the Rock, etc.) and their continued development suggests golfers find short golf more enjoyable than long.
Tom Doak has been arguing this for decades. “I’ve always fought against the idea that great golf had to be long,” he says. “I kept Pacific Dunes and Barnbougle well below 7,000 yards just to prove my point. I’ve been thinking I’d love to do an even shorter course for many years.”
Doak will get his chance at the Sand Valley Golf Resort—Mike Keiser and his sons’ (Michael and Chris) pine and sand-covered oasis in the middle of Wisconsin where Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore’s eponymous Sand Valley and David McLay Kidd’s Mammoth Dunes are already drawing thousands of golfers to a remote part of the country.
Doak’s course, tentatively called Sedge Valley, won’t be a nine-hole, executive, or par 27 layout, but a regulation 18-holer of irregular length. The proposed scorecard suggests it will be slightly more than 6,000 yards long and have a par of 67 or 68.
Some of Doak’s favorite courses in the world are similarly condensed. In Volume 1 of his acclaimed Confidential Guide series, the Michigan-based designer lists England’s Rye (par 68), St. Enodoc (69), Swinley Forest (69), and West Sussex (68) in the “Gourmet’s Choice” section. “When I was picking these courses, I wasn’t thinking they were par 68s or whatever,” he says. “They’re just some of my favorite courses of any length.”
Doak’s idea for Sand Valley’s third course (fourth if you include Coore & Crenshaw’s Sandbox—a 17-hole Par 3) beat out proposals from Gil Hanse and Mike DeVries. “Gil’s proposal was fabulous,” says Mike Keiser. “But it was roughly a mile from our clubhouse and Tom’s routing was contiguous to the Sand Valley course and only a three-minute walk from the 1st tee of Mammoth Dunes. Mike’s design used some of the Doak land and was also very good.”
One glance at Doak’s intended routing tells you all you need to know about what’s in store. Full of bends, twists, width, angles, options, undulation, interesting green sites, and quirk, the course promises to be exquisitely stimulating, full of anticipation and adventure.
Doak hopes Sedge Valley will prove shorter courses can be plenty challenging enough to interest good players. “It will also make it possible for more golfers to play 36 in a day,” he says.
The Keisers insist they are in no rush to build the course. Doak will be there later this month to clear lines for fairways, but construction isn’t likely to begin until the end of 2019 with a possible 2021 opening date. “But you never know,” says Doak. “Once we get a few holes cleared out the Keisers might get excited to go ahead sooner.”
Building so short a course in the age of 460cc titanium drivers and jet-fueled golf balls might be considered a huge gamble. But Keiser knows what he’s doing. “I create courses for the retail golfer, most of whom can’t break 85-90,” he says. “Tom is well aware most male golfers would most enjoy courses measuring 5,700 to 6,200 yards.”
Our recent Twitter poll would indicate both are right. We asked if golfers were excited at the prospect of Doak building a 6,000-yarder at Sand Valley to which only 4% responded saying that the course would probably be too easy for them. That left 96% eagerly looking forward to it.
Will Sedge Valley bring us out of the formulaic distance/difficult era once and for all? Fingers crossed.
Are you excited for Tom Doak’s sub-6,000 yard course at Sand Valley? Let us know why or why not in the comments section below!
By James A. Frank
In 2019, Pebble Beach Golf Links will celebrate its 100th birthday and host its sixth U.S. Open. To commemorate these milestones, each issue of Links Magazine and LINKSdigital between now and then will tell the unique story that is Pebble Beach.
Every golf course is a work in progress, changing over time at the hands of both nature and man. Pebble Beach Golf Links is no exception, having evolved since its opening in 1919 with everything from minor touch-ups to the unveiling of an all-new, Jack Nicklaus-designed par-three 5th hole in 1998.
Over the last few years, and in preparation for this year’s U.S. Open, work has been completed on three greens—nos. 13, 14, and 17—with an interesting twist: All were rebuilt so they look more how they did when the course first opened a century ago, as shown in historical photographs that were taken in the early 1920s. Along with the new looks, each green was made a little bit bigger and recontoured—allowing for more hole positions—as well as constructed to USGA specifications and fitted with SubAir underground drainage and ventilation systems.
