As we noted in a tip last month, there will be a good group of new golf courses opening in 2017, but things have slowed way down from the go-go golf construction boom of the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s.
In the absence of new construction, many clubs and resorts are investing serious money in renovating and restoring their existing layouts (see the list below).
The result: courses that feel new on existing routings. And in many cases, the same big-name architects providing the new courses are also taking on these renovation projects.
In others, architects are making names for themselves primarily through their renovation work.
A few weeks ago, I had the particular treat not only of playing a course right after it reopened, but getting to tee it up with the man responsible for renovating it.
That course is Shingle Creek Golf Club in Orlando, and that man is Thad Layton, one of the principles of Arnold Palmer Design.
Shingle Creek, located on the property of a huge Rosen hotel and conference center-centric resort, was originally designed by David Harman (known for the visually dramatic Kauri Cliffs in New Zealand) and opened in 2003.
In order to make room for a land swap related to significant expansion of the Rosen hotel and conference center, it became necessary to make changes to the routing of the course.
Preserving some corridors, altering a few others and building a couple completely new holes, Layton and his team elevated Shingle Creek from a merely solid resort layout to one of Orlando’s best.
The green complexes are now varied and interesting to the point where some visitors may want to play the course multiple times to experience how differently holes will play one day to the next.
Shingle Creek is but one of many example of notable golf courses that have gotten better in the past year. Here are some more you should be aware of:
TPC Sawgrass (Stadium Course) – Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
The host of the PGA Tour’s PLAYERS Championship goes under the knife every year, it seems, but 2016 brought some of its most significant renovations in recent memory. Mainly, the Tour redesigned the 12th hole, long considered a relative dud of a short, wood-and-a-wedge par four into a drivable two-shotter with a pond lurking to the left of the green. The added risk-reward should help make what is already one of golf’s most exciting stretches all the more volatile.
Torrey Pines Golf Course (North Course) – La Jolla, Calif.
Tom Weiskopf’s comprehensive work at the lesser-known sibling of the famed South Course received near-universal acclaim from the pros when they played it in the Farmers Insurance Open a few weeks ago. It’s still not as difficult as the South, but now that Weiskopf has switched the nines, enlarged the greens, softened some strange features and removed a few dozen trees, the views are better and the golf is, too.
Sea Pines Resort (Atlantic Dunes Course) – Hilton Head Island, S.C.
We debated mentioning this course in our new-courses article a couple weeks ago – so significant was the work Davis Love III and associates undertook. But since they built new holes on the course’s original corridors (which date to 1959 – the first course built on Hilton Head), we’re calling this a renovation. The course had a bit of a false-restart, as its opening was partially kiboshed by Hurricane Matthew, but the course is fully up and running and now cuts a competitive figure relative to the Pete Dye-designed Heron Point and resort gem Harbour Town.
PGA Golf Club (Dye) – Port St. Lucie, Fla.
Renovations can vary greatly in scope, from near-complete makeovers to subtler and mostly agronomic adjustments. Consider PGA’s Dye Course more of the latter sort: adjustments to the bunkering and a re-grassing of the course, as well as the recapturing of some green edges that had shrunk in recent years. But modesty of work doesn’t mean it’s insignificant – Golf Inc. named it one of the top five “Most Improved Courses of the Year” for 2016.
World Golf Village (Slammer & Squire) – St. Augustine, Fla.
Bobby Weed, a long-time Pete Dye collaborator who has carved out a modest but particularly strong portfolio of his own solo work, re-shaped the bunkers at this course which he originally designed along with Sam Snead. It has long played second-fiddle to the Arnold Palmer/Jack Nicklaus King & Bear Course, but this recent work has narrowed the gap somewhat.
ChampionsGate Resort (International Course) – ChampionsGate, Fla.
Yes, a lot is going on in Florida, which we take as a good sign in a state with tons of golf courses but fewer absolute standouts than it ought to have. ChampionsGate’s International Course received a well-deserved jolt in the form of new greens and adjusted features across its Greg Norman-designed layout, and its sibling National Course will go under the knife in 2017 to receive similar treatment. The International is a fun layout with an open, windswept look that stands in pleasant contrast to the real-estate-choked courses for which the Sunshine State is known.
