Design Notes

Davis Love III returns to UNC to renovate Finley Golf Course

Dan Hixson refreshes Ryder Cup venue Portland GC; Chris Wilczynski finishes bunker work at Dayton, Ohio’s Community GC; Tom Fazio’s Briggs Ranch in Texas enjoys a green refurbishment

15th Hole UNC Finley.jpg
While the 15th hole at UNC Finley Golf Course will remain unchanged, the hole will be the fifth hole when the nines are flipped as part of the renovation.

The University of North Carolina’s golf course in Chapel Hill, a layout known as UNC Finley, has started work on a major course and facility renovation. Handling the project is the team at Love Golf Design, whose members include victorious U.S. Presidents Cup Captain Davis Love III, his brother Mark Love — both UNC graduates — and lead architect Scot Sherman. UNC Finley might be best known as the venue where Love III, an All-American Tar Heel, showed classmate Michael Jordan how to grip a golf club.

The Love Design team will update the layout, flipping the front nine and back nine and will create two new holes on the future front nine. Additionally, they will add a new short course and range. A new team building and training facility will complete the offerings.

Finley, named for Raleigh-based construction magnate A.E. Finley, was originally a 1950 George Cobb design. In 1999, it underwent a radical transformation, with Tom Fazio essentially creating a new course on the old site. Love’s efforts won’t be quite that drastic, but the end results should be every bit as dramatic. Bentgrass greens that typically wilted in the summer will be replaced by heat-tolerant Bermuda. In addition, Love is designing two new holes to replace the current 10th and 11th. That parcel will now be occupied by a practice area for the Tar Heel men’s and women’s teams.

The revamped layout will incorporate the two new holes within the front nine (the old back nine), which means several of the old holes won’t fall in their usual order. The first of these will be the new fourth hole, that will follow the par-3 third (old 14th). Brand new 5 will be a potentially drivable par-4, featuring a fairway that tilts left to right and a green well-guarded by bunkers. The other brand new hole will be Number 6, an uphill par 3 that sits near the current 15th green and finishes near the green of the current 17th hole. What many consider the best, and certainly toughest hole on the old course, the 490-yard, par-4 15th will remain just as it is, only it will appear in the round as the fifth hole. UNC Finley closes in October to accommodate the renovations and is expected to reopen in late summer 2023.

> Oregon’s venerable Portland Golf Club is a few weeks away from completing course renovations under the direction of architect Dan Hixson. Best known for his original designs at Oregon’s Silvies Valley Ranch, Hixson’s renovation skills were utilized this time, at the club that played host to Ben Hogan’s first major championship win at the 1946 PGA Championship and for the U.S. romp at the 1947 Ryder Cup.

Originally designed by George Turnbull in 1914 and renovated by Robert Trent Jones in 1964, Portland turned to Hixson to tweak the greens, bunkers and irrigation system.   

RELATED: Design Notes archive

“The focus on this project was primarily to improve the course strategically and aesthetically, as well as the functions of the course systems,” said Hixson. “There were numerous problems with the bunkers, including failing drain lines, contaminated sand and surface run-off. The bunkers also lacked variety, strategic value, aesthetics and were excessively large. Many of the greens surrounds needed renovating to divert the water away from the bunkers to help with this.

Hixson expanded 12 greens, some of which were restorations and others that were intended to increase pinnable areas.  He also relined bunkers with the Better Billy Bunker system. In addition, he reconstructed tees, yanked out trees, altered mowing patters and created a new green complex at the par-5 15th.

“The biggest visual difference will be in the bunkering,” said Hixson. “The old bunkers had very simple repeating shapes and most of the fairway bunkers were at obsolete distances for the modern game. The course has a great variety of low, at-grade putting greens, which are very steep on the hilly portions of the course. The new bunkering will reflect this variety with some lower profile designs.”

Hixson teamed with Milroy Golf Systems on the construction side, which began in July. The work is expected to be completed in late October, with a new irrigation system, designed by Brent Harvey and supplied by Rain Bird, slated for installation in 2023.

> Now 104 years young, the 36-hole Community Golf Club in Dayton, Ohio is basking in a recently completed bunker renovation from architect Chris Wilczynski. Working on construction in tandem with Topp Shape Enterprises, Wilczynski rebuilt a select number of bunkers, added others and converted others from sand to grass.

“It’s been a wonderful experience working with the great city of Dayton and the Topp Shape team,” said Wilczynski. “What began as an extensive bunker renovation plan has led to a more comprehensive roadmap to improve all aspects of the Hills and Dales courses, and we look forward to helping the city implement additional improvements in the future.”

Housed on land donated by National Cash Register John H. Patterson, Community Golf Club played host to the 1924 U.S. Public Links Championship, so there’s a nice slice of history to preserve and enhance.

“The bunker renovation was a complete success for the city of Dayton’s last remaining golf facility,” said Bob Bajek, the course superintendent. “Chris Wilczynski’s design not only simplified daily maintenance but also aesthetically improved the entire property. We have 74 leagues currently playing Community’s 36-hole layout and the positive response has been overwhelming.”

> Dormie Network’s Briggs Ranch is reopening in October following a summer-long comprehensive greens renovation. Designed by Tom Fazio and opened in 2001, Briggs Ranch is located 20 miles west of downtown San Antonio. The greens project involved restoring the putting surfaces to their original dimensions and contours. The greens were sprigged with TifEagle Bermuda for better year-round maintainability.