Tom Lehman to renovate historic Adobe at the Arizona Biltmore; Georgia’s McLemore will get a second course from Bill Bergin and Rees Jones; Chris Wilczynski to revitalize Florida’s Killearn
The latest news and notes in golf course architecture.
> Pinehurst No. 8, a 1995 Tom Fazio design, closed in June and will reopen in September following a series of agronomic and infrastructure enhancements. Golfers who’ve followed Pinehurst Resort’s arc over the past decade might assume the centennial Fazio design is getting a Sandhills makeover like No. 2 and No. 4 experienced in 2011 and 2018.
Bob Farren, Pinehurst Resort's director of agronomy, says he wouldn’t fault them for jumping to that conclusion. But this time around, it’s simply not the case. No. 8 will retain all its original Fazio design elements and architectural stylings. According to Farren, changes will be "subtle yet impactful" and make the layout play firmer and faster in keeping with the Pinehurst way.
"We talked to Fazio’s people, and Tom even came out twice and visited," Farren said. "We offered him the opportunity to give us ideas and see if he was interested in making any changes. But he had a fair amount of conviction that what we were doing is enough. Like [Pinehurst Resort president] Tom Pashley says, 'We don’t have to hit every course with the same hammer.'”
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The menu of upgrades includes new TifEagle greens, bunker restoration and fresh bunker sand, improved drainage throughout the course and the removal of invasive trees limiting views and inhibiting sunlight. Several updates are also planned for the clubhouse interior and grounds, including the installation of fire pits overlooking the 18th green later this fall.
"No. 8 is a retreat away from the other courses and golfers like the change of pace over there," Farren said. "Only golfers who’ve played the course several times will even notice the changes. And that’s the goal. The course will appear crisper and play firmer and faster. That’s it."
While the slope and speed of the greens at storied No. 2 are legendary, the putting surfaces at No. 8 gradually made their way into Pinehurst lore. They were originally bentgrass upon opening in 1995 and were replaced with Champion Bermuda in 2013. Over the years, the slopes became more severe via topdressing and other maintenance practices. To say there have been a few three-putts throughout the past decade is an understatement.
"We’re excavating the tops of the greens before we re-grass them to sort of let the air out of them, so to speak," Farren said. "Ultradwarf bermudagrass has fine blades, is dense and can be cut low and roll as fast or faster than bentgrass. This will help temper the severity of the greens while still maintaining their integrity."
The existing bermudagrass turf on tees and fairways will be kept, says Farren, but thatch will be removed throughout the course using “fraise mowing” to tighten up lies and foster more rollout on tee shots. Fraise mowing is a highly disruptive mowing technique developed in the North Carolina Piedmont that fully removes thatch from bermudagrass in one fell swoop.
So, while it may not look like No. 2 and No. 4, No. 8 will certainly play more like the dynamic duo. Just as importantly, No. 8 will be strongly positioned as one of Pinehurst Resort’s premier golf offerings for decades to come.
> The Arizona Biltmore Golf Club will close its historic Adobe course in August and September in preparation for a summer 2023 renovation led by 1996 British Open winner Tom Lehman and his Lehman Design Group. The 2022 work will revolve around soil prep, dethatching and bermudagrass removal.
Originally opened in 1929 and designed by prolific west coast architect William P. Bell, the Adobe is one of Arizona’s oldest courses. The 2023 renovation project will infuse modern golf course design and water conservation technology. Crews will install a new, more efficient irrigation system and plant drought tolerant TifTuf bermudagrass throughout the course. In addition, green complexes will be renovated, tee boxes will be leveled and bunkers will be 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. Throughout the renovation, the general routing and par (71) will remain in place and the Adobe’s mature parkland setting will be preserved.
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> McLemore, a resort and residential community in the mountains of northwest Georgia, has enlisted architects Bill Bergin and Rees Jones to craft a second 18-hole course for the property, to be called The Outpost. Bergin and Jones were also responsible for the major redesign of McLemore’s Highlands course in 2019, which vaulted the former Canyon Ridge Club into national prominence.
McLemore president William Duane Horton decided that a second course would elevate the destination even further.
"We discovered a piece of land that’s like nothing else," Horton said. "This opportunity is one that can make McLemore even better than it is, which is hard to imagine as we’ve already got a top course that has one of the best finishing holes in golf. We say we’re 'above the clouds,' but this is going to launch us to new heights."
"The natural characteristics and the views from the site are so spectacular that we will be able to create a classic Golden Age design," Jones said. "The opportunities for unique and different characteristics for every hole are virtually unlimited. This site is a golf course architect’s dream. It is a mountain site with a seaside feeling. This course could host a major. It’s much like when Bobby Jones and my father Robert Trent Jones went all around Atlanta to find the best site for golf. They looked at site after site, rejecting a dozen before they found one perfect for Peachtree. I think Duane has found a Peachtree for Bill and myself."
Bergin and Jones understand that they’re working with mountain terrain, but they intend to make walkability a priority, even with a potentially hefty back tee length of 7,800 yards. The routing features five holes edging a mile-and-a-half-long cliff edge, as well as zoysia fairways, bentgrass greens and playable areas bracketed by fine fescue and broomsedge grasses. Mountain streams, lakes and waterfalls will add additional eye candy.
"The routing takes full advantage of the property’s cliff edge while giving all holes a view of McLemore Cove and Pigeon Mountain,” Bergin said. "We know this is going to be one incredible golf course. It’s golf first and that is such a unique opportunity. While it’s a big course, on a spectacular canvas, we will make small details matter. It’ll feel like this golf course has always been here and this land was meant for golf."
> Chris Wilczynski has signed on to develop a master plan to renovate the golf facilities at Killearn Country Club in Tallahassee, Florida. Wilczynski, enjoying a successful solo career after a long stint as an Arthur Hills associate, has recently specialized in reinvigorating Florida courses.
He’s especially enthusiastic about this project, following the March 2022 purchase of the club by David Cummings, who called the work to come a “restoration and revitalization.”
"Working with a canvas like this is a dream," Wilczynski said. "The natural and classic elements like its mature oaks and pines, and the wider corridors will allow us to define unique angles that create interesting and strategic golf holes. This is a special club and it is a privilege to be part of this fantastic team."
Killearn is a 1967 William Amick design that played host to more than 20 PGA Tour and LPGA Tour events. Among the winners at Killearn were Lee Trevino, Hubert Green and Chi Chi Rodriguez. Wilczynski will restore and refine the 18-hole championship course, redesign and expand the practice facilities and bring back a nine-hole layout that was shuttered in 2014.
"The golf course is an important part of this club and neighborhood’s history," Cummings said. "We would love for Killearn to host the caliber of events it has been known to host in years prior, as well as make it a beacon for the most talented players in north Florida to hone their skills."
Work will begin in autumn 2022.