Design Notes

Tim Liddy restores, refines iconic Stadium Course at PGA West

Omni Amelia Island Resort opens Beau Welling’s Little Sandy; Les Furber completes epic journey in remote Canada; Whitman, Axland & Cutten begin work on Oregon’s Tribute Club at Thornburgh

PGA West Stadium
Tim Liddy will oversee the upcoming restoration of the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course at PGA West.

The latest news and notes in golf course architecture.

> PGA West, in Palm Springs, California, announces that Tim Liddy will oversee the upcoming restoration of its iconic Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course. A trusted former assistant of Dye’s who over three decades collaborated on courses such as Ford Plantation, Colleton River, Mystic Rock and Kingsmill, Liddy will employ a light touch in the renovation.

"We do not plan on changing the design," said Liddy. "But the golf course is 36 years old. It’s common to continually upgrade the infrastructure of the golf course. Drainage, bunker sand and irrigation typically have a limited life span and need to be replaced and upgraded."

That time is now for the legendary layout, which has played host to multiple PGA Tour events, as well as venue for the unforgettable Skins Game in 1987, when Lee Trevino aced the island-green 17th, a par-3 known as "Alcatraz." Year one of the two-year renovation project, focusing on landscape improvements, commences this summer. Irrigation, bunkers and green upgrades are planned for year two, beginning in spring. Expected completion date is October 2023.

Liddy understands Pete Dye’s design intent better than most.

"I worked with Mr. Dye for 28 years in different roles, from preparing construction drawings to project manager to project architect," said Liddy. "I traveled the world with him and enjoyed every minute. Working with a hall of fame architect was a life-changing experience."

The renovation will enlarge greens to their original size and shape. Bunkers will have new refinement and new sand edges. "It will have a sharpness harkening back to its original design," said Liddy, who looks at this opportunity as a labor of love. "Having worked with Mr. Dye for so many years, he became a father figure to me," said Liddy. "When I am on the Stadium Course, I am walking with him. It’s very personal and rewarding to me."

Little Sandy
Little Sandy, a 10-hole, par-3 course, is designed such that it should take no more than an hour to play.

> Few can match Beau Welling for expertise in designing entertaining, family-friendly short courses. Proof can be seen in the layouts he’s crafted as part of the Tiger Woods design team, such as Bluejack National’s Playgrounds, Diamante’s Oasis, Jack’s Bay in The Bahamas and The Hay at Pebble Beach. His new creation that just opened at northeast Florida’s Omni Amelia Island Resort, Little Sandy, will further burnish that reputation.

Open to resort guests and members of the Amelia Island Club, Little Sandy is a 10-hole course that features holes ranging from 70 to 125 yards, each with bold, contoured greens. Conveniently situated in the resort’s amenity core and nestled around Red Maple Lake, Little Sandy offers an idyllic setting, with most holes edging the water, amid sandy native grass areas, dunes and diverse wildlife habitat.

Designed to be played in little more than an hour, Little Sandy provides stand-alone fun, or as accompaniment to the resort’s 18-hole, Pete Dye-designed Oak Marsh course. A Welling-designed 18-hole putting course sits adjacent to Little Sandy.

"We have created a course where players could use just their putters on nearly every hole or use several clubs in their bag, if desired," Welling said. "The relaxed atmosphere and golf course strategy that includes multiple routes from tee to green will make Little Sandy a haven for fun and creativity."

> Veteran Canadian architect Les Furber spent 14 years in the employ of Robert Trent Jones, before hanging his own shingle in 1980. In all of those years, it’s unlikely that he’s ever toiled as long and hard to get a course to completion as RotaryLinks. Under the banner of GDS Golf Design Services, of which Furber is founder and principal, RotaryLinks is nearing completion after a 16-year, going on 17, odyssey.

Located in remote Fort McMurray, five hours north of Edmonton in the Canadian province of Alberta, RotaryLinks began life in 2006, as a master-planned 27-hole complex. A real estate play on the site’s higher ground soon reduced the plan to 18 holes, though construction never started until 2011, following the recession of 2008-2010.

Due to the expense of hauling away peat bog in order to establish the subgrade for the low-lying golf holes, Furber kept the remnants on site and eventually stacked them between holes and in out-of-play areas, as a design and aesthetic element, given their resemblance to dunes. Funding challenges slowed the project further, and then in May 2016, catastrophic fires in Fort McMurray forced the removal of the peat mounds, as they were in danger of igniting. All of the forest surrounding the course burned completely. New golf course shaping and repair work on infrastructure took time, and a further delay involved the relocation of the clubhouse, which then necessitated a re-routing of the first nine. The soft opening for the first nine took place in 2018, with an official opening in 2019.

After receiving a recreational grant from the regional municipality of Wood Buffalo, construction of the second nine began in the summer of 2020 and was largely completed in the summer of 2021.

"The newly constructed holes consist of three par-3s, two par-5s and four par-4s, which result in an 18-hole layout of par 71, 7,200 yards," said Tim Birnie, design associate at GDS. "There is a possibility that the existing hole numbers and routing will change if the clubhouse is ever relocated to its original intended location."

Because, why should anything go according to plan at RotaryLinks?

"RotaryLinks has been an epic journey," said Furber. "There have been so many complications that it is somewhat difficult to describe all of the machinations that have gotten us to this point. Still, the club and their dedicated group of volunteers have persevered, and along with the support of the regional municipality and a little luck, the golf course construction will be fully complete in early 2022."

A soft opening is scheduled for mid- to late-summer 2022 and an official opening in early 2023.

RELATED: Design Notes archive

> Whitman, Axland & Cutten (WAC) has broken ground on The Tribute Club at Thornburgh in the central Oregon town of Redmond. The recently formed firm of Rod Whitman, Dave Axland and Keith Cutten started clearing the site in 2021 and began shaping this year. Six to eight holes are expected to be grassed by late summer.

Axland first visited the site in 2006, with then employers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, but the financial crisis of 2008 stopped any further progress. In 2021, prospects were revived and Coore recommended WAC, which is working with Landscapes Unlimited in sculpting the golf holes.  The high desert property, dotted with juniper and sagebrush, sits at the base of the Cline Buttes Mountains, with panoramic vistas of the Cascade Range and the Three Sisters peaks.

“It’s a site that seemed like it had all the things you’d hope for to build spectacular golf that would stand the test of time,” said Whitman. “It spoke to us immediately.”

Axland is equally enthusiastic.

“The mental exercise of considering the limitless types of shots required to access a green, either along the ground or through the air, is both exciting and rewarding,” he said. “This is compounded when one then considers the putts and recovery shots played over the putting surface contours. Constructing these surfaces from the seat of a bulldozer, while envisioning the ways in which the ball will bounce, roll and change direction, is just as thrilling to me as playing those actual shots.”

Expect preview play on the par 72, 7,552-yard layout to be available in 2023.