Andy Staples masterplans Arizona’s venerable Phoenix Country Club; Kris Spence refurbishes Donald Ross’ Sara Bay in Florida; David Williams plots the future for Spain’s Salobre Golf Resort
Southern Trace Country Club in Shreveport, Louisiana, recently completed a two-year, $4.2 million golf course renovation and enhancement project. The project focused on irrigation and drainage system upgrades, green complex enhancements and the addition of a new short game practice area.
Golf course designer and Southern Trace member Jim Lipe, formerly a longtime associate in Jack Nicklaus Design, oversaw the course renovation with Wadsworth Construction, Black Creek Construction and Winterberry Construction performing the work.
The renovation project included rebuilding all 18 greens and resurfacing them with Mach One Bermudagrass; adding and eliminating tee boxes; reshaping fairways; and installing a new state-of-the-art irrigation system. Bridges were also added on holes 5 and 15 to accommodate walking and cart traffic, and the club's agronomy team completed large drainage projects, and cut tree canopies on several holes to increase playability and enhance the ability to grow healthy turf.
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"I’m very pleased with what we’ve accomplished here," Lipe said. "As a longtime Southern Trace member, I was able to identify areas on the golf course that needed to be changed or updated, and address those during this renovation. We have a wonderful superintendent, Graham Kornmeyer, who brought a lot of expertise and experience to this project."
The club’s new short game practice area was designed by Lipe and includes nearly four acres of turf, two greens with a combined 13,000 square feet, and four sand traps offering a variety of shots that allow members and guests the opportunity to practice and hone their skills before heading out to the course.
Established in 1988, Southern Trace features an Arthur Hills-designed golf course that plays through open meadows and a dense oak forest. The 7,015-yard course has a proud history of hosting high-level professional and amateur tournaments, including the Web.com Tour’s Southern Open from 1990-2002, multiple state amateur championships and the AJGA David Toms Junior Invitational.
Originally built in 1899, then moved to its current location in 1921, Phoenix Country Club boasts an incredible tournament history, and a celebrated golf course designed by Harry Collis of Chicago. Subsequent renovations have been untaken by Gary Panks and by Tom Lehman.
"I’m beyond excited about working with this historic property," Staples said. "Phoenix Country Club is the preeminent club in the valley and is one of only a handful of courses that possess some really unique design history, and interesting design lineage. The construction of this golf course is in line with a period of time of some of the greatest golf courses ever to be built."
Master planning will begin this year, including property-wide assessments, aerial survey and photo archive research, and a review of past projects. A key aspect of the initial work is to understand how the golf course was originally laid out, and how it has evolved over time.
To see the plan through, Staples will partner with the Kenton Brunson, the club’s director of agronomy, along with key club officials in researching, planning and proposing solutions for the significant areas in need of attention. In the end, the team’s plan will improve daily conditions, restore specific features of years past, accommodate families with kids and beginners, and focus on long-term sustainability.
"The timing of this project is perfect for our growing membership, and needed in a big way," Brunson said.
"The course has undergone several modifications over the years, and it is time to modernize the golf course components while also highlighting the historical features. Andy has outlined some forward-thinking ideas to show us what’s possible."
Phoenix Country Club is a premier urban club where many of the valley’s most influential citizens have enjoyed the game since 1899. The golf course was home to the Phoenix Open from 1932-1986, and has played host to the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, the season finale of the PGA Tour Champions since 2017.
> Oak Ridge, North Carolina-based restoration specialist Kris Spence has refreshed or restored a fistful of acclaimed Donald Ross designs in his home state. Now he’s at in the Sunshine State. Spence recently finished a greenside bunker renovation at the Ross-designed Sara Bay Country Club in Sarasota, Florida.
"Sara Bay is particularly interesting because Ross was closely involved with the development of the club and the associated real estate," said Spence, who has had a multi-year involvement with the club. “We wanted to take Sara Bay back to its past. Ross was in one of his best creative moods when he designed those greens! However, over the years the Ross design elements had been lost at Sara Bay. The greens had become excessively domed, and balls would not stay on them. In 2018, we rebuilt the greens and found they had twice as much rootzone as they needed, which meant we were able to lower them back to their original grade and expand them back to the edge of the fill pads."
The most recent work revolved around the greenside bunkers, which were reconstructed with liner from Capillary Bunkers.
“We had 10 inches of rain over the course of 30 days in June, and seven of those inches came down in two days,” said Carlyle Merring, Sara Bay’s superintendent. “The bunkers stood up to it really well. We don’t have a problem with them washing out. Generally, we can get our bunkers back in play in one morning after a big rain event.”
Sara Bay now has a waiting list for membership and has initiated plans to embark on another phase of renovations.
"We will return to rebuild the fairway bunkers and also add some surface contour to give the course back its lateral movement," said Spence. "Back in 2018, we discussed bunkers with the club, and they said they were spending a lot of money pushing sand back up the faces after rains, and contamination of the sand was reducing their lifespan."
> Salobre Golf Resort in Gran Canaria (Grand Canary Island), Spain, has retained architect David Williams to evaluate its two 18-hole layouts and to create a master plan to guide future enhancements.
Based in north Wales, Williams is a past president of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects and has extensive renovation experience in Europe, especially Spain.
Williams will evaluate both the Old and New courses at Salobre. The 6,370-yard, par-71 Old is a 1999 Roland Favre design, with some initial help from Dave Thomas. In 2008, Ron Kirby created the 5,729-yard, par-71 New, which is draped atop rolling, volcanic, ravine-laced terrain. The New closed early in 2020 at the dawn of the COVID pandemic. Nine holes — holes 1 through 3 and 13 through 18, which are those nearest to the clubhouse — are slated to reopen later in 2022. Williams plans to consult on renovations for holes 4 through 12.
"We were initially contacted by Grupo Satocan’s president Juan Miguel Janjuan y Jover and chief executive Jose Julio Artiles, owners of the resort, when they heard my presentation of my master plan to members at Real Club de Golf de Las Palmas — the oldest golf club in Spain — earlier this year," said Williams. “Javier Suarez, formerly CEO of Las Palmas, provided an introduction. Improving sustainability of the courses is one of the issues we’ll be addressing, including a proposal to make a large reduction in water usage by greatly reducing grassed areas, and introducing areas of picon (local sand) in carry areas and off all fairways. We had useful meetings and inspections with Luis Cornejo of Surtec Golf Agronomy, who has been appointed to advise the resort on agronomy and irrigation issues, and with whom we have previously worked on other golf projects in Spain."
In evaluating the bunkering on both the Old and the New courses, Williams is contemplating utilizing bunker liners and edging materials to improve their appearance and the ease of maintaining them.
"I am a great advocate of making resort courses, such as these at Salobre, an enjoyable experience for the casual holiday golfer and regular higher handicap players, while at the same time making it a more challenging test for better players," Williams said. "Our regressing and rebunkering work will be geared to meeting these aims, which we have achieved elsewhere through good design."
Williams will also endeavor to massage the layouts in a concerted effort to display clear distinctions from other courses on the island.
"One particular challenge at Salobre is the difference between the two layouts," Williams said. "The Old is a typical resort course, mainly surrounded by housing but providing the holiday golf experience so loved by visiting players. In contrast, the New is in a wild and untamed landscape, with far-reaching views without any glimpse of buildings or other development. So emphasizing the difference is one of the challenges to be met in the master plan, explaining to all players that while the New is the shorter of the two courses, it isn’t automatically the easiest, especially with its dramatic long carries over ravines."