Design Notes

Gil Hanse taking historic Oakmont back to the future

Sanford Ferris to rescue Cavalry Club; Jim Urbina aims to recapture MacKenzie’s magic at Pasatiempo; Tripp Davis completes bunker renovation at Pursell Farms

Gil Hanse intends to restore Oakmont Country Club's bunkers to a style that is in line with what original course architect Henry Fownes intended.

Oakmont Country Club outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is a true American original, home to perhaps the most historic golf course in the United States.

Gil Hanse and his team at Hanse Golf Course Design aim to keep it that way. In late May, The Fried Egg website reported that Hanse has completed a master plan that proposes to restore Oakmont’s bunkers to a style and purpose that more closely hews to the intentions of Henry Fownes, the original course architect.

Also on tap are improving drainage, expanding green surfaces to their original sizes and modifying existing bunkers, and adding others in order to discourage or eliminate the “cross-country” alternate routes that long-hitting competitors were utilizing during the 2021 U.S. Amateur.

For instance, Hanse plans on rebuilding the “hook bunker” between the 10th and 11th holes and adding another bunker in attempt to dissuade players from subverting the original design intent of the holes by hitting purposely into an adjacent fairway. Hanse will relocate many bunkers so that Oakmont will stay relevant for today’s heavy hitters.

He anticipates that the part renovation/part restoration will make the golf course more playable for members, but more difficult for tournament competitors. Already host to a record nine U.S. Opens, Oakmont will four additional U.S. Opens between 2025 and 2049. The golf course will remain open during the construction period, which is expected to span from spring 2023 to spring 2024.

Sanford Ferris Golf Course Design has earned the commission to renovate the historic Cavalry Club in Manlius, New York, a 1965 design from Dick Wilson and Joe Lee.

For project architect David Ferris, it’s a dream-come-true homecoming: Cavalry Club is where he learned the game. Ferris’ uncle was a charter member and his father was a golf professional there in the 1970s. As a child, Ferris used the club as a playground; as a high-schooler, he participated in junior tournaments there. This project is special.

"I am extremely excited about the opportunity to return home to Cavalry, a place that holds so many wonderful memories and where golf became a part of my life," Ferris said. "When I played Cavalry as a kid, I had no idea who Dick Wilson and Joe Lee were, but I’m convinced that my fascination with golf course design and Wilson’s work is rooted in that early immersion. I’ve never been more excited about a restoration project."

Ferris will spearhead the project that encompasses rebuilding and restoring all bunkers, reintroducing short cuts and collection areas around greens, restoring fairway cuts and widths in landing areas, and tree clearing to bring back the feel of the original layout. Future phases will include tee renovation, additional tree clearing for turf improvement, adding native fescue areas, drainage, improvements to the practice area, and creating a short game venue.

Cavalry Club was the final layout for Wilson, who was the architect of Bay Hill Club and Lodge, Trump National Doral Miami's Blue Monster and Cog Hill Golf and Country Club, among others. He passed away shortly after Cavalry opened in June 1965. The course also represents the beginning of Lee’s prolific career, with this being his first solo project routing the golf course and supervising construction. 

Carved into rolling farmland near Syracuse, Wilson and Lee laid out their design on land that once served as home to a cavalry troop in the early 1900s following the Spanish-American War. The troop then evolved into Company D of the 104th Machine Gun Battalion, a unit of the 27th Division, New York National Guard. The troop was sent to Peekskill, New York, to guard the aqueduct providing New York City’s water supply from possible sabotage during World War II.

In 1940, the Cavalry became the newly formed 101st Antitank Battalion known as Company C. It continued to attract all walks of life: college students and graduates, lawyers, mechanics, farmers, clerks, shop foremen and even high schoolers. Old troopers from Company C played a key role in developing the golf course and creating the club’s membership.

Construction begins in early July.

> In mid-May, Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, California, confirmed that Jim Urbina, its consulting architect, will renovate greens and bunkers on the legendary 1929 Alister MacKenzie design. The project will unfold in two phases, with one nine kept open at all times. The front nine renovation will commence in April 2023 and conclude in December 2023. The back nine will close from April 2024 through December 2024.

“The future of the golf course, in terms of sustainability, requires a full restoration of the greens with modern infrastructure and drainage,” said Justin Mandon, superintendent at Pasatiempo. “Over its nearly 100 years of play, and particularly the more recent increase in the volume of rounds, coupled with the addition of alternative water sources and lack of infrastructure, has led to a rapid evolution of the greens. The club’s restoration committee has been working on this project for several years, visiting and consulting numerous golf courses with recent histories of successful restoration work. That information, along with our unique variables, allowed us to develop a scope of work, timeline and process we believe will give us the highest degree of success.”

Opening-day photos, in tandem with onsite evaluation of the original subgrades, will be utilized to shape the restoration process. Urbina will use lasers to reconstruct the greens, which will be seeded with bentgrass. The green surrounds will be resurfaced and sodded to ensure MacKenzie’s intended slopes and contours will reappear. Home to the annual Western Intercollegiate, where individual winners have included major champions Ken Venturi, Johnny Miller, Mark O’Meara and Scottie Scheffler, Pasatiempo is ranked as one of the top 20 public-access courses in the U.S. by every leading industry publication.

> In early May, Tripp Davis completed a bunker renovation project at FarmLinks at Pursell Farms in Sylacauga, Alabama. “We were asked to design and oversee a bunker renovation to replace the old structure and make the bunkers as strategic and as visually interesting as possible,” said Davis.  The 20-year-old layout was originally designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry in 2002. Davis, together with Golf Sculptors International filled all the bunkers with Tour Angle White sand and sodded the bunker faces with Zorro Zoysia. Davis and his senior design associate Kyle Downs also altered fairway mowing lines to provide improved visual definition from the tee.

“The impact of the bunker renovation is huge for our golfers and our team,” said Robert Mitchell, superintendent at Pursell Farms. “It’s already proved itself to be a labor-saving model. The 80 to 100 man-hours we used to spend repairing bunker washouts after a rainstorm is reduced to about 30 with the improved liner and drainage. The new Zoysia grass faces also improve costs as we’re not edging or pulling runners as often. Tripp and his team softened the slopes on most of the bunkers, which reduces the fried egg lies, and golfers can now walk in and out more easily. Add this to the bunkers being playable faster after rain, and the guest experience is greatly improved. Everybody won.”