This is the most recent of the rebuilds, with work starting shortly after the finish of the 2017 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. About 400 square feet was added to the right side (watch for pin positions on the back-right shelf) and the bunker to the right of the green was lowered. There’s also now a bunker on the left side of the green, but it’s not really new, as there was one there in the old days that had disappeared over time. The restored bunker drops about six feet below the putting surface.
Something else interesting about the green at 13: It was one of two originally designed by Alister MacKenzie (he also did no. 8), and he devised it with a strong slope from right to left toward the water. The slope is still there, but not as severe as it used to be.
The putting surface at 14 has long been one of the smallest (roughly 3,000 square feet) and, due to its pronounced slope, hardest to hit on the course. Now it’s about 1,000 square feet bigger, which nearly doubled the number of available hole locations, particularly on the right side. The added area went mostly to that right side, bringing it closer to a bunker that also was enlarged and now comes more into play. On the left side, the front lip of the large left-side bunker was lowered by more than two feet. The work, which was done in the spring of 2016, creates alternative ways to get on the green, rolling it in on the right side or lofting it to the left and holding the now slightly flatter surface.
Thanks to memorable shots like Nicklaus’s 1-iron that hit the pin during the 1972 U.S. Open and Tom Watson’s chip-in in 1982, the green at 17 is one of the course’s best known. So the changes made in 2015 had a great deal of history to take into account. The left side of the green received most of the attention, as the surface grew from about 3,500 to 5,000 square feet, allowing for more hole locations and more receptivity from the back tees. The bunker on the left also has a new look: It’s been brought down closer to its original height, making it easier to see the green from the tee, and has been reshaped with scalloping and fingers reminiscent of its appearance 100 years ago. And while not technically on the green, there’s now a plaque marking the spot where Watson struck his “shot heard ’round the world” to lock up his only U.S. Open title.
By Adam Schupak
When Art Fry, co-inventor of the Post-It Note, visited the construction site of Royal Golf Club in Lake Elmo, Minn., he took one look at the stunning clubhouse view of Horseshoe Lake and said, “I’ve played a thousand rounds here and I never knew there was a lake there.”
That’s just one of the many improvements to a golf facility that looked headed to becoming another casualty. 3M had purchased the site in 1958 and opened Tartan Park Golf Course five years later. In 2014, it was opened to the public, but a year later declining golf revenue and a changed corporate culture led 3M to shutter the recreational getaway. Suitors lined up to convert the 27-hole facility 10 miles east of downtown St. Paul into big-box retail, a casino, or another residential community: The land had become extremely valuable as suburban housing in the Twin Cities crept eastward.
But Hollis Cavner, an events promoter and chief executive of ProLinks Sports, had other ideas. The Cavner-led HC Golf Course Development, LLC, purchased the 477-acre property for $5 million on March 14, 2016, and teamed with Arnold Palmer and Annika Sorenstam to save the golf component and
build a new 18-hole course and six-hole par-3 course there.
“Tartan Park was going to be blown up and turned totally into a real estate play. They would have put in somewhere from 500 to a 1,000 homes,” Cavner says. “I was the only one with a plan to keep the golf course.”
Thad Layton, a vice president and senior golf course architect at Arnold Palmer Design Co., says Tartan Park is a prime example of why distressed properties should consider all options before closing. “There may be opportunities to bring a golf course architect or a land planner to look at a way to reconfigure the golf and provide some additional land to develop, perhaps as real estate,” Layton says.
Cavner—who with Palmer had spearheaded the nearby TPC Twin Cities, home of the 3M Championship on the PGA Tour Champions and beginning next year a PGA Tour event—had eyed Tartan Park for some time. The rolling topography winds through thickets of pine and oak forests, wetlands and lakes. In reworking the course, thousands of elm and willow trees were removed and an eight-foot-high hill in front of the clubhouse leveled, creating the lake view Fry and many other regulars now admire. And it’s not as if the land won’t be used for housing: What Layton described as “a Central Park for golf” has space for 292 single-family homes and villas expected to be built along the perimeter.
The nines at Royal are named for their co-designers: The Queen (the front, for Sorenstam) and The King (the back, for Palmer). After building courses in China, South Africa, and South Korea, it’s Sorenstam’s first American project.
