Design Notes

Walt Disney World’s Magnolia course gets a magical makeover

Tom Doak and Renaissance Design restore Denver’s historic Cherry Hills; The Boulders begins a renovation in Arizona; European Golf Design to master plan Northern Ireland’s Portstewart

Magnolia H17
Walt Disney World Resort's Magnolia Course, Hole 17.

The latest news and notes in golf course architecture.

> Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, is halfway through an extensive redesign of its flagship golf course, the Magnolia. To create a more magical experience for resort guests and the public, it retained Ken Baker, the head golf course designer at One Club Limited to reconfigure most of the closing holes and to perform enhancements elsewhere on the property.

During Disney’s 42 years of hosting the PGA Tour, Magnolia played host to the final tournament round, and witnessed winners including Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Payne Stewart and Raymond Floyd. The longest among Disney’s collection of courses since its debut in 1971, Magnolia was lengthened by 300 yards in 2005, stretching it to its current length of 7,516 yards. The work being done now will transform holes 14 through 17.

The par-5 14th will become a par 4 with a new green location; the par-3 15th will morph into a long, dogleg-right par 5; the par-4 16th will retain its par but will now feature a dogleg to the left; and the par-4 17th will become a dramatic, watery par 3. In addition to the altered holes, a new cart bridge through the forest will connect holes 16 and 17, creating picturesque views in nature late in the round. New tees, refurbished bunkers and the renovation of all 18 greens are further enhancements on tap.

"We’ve assembled an incredible team that is devoted to creating the best possible experience for our guests from around the globe who travel here for a championship-caliber golf vacation," said Bruce Gerlander, general manager of Arnold Palmer Golf Management, which operates the Disney courses. "For more than four decades, Disney’s Magnolia golf course has served as a favorite stop on the PGA Tour and we have been methodically planning for this massive project for years."

Best known perhaps for its greenside bunker at the par-3 sixth that resembles Mickey Mouse, Magnolia is expected to reopen later in 2022, to coincide with Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

RELATED: Design Notes archive

> Celebrating its centennial in 2022, storied Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, Colorado, has completed its William Flynn restoration that began in 2008. Home to Arnold Palmer’s legendary 1960 U.S. Open win and to Phil Mickelson’s 1990 U.S. Amateur triumph, Cherry Hills retained Tom Doak and his Renaissance Golf staff to restore many Flynn design features, while also modernizing the course to accommodate today’s top players. 

“When we were asked to restore Cherry Hills, we recognized that some trees had grown in areas that impacted play and took away from the original strategic design,” said Eric Iverson, project leader for Renaissance Golf. “We have now opened up sightlines and the ability to see the course as it was originally intended. When we first started work here, the course was covered with planted trees, bunkers had been moved or removed, mowing lines had shrunk dramatically — basically a textbook case of what happened to so many Golden Age courses. Fortunately, only a couple of greens had been altered.

“The 18th hole is a perfect example of Flynn’s planting of trees in strategic areas,” said Iverson. “This famous closing hole tempts the player to take the bold line over the lake to achieve a shorter shot to the elevated green. Approach shots that are missed to the right are stymied by the strategically placed group of trees to the right of the fairway.”

Early on in the process, Renaissance re-installed the cross bunkers on the par-5 17th, performed bunker work on holes 1 through 5, 7, 9, 14 and 16 and restored the greens at the third and 13th.

“The recent phase that we just completed focused on restoring Little Dry Creek, which winds through the inward nine, undoing the engineered ‘channeling’ of the creek favored by flood control districts of that era,” said Iverson. “Today, a more natural presentation is preferred, providing greater capacity, less erosion and greatly improved wildlife habitat. It just so happens that the golf is vastly improved as well.”

With the creek now oriented to its original location, closer to the greens at 7, 14, 15 and in 16 fairway, Flynn’s original strategic shot values have been restored as well. The most recent work also included changes at the 248-yard, par-3 15th. “Flynn drew this hole up at 115 yards, which is where the current forward tee is,” said Iverson. “It was likely crowded out by a massive Cottonwood tree as time went on, with resulting tees being built well to the right. That tree was lost, but that allowed for the lower tee to be restored. During the creek project, the green was expanded back to its original footprint in the front-left, making for some dicey hole locations. It looks great from both angles and provides great flexibility for course setup.”

The restoration of Cherry Hills is now complete, ahead of the club hosting the 2023 U.S. Amateur.

> The Boulders Resort & Spa Scottsdale recently broke ground on an extensive bunker renovation project and golf course refinement project. The multi-focus project includes the renovation of all bunkers on the Boulders North and South courses. It also includes a greens renovation on the South course. Jay Morrish designed both the North and South courses, which are considered among the most scenic and challenging desert courses in golf, with holes that are framed by ancient giant rocks and mature Sagauro cacti.

“We are committed to investing in our stellar golf resort,” said General Manager John Maskovich. “Our investment in capital — from the bunkers on both courses, the greens, to the pump station, to new agronomic equipment — combined with the best golf team, are prime examples of our commitment.”

During the four-month project, all bunkers will be excavated and rebuilt incorporating a technically advanced drainage and liner system featuring Capillary Concrete. This new generation lining method increases the speed at which water flows through the bunker, minimizing washouts, reducing maintenance and producing superior playability. Original bunker shapes and strategy will be maintained during renovations. New bunkers will be refilled with premium 50:50 bunker sand (50 percent white and 50 percent tan blended together). 

Additionally, the Boulders will be updating green complexes on the South course to their original shape and size, and resurfacing greens with TifEagle turf. TifEagle is an ultra-dwarf hybrid green that will offer improved speed, consistency and playability as well as smooth transitions during seasonal weather changes.

Scottsdale-based Casa Verde Golf is executing the work. Renovation work, as well as annual course maintenance projects, will take place in rotating fashion throughout the summer to always allow for 18 holes to be open for play.

> Portstewart Golf Club, located on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast, has retained European Golf Design to produce a master plan for its 18 holes and practice facilities. Preliminary focus will center on holes 16 through 18 of the Strand course, which features 11 holes designed by Willie Park in 1920 and seven stunning holes in the dunes, created by Des Griffin in 1986. Jon Rahm captured the 2017 Irish Open on Portstewart’s Strand course and commented, “This golf course is amazing. It’s probably one of the most beautiful golf courses I’ve ever seen, if not the most.”

European Golf Design is best known for such original designs as PGA Catalunya in Spain and for redesigning Ryder Cup venues Le Golf National in France, Celtic Manor’s Twenty Ten course in Wales and the 2023 host, Marco Simone in Italy.

Jeremy Slessor, European Golf Design’s managing director, relishes the opportunity to raise the profile of Portstewart.

“We are thrilled to have been given the opportunity to work with Portstewart to look at its three distinctive golf courses and practice facilities,” he said. “To have the chance to elevate the Strand course’s reputation to even greater heights is a genuine privilege. There’s enormous potential to add value to the Riverside course, too, by giving it even more of its own identity and character and we hope that the Old course, with its dramatic, sea-edge location in town, can also benefit from a fresh, modern eye.”