2021 Renovations of the Year Winners: Private Clubs

Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series. The Public Course winners will be announced separately. Winners were selected and featured in the Summer issue of Golf Inc. magazine.
  • Hole 5 of Diablo Country Club after the renovation

It’s not out of the ordinary for clubs and courses rich in history to undergo renovations to restore their original appeal while also modernizing playability for today’s golfer. What can be out of the ordinary is the scope and brilliance of such projects.

Several have reached that lofty goal and are winners in Golf Inc.’s 2021 Renovation of the Year competition.

The course at member-owned Diablo Country Club near Danville, Calif., took the top award in the Private Club category. The goal of the project was to restore the feeling of the 100-plus-year-old golf course and pay homage to its original design.

“I couldn't be more thrilled with the dramatic improvements that have evolved in this massive renovation and restoration project,” said golf course architect Todd Eckenrode, ASGCA.

The other winners in the Private Club category were The Ocean Course at Ponte Vedra Inn & Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., second place; and Fox Chapel Golf Club in Pittsburgh, third place.

Capturing honorable mention were: Shadow Wood Country Club’s Preserve Course in Estero, Fla.; the Lower Course at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J.; and Kenwood Country Club in Cincinnati.

Judging for all Renovation of the Year entries was based on achievement of goals, improved playability, maintainability and course aesthetics. Winners were chosen through blind judging.


PRIVATE

First Place

Diablo Country Club

Diablo, Calif.

Owner: Member owned

Architect: Todd Eckenrode, Origins Golf Design

Contractor: Landscapes Unlimited

Cost: $10 million

Hole 4 AFTER

This once proud classic, which opened in 1914, is now a reflection of its glory days after 10 months of renovation. Extensive historical research paid big dividends as all aspects, including tees, bunkers, greens and surrounds, are back to the original design, but with minor modifications for ease of maintenance.

Large areas of native habitat and natural waterways were restored, and an original natural hazard was re-created, all while taking steps to improve water quality and runoff issues.

Approximately 30 acres of turf was converted to native grass meadows, providing natural habitat corridors and significantly reducing maintenance costs.

Tees were redesigned into free-form shapes and combined in many instances. The new shapes are much easier to mow and maintain.

“The club’s leadership has been outstanding,” Eckenrode said, “providing ourselves and the construction team great freedom in the process, which led to the utmost possible in design and a finished golf course for the members to enjoy for decades to come.”

What the judges said:

“This great utilization of the natural topography and native vegetation enhances the design and the return to the classic look and feel of the course. The changes will greatly enhance sustainability and ease of maintenance.” — Jerame Miller 

“I’m a fan of the use of dry washes to move water through the site and eliminate lakes to conserve water. There’s plenty of character and aesthetic appeal to this restoration. I particularly enjoyed the ‘bye hole’ addition as a memorable fun feature.” — Matthew Dusenberry 

“This total renovation improved all aspects of the course in a thoughtful manner.” — Martin Elgison


Second Place

The Ocean Course

Ponte Vedra Inn & Club

Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Owner: Gate Hospitality Group

Architect: Bobby Weed Golf Design

Contractor: MacCurrach Golf Construction

Cost: $9.5 million

AFTER

The main objective for the renovation of Ponte Vedra Inn & Club’s Ocean Course, which opened in 1928, was to modernize and help prepare the club for the next generation. A previously unused parcel of land at the north end of the property allowed the design team to make routing adjustments and significantly improve the practice facility.

Every corner of the property was updated, including all 18 holes. Twenty greens were redesigned to USGA specifications, and each was lowered 15 to 24 inches to be more receptive on windy days.

“As a longtime area resident, I received great gratification in equipping The Ocean Course with a strong foundation for the next generation of members and resort guests,” said architect Bobby Weed. “We touched every corner of the property, yet the wind remains the best defense of this golf course.

“Set against the Atlantic Seaboard in a newly modified north and south routing, The Ocean Course plays differently every day. This variety and excitement will keep guests coming back year after year.”

The renovation allowed the club to almost double its initiation fee. And member rounds have increased 40% since the course reopened last October.

“Bobby’s innovative thinking around maintainability, environmental practices and strategic shot values will endow The Ocean Course with exciting attributes for years to come,” said Dale Haney, president of Gate Hospitality. 

What the judges said:

“This project illustrates the kind of innovative thinking that’s needed to revitalize private courses.” — Martin Elgison 


Third Place

Fox Chapel Golf Club

Pittsburgh

Owner: Member owned

Architect: Fazio Design

Contractor: NMP Golf Construction

Cost: $3.1 million

Hole 17 AFTER

In 2014, architect Thomas A. Marzolf of Fazio Design was asked to help the Chapel Golf Club prepare a long-range master plan that started with new sand in the bunkers and evolved into a totally reimagined golf course. Renovation began in September 2019 and was completed in October 2020.

