Design Notes

Tom Weiskopf set to open Utah’s Black Desert Resort

Tripp Davis continues renovations at historic Thunderbird; John LaFoy aims to enhance Alabama’s Riverchase; Agustin Piza creates restoration plan for Tijuana Country Club

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Construction is ongoing at the Tom Weiskopf-designed Black Desert Resort Golf Course in Ivins, Utah.

The latest news and notes in golf course architecture.

> Tom Weiskopf’s newest design, Black Desert Resort Golf Course, is on track to open this fall in Ivins, Utah, a suburb of St. George. Set amid ancient black lava fields, the 18-hole resort/daily fee facility will be the centerpiece of a 600-acre resort community.

Weiskopf, the designer/co-designer of 70-plus courses around the world, and architect Phil Smith have designed the par-72 layout with playability in mind. Most fairways, for example, are 70 to 100 yards wide. The property’s distinct black lava rock, called basalt, originated as lava that intermittently flowed from small local volcanoes approximately 20,000 to 2.3 million years ago. No stranger to working in an ancient lava landscape, Weiskopf also designed the award-winning Ke’olu Golf Course at Hualalai Resort on the island of Hawaii, which is set in the dramatic lava fields of Ka’upulehu.

"Black Desert Resort is located at the convergence of three unique landscapes — jet-black lava beds, towering red rock cliffs of Zion National Park, and Utah’s beautiful Mohave Desert,” said Jared Lucero, CEO of Reef Capital, which is developing the resort. "The emerald fairways and greens laced among the lava fields are set against the red rock backdrop, making for an awe-inspiring setting."

In true Weiskopf style, Black Desert will feature two drivable par-4 holes — Nos. 5 and 14 — bringing both strategy and the risk/reward element into play.

“Black Desert is truly a spectacular place,” said Weiskopf. “The beautiful red rock backdrops remind me of Sedona (Arizona).”

In addition to the 18-hole course, guests at Black Desert will enjoy a 36-hole illuminated putting course for day or night play. The resort’s 19th hole, an amphitheater-style lakeside gathering place terraced into the black lava, will be the ultimate venue for winding down after a day of golf. The course will serve as the home course for the Dixie State University golf teams.

> Tripp Davis and Associates are continuing renovation work at venerable Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, near Palm Springs. Following minor restoration work to the course in 2020, Davis embarked on a more comprehensive program in 2021. Members wanted improvements versus massive changes, said general manager and COO Brett Draper in 2021. “Basically, we are going to touch every hole on the golf course,” Draper said. “We are going to rebuild five greens, and redo our bunkers with new designs, new liners and new sand.”

According to head golf professional Nick Dekock, there is already more of a rustic, natural flowing shape to the bunkers that have been transformed so far. Lawrence Hughes crafted the original layout in 1951 and Ted Robinson performed the last true renovations in 1980.

Thunderbird has been one of the most exclusive clubs in the desert since its inception. The course played host to the 1955 Ryder Cup and also to the PGA Tour from 1952 through 1962. Davis’ renovation work will continue through the fall of 2022.

> Veteran architect John LaFoy will start a course renovation at Riverchase Country Club in Birmingham, Alabama, in July. Work will focus on tees, fairway bunkers, green approaches and cart paths, and will also include tree removal and repairing the fairway on the eighth hole.

"This summer marks the beginning of an exciting new era at Riverchase,” said Phillip Miles, club president. “The improvements and enhancements we have planned on the golf course will deliver a truly premier experience that our members and their families will enjoy for many years to come. We’re also excited to position ourselves at the forefront of many of the emerging trends in golf course design and development with the work we’re doing with John LaFoy. There’s a true focus on improving playability and making the golf course more accessible for players of all abilities, and we’re excited to showcase this work to not only the membership, but the greater Birmingham golf community.”

The project is slated for completion in October.

Tijuana Country Club

> Tijuana Country Club in Mexico has enlisted Agustin Piza, of Piza Golf, to develop a master plan for restoring the Golden Age layout. Designed by William P. "Billy" Bell in 1927, Tijuana was then known as Agua Caliente Resort, which played host to the PGA Tour 10 times between 1930 and 1959. Gene Sarazen won the inaugural event, while Arnold Palmer tied for second in 1958. Leo Diegel, the PGA Championship winner in 1928 and 1929, represented the club for a time. 

RELATED: Get To Know: Agustin Piza

"Augie was commissioned and he presented a restoration master plan," said Oscar Foglio, a club member. "We are hopeful the membership gives us the green light to begin. It would be amazing not only for our club, but for the city, and to be honest, for all Mexican golf. To have such a golf course so rich in history and complete with a modern-day restoration will re-establish our club and its pedigree."

Said Piza: "For me, this extraordinary restoration is like finding buried treasure. Beneath the existing golf course lies a golf course that should be, historically speaking, synonymous with Cypress Point and Pasatiempo. The Tijuana Country Club is a gem, a hidden masterpiece that played a key role in the Golden Age of golf course architecture. Our goal is to interpret Bell’s masterful design concepts with the hope of restoring the golf course back to its glory years."