Kiawah Island Resort (Turtle Point Course) – Kiawah Island, S.C.
Jack Nicklaus, who originally designed Turtle Point, returned with his design team in 2016 to rebuild all of the course’s greens, including repositioning five of them. The Golden Bear also oversaw a complete regrassing of the course to Paspalum, as well as expansion of fairway acreage, the re-shaping of many of the course’s tee boxes, the addition of a few new ones and the replacement of the course’s irrigation system, as well as a few other subtle design tweaks.
Belvedere Golf Club – Charlevoix, Mich.
William Watson is not a household name as far as golf course architects go, but his course at Belvedere in northern Michigan stands out as one of the best in the Midwest. Belvedere is poised to get even better in 2017 as Bruce Hepner, a long-time member of Tom Doak’s stable, oversees a restoration effort that will recapture lost bunkers as well as original fairway and green margins, which have contracted over time. A cool wrinkle to this renovation story: Watson’s original plans of the course were only recently rediscovered, when an old building in the town of Charlevoix was demolished. The restoration work will be complete by the time Belvedere opens for the season.
Pinehurst Resort – Pinehurst, N.C.
Big things are happening on the golf course renovation front at Pinehurst, and they’re going to keep happening for at least another year or so. Gil Hanse has been retained by the resort to perform some exciting updates to multiple of its nine layouts. Phase one took the form of some alterations to the layouts of the No. 3 and No. 5 Courses (both reopening in April), to accommodate a brand-new, Hanse-designed short course. But the most significant happening will be a near-complete redesign of the No. 4 course, which will undo a 2000 renovation effort by Tom Fazio starting this fall. The new-look No. 4 will have much more in common with Pinehurst No. 2 – scruffy, sandy expanses and intricate green complexes – when it reopens in fall of 2018.
Wigwam Resort (Patriot Course) – Litchfield Park, Ariz.
The latest in a $30 million revitalization project throughout the resort, the Patriot Course reopened in October after Key Golf, a Nevada-based firm, carried out a plan to eliminate 31 bunkers and re-shape the remaining 38. They also replaced the irrigation system on the half-century-old Robert Trent Jones, Sr. design.
Hammock Beach Resort (Ocean Course) – Palm Coast, Fla.
Flooding damage from Hurricane Matthew, which hit the northern Florida hard back in October, forced Hammock Beach to perform some substantial renovations to their flagship layout. The course will receive wall-to-wall Paspalum turf, and they will renovate all tee boxes, bunkers and green complexes as well. The new-and-improved Ocean Course will open in October 2017.
The Greenbrier (Meadows Course) – White Sulphur Springs, W. Va
The nightmarish floods that devastated parts of West Virginia did not spare the venerable Greenbrier, whose four courses (including the ultra-private Snead Course at the Greenbrier Sporting Club) will need time to recover. The first to reopen fully will be the Meadows Course, at the end of May.
Banyan Cay Resort – West Palm Beach, Fla.
Formerly a two-course complex known as the President Country Club, the rechristened Banyan Cay Resort is in the midst of a massive renewal, of which a Jack Nicklaus-led redesign of the golf course is just a part. A luxury hotel and residential units in the form of condos and single-family homes are also on the docket. The course is expected to open in late-2017, and it will bump Palm Beach up a notch as a golf vacation destination.
Golden Horseshoe Golf Club (Gold Course) – Williamsburg, Va.
Known as home to one of the first island greens ever built, the Robert Trent Jones, Sr.-designed Gold Course at Golden Horseshoe will reopen after an extensive renovation project by son Rees Jones. Updates include the popular Billy Bunker system, which minimizes wash-outs, and new 007 Bentgrass putting surfaces, as well as new forward tee boxes and a brand-new short-game practice area. The course will reopen on July 1.
Tempest Golf Club – Liberty City, Texas
Jeff Brauer is best-known for his work throughout the Midwest. His Sand Creek Station course in Kansas played host to the USGA’s final Public Links Championship in 2014, and we’ve long been fans of his Avocet Course at Wild Wing Plantation in Myrtle Beach. Tempest is the new name of the former Southern Hills Golf Club, and Brauer tasked with coaxing the best possible course out of what developer John Wait calls “an A-plus property.”
Rio Secco Golf Club – Henderson, Nev.