The course is roomy off the tee, with green contours that are bolder than spicy brown mustard and judicious use of bunkering—just 23 in all. There’s a reachable par four on each side—holes 3 and 15—and the course concludes with back-to-back par fives for a chance to make a late Palmer-like charge. The course is family friendly, with multiple tee boxes and four- and-five-hole loops suitable for those pressed for time. The par-3 course is free for kids, and clubs and balls can be checked out like a library book. To play the big course, kids can pay their age.
3M employees will continue to receive special rates, as will Lake Elmo residents. As it is, the non-resident green fee is a very reasonable $59.
“We want to be known as a community center that happens to have a golf course,” says Shawn Weisen, the club’s PGA professional. “We invite everyone to come out and sit on the porch, enjoy the fire pits, play adult Jenga, and Connect-4. You don’t have to come out here and play golf.”
“Is it a great business model?,” asks Cavner. “The students at Harvard Business School would be rolling their eyes saying, ‘What the hell? It doesn’t work.’ Sure, with that much land, you could’ve made $100 million. That’s short-term thinking. We’re going to do just fine with the housing we have. Are we bucking the trend? Absolutely, but somebody’s got to. Somebody’s got to figure out how to get kids playing again. Someone has to make the game fun again, and that’s our deal.”
Royal Golf Club was the last construction site Palmer visited, just six weeks prior to his passing in 2016.
“The last thing Arnold said to me is make the golf fun,” Cavner said. “I think if he were looking down, he’d be very proud.”
By Tony Dear
Thanks largely to social media, the names C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor have become familiar to more than just a small group of golf historians and architecture geeks in recent years. As their fame has grown, so has the desire to play the numerous top-100 courses they designed during the Golden Age of golf course architecture. The trouble, of course, is that most of what they built belongs to private clubs, and not just marginal, easy-to-join, small-town clubs that attract members with great value for money, but historic sanctuaries with small, exclusive, invitation-only memberships.
Besides the Greenbrier’s Old White Course, there are precious few Macdonald or Raynor originals the public can play. For many people, the closest they can get is Old Macdonald at Bandon Dunes, designed by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina, a fitting tribute to Macdonald that possesses many of the features and template holes for which he and Raynor are known. But stuck out on the Oregon coast, getting to it is a trek.
Thankfully, public golfers now have another opportunity to play the sort of course Macdonald and Raynor would have designed, the South Course at Arcadia Bluffs, at the resort of the same name in northern Michigan. When pictures of the new layout—a mile inland from the resort’s tremendously popular first course, which fronts Lake Michigan and was designed nearly 20 years ago by Warren Henderson and Rick Smith—began appearing last year, the reaction was almost universal shock and astonishment at the rectangular bunkers cut into wide, straight-edge fairways or bordering huge, square greens, geometric features common to Macdonald/Raynor courses.
“The biggest inspiration was Chicago Golf Club,” says architect Dana Fry. “When I first saw the site in January 2016, I knew that if we cleared the trees we would be left with land very similar to Chicago.”
Fry acknowledges he wasn’t the only one with Chicago on his mind. When resort owner Rich Postma decided the time was right to add a second course, he, too, thought of Macdonald’s 1896 classic in Wheaton, Ill., that Raynor renovated in 1923. “Rich really is a visionary,” says Fry. “He has created one
of the world’s best golfing destinations and is continually thinking of ways to improve it.”
The South Course (along with the new lodge, the property’s third) certainly will do that. Sitting on a sandy 311-acre parcel, the South will be unlike anything most visitors have seen before. Fry made several visits to Chicago Golf Club looking for distinctive elements, nuances, and details. Together, Postma and Fry decided early not to copy any of Chicago’s holes directly, though there are two that might be considered templates: the 12th, a dramatic downhill par three with a Lion’s Mouth bunker similar to that on the 16th at Raynor’s Country Club of Charleston, and the 13th, a dogleg-right, uphill par four with a huge punchbowl green. “This green was in a natural valley and just fit in perfectly there,” adds Fry.
