Design Notes

Bobby Weed opens Stillwater in Florida

Georgia’s The Landings Club taps Bill Bergin to renovate Palmetto course; Lookout Mountain looks to trio to restore its Seth Raynor design; Brian Curley adds a new nine at Vietnam’s Stone Valley

The fifth green at Stillwater Golf Course
The fifth green at the Bobby Weed-designed Stillwater Golf and Country Club in St. Johns, Florida.

The latest news and notes in golf course architecture.  

> Bobby Weed Golf Design (BWGD) and the Northeast Florida division of Lennar Corporation announced the grand opening of Stillwater Golf and Country Club in St. Johns, Florida, the first new 18-hole layout in North Florida in 20 years.

Located between Jacksonville and St. Augustine, the course serves as the centerpiece for an active adult gated community in St. Johns County. Within Stillwater’s 18-hole routing, BWGD has creatively designed loops of three, six, nine and 12 holes that start and finish near the clubhouse.

With tees measuring from 4,760 yards to 6,745 yards, Stillwater was designed with an eye toward environmental stewardship. With only 70 acres of irrigated turf (148 total acres), the course realizes a number of environmental benefits. Up to 25 million gallons of water are to be saved annually from non-irrigated areas; Tiftuf bermudagrass fairways, tees and approaches will use 38% less water than similar varieties; an absence of traditional rough — all fairways are efficiently mowed using a single height of cut — will reduce maintenance; non-irrigated centipede grass in the native areas offer contrasting swaths of color; and 18 acres of shell screenings replace cart paths, reducing maintenance and delivering visual contrast.

With bunker maintenance becoming an intense labor and financial commitment to clubs, BWGD countered this at Stillwater by installing sod wall EcoBunkers. Unique to North Florida, layers of artificial sod are stacked at 55- to 60-degree angles to fortify the bunker edges and create the visual appeal of Scottish-style pot bunkers. These fortified bunkers yield a striking aesthetic, are environmentally sustainable and aid the club’s bottom line. Also distinct to Florida’s First Coast, elegant lay-down walls are used in lieu of traditional vertical bulkheads. Planks of treated timber are seamlessly tied together, then stylishly angled from the water to the playing surface. Stillwater’s inspiration came from Pete Dye’s similarly styled walls at South Carolina’s Long Cove Club, where Weed assisted.

Stillwater’s 16-acre practice facility will be a rain-or-shine, year-round destination. The lighted driving range has covered hitting bays equipped with Toptracer Range. The practice facility also includes three putting and chipping greens, highlighted by a 16,041-square-foot, Himalayan-style putting course. Designed with moderate slopes, swales, plateau and terraces, it’s ideal for practice or for putting contests.

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“Stillwater delivers terrific shot values with ample playing areas that encourage the old-style game of low running approach shots,” Bobby Weed said. "It is incumbent upon us as architects to be good stewards of the environment, while simultaneously designing courses that create interest, flexibility and fun. We accomplished these goals at Stillwater.”

> The Landings Club in Savannah, Georgia, has retained Bill Bergin to spearhead the renovation of its Palmetto course, one of six championship layouts at the property. Palmetto was originally designed by Arthur Hills in 1985. Work is expected to begin in early 2023.

“I am very excited with the selection of Bergin Golf Designs for the Palmetto project,” said Chris Steigelman, director of grounds and project management at The Landings. “From our first interview with Bill early in 2022, he has exuded an excitement and a passion for the Palmetto course, saying, ‘the course just fits me, it fits my style, and fits my eye.’ One of the most resonating keys to Bergin’s design philosophy was making the golf course more challenging for the low-handicap golfers while making it easier and more enjoyable for the higher handicappers.”

Bergin intends to rework bunkers and greens and add new forward tees, along with other tweaks aimed at improving playability. “Bill impressed the committee not only with his creativity, but also with his organizational skills in how he approaches the design and construction process,” said Scott Justman, director of golf at The Landings. “Bill brings a unique perspective to golf course design with his time on the PGA Tour as well as his stint as a golf professional."

> Venerable Lookout Mountain Club has commenced construction on a $12 million restoration of its 1925 Seth Raynor design. Originally opened as Fairyland Golf Club in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, the golf club was part of a mountaintop resort that embraced a whimsical garden-and-stone wonderland reminiscent of rural England.

The golf course and nearby clubhouse are situated in uppermost northwest Georgia, in what is actually a prosperous suburb of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Raynor passed away shortly after completing plans for the course, leaving his protégé-associate Charles Banks to bring the layout to fruition. However, Raynor’s plans were never fully implemented, due to a combination of hitting rock, devastating storms and the Great Depression.

Architect Brian Silva developed a master plan in 1995 that would bring the true Raynor vision to life, but cost concerns limited the work to a large extent. Enter the team of Kyle Franz, Tyler Rae and Jim Ryan. The three restoration specialists teamed up and, in October 2021, won the bid to conjure up what Raynor had intended all along. The primary tasks revolve around rebuilding and resurfacing greens and rebuilding and expanding bunkers. New cart paths are on the way as well as the installation of a new irrigation system.

“We have been blessed by the golf gods and are charged with breathing life back into the property,” Rae said. “This is one we may look back on in the later stages of our lives with pure joy and happiness, as these types of projects don’t come around too often.”

Restoration and enhancements to the golf course are slated for completion in spring 2023, alongside renovations to the Fairyland Clubhouse.

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> Brian Curley of Schmidt-Curley Design has added to his vast portfolio of Asian courses with the opening of the third nine at aptly named Stone Valley Resort, near Hanoi, Vietnam. Developed by Truong An Golf Company, Stone Valley debuted its original 18 in 2018 — also designed by Curley. The latest addition features a unique landscape amid towering Karst rock formations.

"Whereas the first 18 holes play largely within a wide, sweeping valley, the new nine mostly plays as single corridor holes framed on most sides by densely vegetated jungle with rock formations serving as massive backdrops," Curley said. "In addition to the landscape that evokes a King Kong-themed movie scene, the holes also feature significant elevation change, especially the tee shot on the ninth hole, which descends some 130 feet to the green, and offers views to the valley and mountains well beyond."

Curley is also a fan of holes 3 through 5. The par-4 third features jungle and rock formations behind the green. The reachable par-5 fourth tangles with a creek and rock outcrops, while the beefy par-4 fifth dishes out what Curley terms, "the most stunning backdrop of all," with a veritable mountain behind the green.

"Since its opening, golfers have been very favorable of the new nine and its intimate yet overpowering setting that certainly offers a golf experience unparalleled in the Hanoi marketplace," Curley said. "There are a number of very strong golf experiences in the greater Hanoi area but for those who desire a one-of-a-kind experience, I strongly suggest the Stone Valley complex."