Royal Dornoch tweaks its eighth hole; Nashville’s Percy Warner muni gets the Bruce Hepner treatment
The Cypress Course at Bonita Bay Club in Naples, Florida — a private, 1997 Tom Fazio design — has reopened following a 14-month renovation. The 400-acre layout, which sits adjacent to the Everglades and other protected wetlands, was mildly impacted by October’s Hurricane Ian.
Led by Fazio Design senior associate Tom Marzolf, the renovation touched every hole on the course to make it more strategic for championship-level competitions and more playable for the entire club membership.
"Bonita Bay is a uniquely proactive club," Marzolf said. "Cypress was in really good shape, but the members and management wanted to improve the experience for golfers of all abilities and ages.”
The most significant aspect of the renovation was raising the entire course by 12 to 18 inches to improve drainage. Six new lakes were created, four existing lakes were expanded, and the resulting 200,000 cubic yards of earth were spread across the property. Fairways were widened, 450 new catch basins were added and perforated pipe was laid underground to move water away from playable areas. The hurricane and record rains in September revealed areas that needed additional drainage work, which has now been remediated.
"The pre-renovation engineering studies paid off," said EJ McDonnell, director of golf. “Retained water stayed in places it was designed to stay in."
No less important was the addition of two new tees — one shorter and one longer — so there are now seven teeing platforms on every hole, set at 500-yard intervals. The course plays from 4,500 to 7,500 yards, which, according to Marzolf, makes Cypress the first Fazio design with a 3,000-yard spread.
"Our members enjoy the variety of playing options afforded by our five courses," said Paul Nussbaum, chairman of Bonita Bay Club's board of directors. "Cypress Course remains our most competitive, but with seven sets of tees, golfers will find the right level of challenge for their games."
While the routing remains intact, significant work was done on and around the greens. With the extensive drainage work completed, the course now plays firm and fast, and the green surrounds are shaved-down, low-mow areas that encourage a wider variety of short-game shots. The greens also were enlarged to allow for both more member-friendly and championship-level hole positions. In another Fazio first, some greens feature wooden bulkhead walls that enhance aesthetics, especially when the often-fluctuating water level drops.
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Bunkers were redone with a “cleaned-up, Augusta look,” says Marzolf. The white sand is flashed up on bunker faces, and the surrounding turf is shaved low. Furthermore, acres of sand were added in mostly out-of-play areas along and between holes and around trees, creating dramatic vistas throughout the property. The sand, juxtaposed against native plantings and pine straw, is visually appealing.
Landing-area bunkers throughout the course were repositioned further down the fairways to counterbalance improved club and ball technology and these same bunkers should be out of play for shorter hitters. The new Cypress Course drive-zone bunkers are angled slightly closer to the center lines of play, rather than the old school, left rough/right rough locations. The fairway mowing line is now in front of the encroaching fairway bunkers rather than along the side of the sand.
"Since the modern ball can fly straighter today, fairway bunkers were moved in closer," Marzolf said. "To regain the attention of the game’s best players, the tee shot strategy now calls for reaction and alignment choices based on carrying the bunkers. As the game evolves and equipment improves, golf architecture must react and adjust.”
Cypress is one of two courses at the Naples campus, located about 10 miles from Bonita Bay Club’s primary location close to the Gulf of Mexico. The second Naples campus course, Sabal, is a 1998 Fazio design that will be renovated starting in fall 2023.
ROYAL DORNOCH'S HOME STRETCH
The final phase of an ambitious project is underway at Scotland’s Royal Dornoch Golf Club, as reported on the club’s website. Hard on the heels of major improvements to the seventh hole on the Championship Course in 2020, the greenkeeping team and renowned UK architects Tom Mackenzie and Martin Ebert have turned their attention to "Dunrobin," the 434-yard, par-4 eighth hole.
Massive amounts of gorse and soil are being removed to open up the handsome views of 1,302-foot Ben Bhraggie, which generations of golfers previously enjoyed. The makeover is also designed to restore the challenge envisioned in the 1940s, when a series of tweaks were made to the original Old Tom Morris layout.
"This is the final piece in the jigsaw and we are confident it will further enhance the experience golfers enjoy when they play the Championship Course,” said deputy greenkeeper Scott Aitchison. "The main challenge we face is ensuring the work is completed and the hole is back in play for the new season.
“The new tees are being pushed back towards the location of the old seventh green. The likelihood is that more golfers will be playing their second shots into the green from the top of the hill, as was the case before the advances in golf club technology. In a sense, we are turning back the clock to the way the hole was designed to be played."
The new fairway will encounter a ridge-top setting, rather than follow the old railway line to the left. The approach will play over the ridge and down to the existing green.
"Trust me, the hole is going to be even better," Aitchison said. "There is sure to be a real wow factor with the views being opened up again. The backdrop of Embo, the sea and Ben Bhraggie in the distance is amazing. The gorse had grown and blocked it out for years."
Aitchison stressed the environmental stewardship the historic club practiced in achieving its aims.
"Initially, we have had to do a lot of scraping, removing gorse and a layer of dead mulch over a 200-yard stretch, getting down to hard gravel on what was a raised beach," he said. “It will be replenished with sand and rootzone. We are liaising closely with the Mackenzie and Ebert team about the levels they want. All the material being removed is going to compost on-site. We are always very conscious of our environmental responsibilities. It will break down over the years and be used here in the future.”
The changes to "Dunrobin," focus only on the first half of the hole, moving the tees a little, changing the angle of attack and opening up those fantastic views. "Obviously a mild winter would help our cause but we are not naïve," Aitchison said. "We will have to protect the fairway initially. But the new turf should knit in quite quickly with the rising temperatures in the spring."
Anticipated opening of the revised eighth hole is April 2023.
— OCM Golf (@OCMGolf) November 23, 2022
BRUCE HEPNER PUTS TOUCH ON NASHVILLE RELIC
Nashville, Tennessee’s venerable Percy Warner Golf Course closed in November for an 11-month renovation and enhancement project led by architect Bruce Hepner. Metro Parks and Recreation, the Tennessee Golf Foundation and Friends of Warner Parks are partnering to restore the nine-hole golf course and surrounding landscapes with a tentative grand opening of September 2023.
“After a decade of collaboration and planning, we have achieved the public-private partnership to complete this historic restoration project and enhance the game of golf for all of Nashville,” said Jenny Hannon, president of Friends of Warner Parks.
Percy Warner Golf Course opened in 1937 as the second public golf course in Nashville. Among those introduced to the game there is nine-time PGA Tour winner Brandt Snedeker. The vision is to create a modern, sustainable golf course that will inspire a connection to nature and introduce the greater Nashville community to the Warner Parks.
Among the improvements in store at Hepner’s direction are the installation of a new irrigation system and the creation of a new practice putting green and short game area, complete with practice bunkers, that can convert to a two- or three-hole practice course. In addition, Hepner will expand and laser-level the current tee boxes and create new ones in an effort to improve turf quality and playability. Also planned is the restoration and management of golf course woodlands and surrounding landscapes. Modern design features will boost the aesthetic appeal, not only benefitting golfers, but also the neighboring community and park visitors.
The final puzzle piece will be the replacement of an almost obsolete practice, a two-green system. These days, they are primarily only seen in Japan, and even there, more sparingly than in the past. Since 1937, however, Percy Warner has utilized a summer and winter two-green system of putting greens and green surrounds. Hepner will be converting the two greens per hole to one, which will likely improve playability, smoothness, consistency and maintenance efficiency.