The positioning and angling of the ribbon-like, flat-bottomed fairway bunkers—which emerge from the rough and stretch quite a way across holes—will perplex many. As will the huge greens with their square edges, fragile fall-offs, and significant contouring.
At first, the South could prove a maddening cocktail of fairway bunker shots and three-putts. Like all great layouts, though, it will need to be studied and learned, and taking advantage of the knowledge gleaned will make future trips round the South an absolute blast. Taking a caddie is also a good idea, at least for that first visit.
“Guests are very aware and appreciative of the stark contrast in design styles and overall feel of our two courses,” says Arcadia Bluffs’ president and CEO Bill Shriver. “The pace of play on the South has been great, and it is playing firm and fast just as we hoped—the ground game is a viable option. Players of all skill levels are commenting on the playability and wideness of the course, yet understanding the complexities of the greens and green surrounds. The wind has also added to the challenge.”
The South Course at Arcadia Bluffs ranks among the most interesting and important new course openings of the year.
By Graylyn Loomis
I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, where hilly terrain and serious elevation change are standard on most golf courses. With that upbringing, I’ve often been skeptical of courses on flat land, finding them uninteresting. But, over the last few years, my bias has eroded as I’ve seen what great architects can do: Take, for example, the 107-year-old, Donald Ross-designed Country Club of Orlando.
Why write about a private course you likely won’t play in LINKS? Because the club went down a path many classic clubs traveled over the last 100 years, and, more importantly, was able to recapture former glory. It’s a tale that can serve as a lesson to clubs around the U.S.—maybe even yours.
The club’s history is both interesting and unclear. Founded in 1911, there’s little information about the original design or architect. Ross redesigned the course in 1918, creating the routing we see today. In the decades that followed, the design aged, native trees grew and non-native trees were planted, greens shrank, and during numerous renovation projects by various architects, the course lost much of its original character and conditions deteriorated.
In 2016, Ron Forse—an architect who specializes in restoring classic courses—was hired to bring back the Ross character. The large-scale renovation included new turf throughout, new bunkers, significant tree removal, and a general redesign of the holes. The architect is quick to explain that this wasn’t a restoration—it was a renovation or even a redesign in the Ross style. Unlike many of these restoration stories, no original drawings exist, so Forse drew inspiration from other Ross designs and his own experience with more than 50 other Ross projects to emulate the “best of Ross.” “Among many sources of Ross inspiration, we used 1931 photos of Seminole Golf Club to infuse the course with Ross’s design strategies,” says Forse. “We gave especially careful thought to bunker placement, green shapes and undulations, use of mounds, and interesting angles of play.” Other than the basic routing of holes, almost everything else changed.
Forse’s main focus was reintroducing Ross to every green, redesigning them as big, bold, and “pushed up,” bringing elevation and movement to the flat terrain. Shots can be run onto the greens, but misses left or right find runoff areas and deep bunkers. And then there is the unforgettable double-punchbowl 9th green, unlike any other I’ve seen, with two large collection bowls separated by a spine that bisects the green. With no groups behind us, I happily stayed to chip and putt from many different locations before moving to the halfway house (which is more like a halfway restaurant).
Key to the renovation is the ongoing work of superintendent Josh Dunaway and his team. “Our target for the renovated golf course was a ‘players’ course with dry, firm, and fast conditions,” says Dunaway. He no longer overseeds during the peak winter season—which requires more water and results in wetter, slower conditions—explaining, “We make the course firm and fast not just to test the golfer’s skill but also to accentuate the architect’s design.” So while Forse reintroduced Ross to the course, it’s Dunaway who keeps him there.
The membership—most of whom never experienced the course as a true Ross design—has fully embraced the year-old renovation. “In regard to both the overall design and the day-to-day conditions, feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” says head professional Brian Corn.
Count me among the proponents. I love that the course feels like a golf club, not a residential course, and breaks preconceptions of Florida’s typical tree- and home-lined fairways with long views across holes and serious architectural interest. More than anything, the course shows how much thought goes in to working on flat land: Every bunker lip, mound, and green slope is more important when standing bare on the horizon, not framed by ocean, dunes, or mountains.
Forse’s renovation at the Country Club of Orlando is a cautionary tale of what can happen over a century of committee-rule and changing tastes. But it also can be an inspiration to other old clubs to return to their roots and reap the benefits.