The intent of the restoration was to be highly sensitive to the original Seth Raynor design while taking into consideration today’s game, with a focus on location and length of fairway bunkers and hazards. This meant eliminating or moving some bunkers and building new tees.

“Our vision was to be sympathetic to both the original Raynor design and today’s playing distances,” said James “Lock” Walrath, president of Fox Chapel Golf Club. “We believe we have succeeded on both accounts.”

What the judges said:

“I was impressed by the way the club balanced its desire to restore the Seth Raynor design with the need to modernize the course and enhance the playability by adding extra tees and eliminating punitive features that didn’t have strategic importance.” — Martin Elgison


Honorable Mentions

Preserve Course

Shadow Wood Country Club

Estero, Fla.

Owner: Member owned

Architect: Rees Jones Inc.

Contractor: Glase Golf

Cost: $3.5 million

The Preserve Course was the third of three courses at Shadow Wood Country Club to be renovated by Rees Jones Inc.

Members and staff eagerly awaited the reopening of the Preserve Course in late October 2020, following reimagining of the North Course in 2017 and the South Course in 2018, said Richard Antonelli, chair of the club’s grounds committee.

As with the other two courses, the Preserve Course’s putting surfaces were changed to TifEagle Bermuda grass. The design team maintained the natural harmony of the scenic nature preserves, expansive lakes and native Florida vegetation.

All 18 green complexes were rebuilt to USGA specifications, as were two practice area green complexes, one nursery green complex, most greenside bunkers and many fairway bunkers.

“We believe we created courses that are playable for all members which in most cases can be played utilizing the aerial game or the ground game,” said Bryce Swanson, senior designer.

In the first five months after reopening, the Preserve Course saw a 53% increase in rounds compared to the same period of the previous year. 

What the judges said: 

“The addition of multiple tees and new playing options were key factors to me.” — Martin Elgison 


Lower Course

Baltusrol Golf Club

Springfield, N.J.

Owner: Member owned

Architect: Hanse Golf Course Design

Contractor: Total Turf

Cost: $17.3 million

Having undergone numerous revisions, large and small, in its 125-year existence, Baltusrol Golf Club made a commitment to restore the purity of the original design of its dual championship courses, starting with the famed Lower Course.

The restoration by architect Gil Hanse focused on making the course more historically accurate while providing an enjoyable test for members of all skill levels and a challenging site for championships.

“Over the years, bunkers and green surrounds were raised for framing, and it was our belief that the golf course would present itself more authentically if we removed these raised features,” Hanse said. “Now the course better fits the ground and our perception of how A.W. Tillinghast presented it.”

Every hole on the course was renovated, with special attention to restoring original fairway lines, removing trees and returning greens to original scale and size.

In 2014, the club was designated a National Historic Landmark for its courses’ representation of Tillinghast’s design principles. Therefore, preserving the original design and intent was critical to the restoration project. 

“We are extremely proud to have restored Tillinghast’s original vision for golf throughout the Lower Course,” said Matt Wirths, president of Baltusrol and chair of the master plan committee. 

What the judges said:

“An inspired restoration of a golf course with an impressive design and tournament pedigree. This renovation recaptured the grand boldness of the original design, while still executing the smaller details that give the golf course unique character and sense of place.” — Matthew Dusenberry


Kenwood Country Club

Cincinnati

Owner: Member owned

Architect: Fry/Straka Global Golf Course Designers

Contractor: Wadsworth Golf Construction Co.

Cost: $4.95 million

The Bill Diddel-designed Kendale Course at Kenwood Country Club opened for play in 1930. At one time, it was considered to be among the best in the Midwest and hosted the U.S. Women’s Open, a Western Open and a U.S. Amateur Championship. But it had been the site of nothing significant since 1963.

The area was overgrown, and the sand bunkers had become unmaintainable, as they were poorly drained and ill placed.

Restoration included removal of more than 1,000 trees, relocation of three greens, building a new chipping green, expanded fairways and replacing and relocating bunkers.

“It was a huge team effort from all involved, and we are just starting to see the course mature into its own,” said Jason A. Straka, ASGCA, principal of Fry/Straka Global Golf Course Design. “The restored design elements, many of which haven’t been seen for decades, are a joy to play.”

All 18 holes reopened in late 2020. A renovation of the club’s Kenview Course is scheduled to begin in a few years. 

What the judges said:

“The restoration certainly checked all the boxes of increased width, recapturing green surface and re-establishing bunkers that are key in providing a golf course that is more playable, strategic and aesthetically appealing." — Matthew Dusenberry

 

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