Rio Secco has received notoriety on our site in the past for its female caddie corps, the T-Mates, who will have to ply their trade elsewhere this summer, as architect Rees Jones will return to the high-end Sin City course to oversee the renovation of its green complexes and bunkers.
Municipal Golf Course Renovations Continue…
We reported on the rising tide of investment in municipal golf courses last year, and we are excited that the trend is continuing, with more publicly-owned courses receiving the kind of TLC that will help keep them relevant to golfers everywhere. Courses like Bethpage Black and Torrey Pines used to be outliers as high-quality munis. Now they’re receiving more and more company each year thanks to meticulous renovations and restorations. Here are some such courses to be aware of in 2017:
Keney Park Golf Course – Hartford, Conn.
Matt Dusenberry, who cut his teeth as part of Greg Norman’s design firm before striking out on his own, breathed life back into Keney Park after decades of neglect. The course’s front nine was designed by Golden Age architect Devereux Emmet and the back was laid out later by Robert “Jack” Ross (no relation to Donald Ross), an engineer for the City of Hartford. Dusenberry incorporated the sort of shaping and features Emmet was best known for, and carried the aesthetic through all 18 holes. The results are nothing short of phenomenal, and Keney Park is now one of the best municipal golf courses in New England. It opened in late-spring 2016 and will enter its first full season in a few weeks.
Winter Park Golf Club – Winter Park, Fla.
This diminutive nine-holer – only 2,400 yards from the longest tees – has received huge amounts of press as a result of the excellent renovation carried out by Riley Johns and Keith Rhebb, two architects on the rise. The course sits practically in downtown Winter Park, making it a perfect community amenity and a model for other facilities looking for a facelift.
Arlington Lakes Golf Club – Arlington Heights, Ill.
A good rule of thumb is that at least 100 acres, minimum, are necessary for a good 18-hole golf course. So why is Arlington Lakes, a muni in suburban Chicago, working so well despite being laid out on just 90 acres (land that served as a Nike missile base before it became a golf course)? Thank architect Mike Benkusky, whose renovation revitalized a 5,400-yard, par-68 layout into a course that all ages and skill levels could appreciate, all the while cutting the number of bunkers on the course by more than two-thirds, to save on maintenance costs. There are also three- and six-hole loop options for players pressed for time.
Lions Municipal Golf Course – Austin, Texas
One of Austin’s most recognizable faces in the golf world is Ben Crenshaw, who just last week unveiled plans to restore this track, known affectionately as Muny (if you’re on social media, perhaps you’ve seen the tag #SaveMuny). Estimated costs for the project run in the $10 to $12 million range, and proponents of it are confident that the funds can be raised privately. However, the University of Texas owns the land on which Muny sits, and its lease to the City of Austin is up for renewal in 2019. It is not known whether the University will extend the lease.
Gus Wortham Park Golf Course – Houston, Texas
This course, known as the longest in continuous operation in the Lone Star State, has just embarked on a multi-million-dollar renovation with the backing of the Houston Golf Association and a steering committee that includes the likes of Jackie Burke, winner of the 1956 Masters, and 41st President George H.W. Bush. Baxter Spann, whose courses at Paa-Ko Ridge and Black Mesa in New Mexico are two of our favorites in the Southwest, is overseeing the renovation.
Chuck Corica Golf Complex (Jack Clark South Course) – Alameda, Calif.
This municipal course redesign is more under-the-radar than Rees Jones’ new work at City Park in New Orleans, but Chuck Corica’s Bay Area location means it will have an impact on many golfers as well. The layout is scheduled to open in the fall, and has been described as having a Melbourne Sandbelt-type aesthetic.
Chester W. Ditto Golf Course – Arlington, Texas
One of four golf courses in the Arlington municipal system, Chester W. Ditto closed in December for a comprehensive renovation project led by John Colligan, who has built an impressive body of work in the Lone Star State. The course should reopen in the fall.
We could go a few dozen courses longer in this piece, but suffice it to say that golf course renovations are continuing apace, and every traveling golfer stands to benefit greatly from this reinvestment.
Which of these courses are you eager to check out in 2017? Are others you know going under the knife or about to re-debut?
Please share your thoughts or read what others are saying below!