Golf architecture geeks surely know the name Seth Raynor. A local surveyor (and non-golfer) plucked out of obscurity by Charles Blair Macdonald to help him build the National Golf Links on Long Island, Raynor became Macdonald’s partner, the yin to his yang, and following his boss’s “template hole” formula designed a number of notable courses on his own in the 1920s—including Camargo, Fishers Island, Mountain Lake, and Yeamans Hall—before dying unexpectedly at age 51.
Two other facts about Raynor. First, nearly all of the courses he did on his own are private. But his hand and influences are evident in layouts he did with Macdonald that are open to the public, including Mid-Ocean on Bermuda, Old White at The Greenbrier Resort, and, if you know an alum who plays there, the Course at Yale University.
Second, much as Macdonald discovered Raynor, Raynor discovered Charles Banks, who worked with his two mentors at Yale and Mid-Ocean, among others, and designed a number of memorable courses on his own, largely in the Northeast.
The link tying together these three architectural heavyweights is a course that is open to all: The Hotchkiss School Golf Course, on the campus of the elite prep school of the same name in the northwest corner of Connecticut. Particularly with autumn approaching, it is well worth your time and (very little) money.
The course is charming. The nine holes, each with two tees, winds through the leafy campus and features considerable elevation change. It’s no executive course, with two par 5s of 500 yards or more, two par 4s over 400, and three really good par 3s. Mix in the severe ups and downs plus angled fairways and it’s all you want. It’s also a course that—befitting its location—requires deep thought, yielding good scores (and full enjoyment of its nuances) to smart, strategic play rather than brute strength.
Along the way golfers will encounter variations on a number of famed template holes including a Leven (number 2), Alps (3), Short (5), Long (7), and Eden (8), plus elements of the St. Andrews Road Hole at both 6 and 9. There are some wonderful greens with subtle and not-so-subtle movement, and a hidden semi-circular bunker just beyond the “Alps” on 3 that will make you grin the first time you see it even if you’re in it. And it all begins with a really tough opening hole (particularly since there’s nowhere to warm-up), a little over 400 yards, uphill all the way, few flat lies in the fairway, and a green that’s almost entirely circled by trouble and tough to putt when you finally find it.
There are also thick stands of tall trees (spectacular in the fall), quintessential prep-school buildings (some in play), and beautiful views over Lake Wononskopomuc, the deepest natural lake in Connecticut.
Even if you’re not into golf history, you’ll enjoy the course and be challenged. And here’s the kicker: Playing the nine holes will set you back $15 during the week, $17 on weekends and holidays; going around twice costs $17 and $27. That’s walking; carts are another $9. (Weekday play during spring is often limited due to team practice and matches.)
If you are into golf history, here’s a little more. There was a rudimentary six-hole course on campus as early as 1897 that was expanded in 1911. An alum of the Class of ’11 came back in 1923 and, thinking the boys (it was an all-boys school until 1974) needed a better test, brought Raynor—who was working 60 miles to the south on Yale—up to do the work. (Not coincidentally, Hotchkiss has long been considered a “feeder” school to Yale.) As for Banks, he was teaching English at the school, got on the course building committee, and became so interested in what was happening that he left Hotchkiss to work with Raynor, starting at Yale.
The course has gone through numerous changes since Raynor’s design opened in 1925. Play originally started on what is now the 8th hole, but changes had to be made in 1931 when a state highway went in. Today, holes 1, 8, and 9, as well as the tiny clubhouse, are on one side of the highway, the rest of the course and most of the school on the other. After the highway was finished, Banks came back to create what is now the first hole and make other changes, including on the long, downhill-then-uphill 9th hole, which has a big pond to the left of the narrow landing area: Banks redid the green, patterning it loosely after the Road Hole with a grass bunker short left.
With their shared histories, the Hotchkiss Course is often called a “mini-Yale.” More accurate is a description I heard from a regular: “Hotchkiss is algebra; Yale is calculus.” Both are an education—and playing Hotchkiss won’t require taking out any student loans.
What’s the Seth Raynor course you want to play most? Let us know in the comments below!