East does it

More courses find that making their courses more player-friendly can help keep rounds numbers up In today's increasingly competitive golf environment, some clubs are finding success in simplicity.

Clubs such as Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas, The Club at Morgan Hill in Easton, Pa., and Norman K. Probstein Golf Course in St. Louis all have renovated their courses to make them easier and more enjoyable for the average golfer. And the result is better for their bottom lines.

"There are too many courses that are designed too tough," said Rex VanHoose, senior vice president and managing architect for Jacobsen Hardy Golf Course Design. "It's easy to design a hard course. It's much harder to design a course for a wide variety of skill levels," he added. "Overall, I would say a lot of courses were designed for the better handicapper."

With rounds flat, some owners are redesigning their layouts to make them easier, faster and more fun to play.

Moody Gardens is indicative of that strategy. The 6,800 yard, 18-hole, par 72 course underwent a $14 million renovation to make it easier and more fun to play.

The city-owned course, formerly the Galveston Municipal, re-opened in June as Moody Gardens. The Moody Gardens Foundation, a local charitable organization, donated the funds to renovate the course and now manages it for the city. Jacobsen Hardy Golf Design was brought in to turn the 1960s vintage course into a more playable design. Its designers widened the corridors, graded the greens and lessened the depth of many bunkers.

The renovation included planting paspalum turf, which is tolerant of saltwater, since Moody Gardens lies along the Gulf of Mexico. A new drainage system was installed, a water treatment plant was added and the clubhouse was renovated.

"Jacobsen Hardy did a fantastic job. People just love it," General Manager Bill Pushak said. He hopes to do between 30,000 and 35,000 rounds this year.

Green fees for residents range from $25 to $30, but officials hope the new design will attract more tourists.

In St. Louis, Hale Irwin Golf Services redesigned the Norman K. Probstein Golf Course (NKPGC) into three nines that can be mixed and matched to give golfers more variety and flexibility. The $12.5 million renovation, completed in 2003, has increased revenues by about 20 percent, according to General Manager Jeff Raffelson.

"What we wanted to do was make it more attractive. We wanted to arrive at that magic formula," said three-time U.S. Open Champion Hale Irwin. Before the renovation, NKPGC had an 18-hole course, which was much more difficult, and one nine. The fairways were re-contoured and seeded with zoysia turf and the greens are now easier to putt.

The city-owned NKPGC does about 75,000 rounds per year, roughly the same as before the renovation. But the course, managed by EAGLE Golf, raised its green fees by about $10. They now range from $40 to $50.

At The Club at Morgan Hill in Easton, Pa., the push to renovate came from players.

"When we opened in 2004, some of our holes were just too difficult," said PGA pro Jeff Bebbino. "So, we listened to our customers and fortunately, the owners were receptive to the idea."

Morgan Hill, an 18-hole, semi-private course started this year with an easier layout.

The renovation, which took two seasons, consisted of removing trees, opening up fairways and removing bunkers. Bebbino estimated that he'll do about 25,000 rounds this year, compared to 21,000 previously. Revenues are also increasing, as the club is doing more tournaments and outings.

Its green fees range from $44 to $89 per round.

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