Design Notes

Nicklaus Design reopens Florida’s BallenIsles East

John Fought composes a new layout for Minnesota’s Windsong Farm; Jackson Kahn renovates former PGA Tour venue Conway Farms in Illinois

BallenIsles CC East Course
BallenIsles Country Club, located in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, is best known for hosting the 1971 PGA Championship, the only major ever held in February and won by Jack Nicklaus.

BallenIsles Country Club’s East course, host to the only PGA Championship ever played in February, has reopened following a nine-month renovation from Nicklaus Design.

Venue for the 1971 PGA Championship, won by Jack Nicklaus, the venerable layout in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, was originally a 1963 Dick Wilson/Joe Lee design.

The renovation, led by senior designers Chris Cochran and Chad Goetz, boosted yardage from 7,189 yards to 7,474. It also included improvements to the bunkering and green complexes, and featured a regrassing of the entire course. In particular, some of the deeper bunkers were shallowed, other bunkers were eliminated, the greens were enlarged and recontoured and the green surrounds were updated with shortgrass run-off areas, humps and hollows.

In addition, the reimagined practice facility incorporates an all-new, 65-bay, two-sided long-game area, complete with Toptracer technology and Flagd Golf digital yardage boards; aiming targets; a practice putting green; rough, uneven lie and fairway bunker practice areas; and a wedge range with targets from 30 to 105 yards. The short-game area features a 25,000-square-foot Snead Green putting course, five pitching and chipping greens, warm-up green and the world’s flattest putting green. The area is located near the newly built ’71 Learning Center, slated for completion in April.

"We first spoke about a possible East course renovation in 2020," said Paul Springer, Nicklaus Design president, during the reopening on Jan. 30. "To see it completed already with a very nice, expanded practice facility is just terrific."


Windsong Farm in Independence, Minnesota, has retained John Fought to design a second golf course for the Minneapolis-area club.

Fought teamed with Tom Lehman to craft the club’s first course in 2003, then returned on his own in 2015 to renovate tees and bunkers. The new layout, tentatively called the North course, is expected to feature six par 3s, eight par 4s and four par 5s, for a par of 70.

"I generally don’t like to do the same thing with my projects, so this one will be really different from any of my other courses," Fought said. "It’s a unique piece of land with lake views and rolling terrain, and we will be doing what it allows us to do without having to move a lot of dirt. It will be the perfect complement to Windsong Farm Golf Club."

The new course will measure just 6,477 yards from the back gold tees — much shorter than the club’s existing layout, which can stretch to 7,500-plus yards. However, Fought expects the new spread to be plenty challenging.

"This second course will play tougher than people think as length is not the only factor in determining difficulty," Fought said. "Playing strategies will very much come into play here. Plus, the 18th hole will be a ‘Cape’ hole — a long, 483-yard par 4 that plays around a lake."

Indeed, 13 holes will offer views of Fox Lake. Additional inspiration came to Fought following a visit to Chicago’s Shoreacres, a venerable Seth Raynor design from 1921. A fistful of the new Windsong Farm holes will embody tributes to the classic template holes of Raynor and his mentor, Charles Blair Macdonald.

"This will be like creating a course from the early 1900s but with a modern infrastructure,” Fought said. "This is open, rolling land with natural, native areas that are fescue and gives us the opportunity to integrate several old-style holes into the mix."

The course is expected to open in summer 2024.

Jackson Kahn has concluded a renovation of former PGA Tour venue Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Illinois, north of Chicago.

Originally designed by Tom Fazio in 1991, the club played host to the Tour’s BWM Championship in 2013, 2015 and 2017 when winners were Zach Johnson, Jason Day and Marc Leishman, respectively. It was also the venue for two USGA national championships, a Western Amateur and an NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship.

Tim Jackson and partner David Kahn worked for Tom Fazio and the Fazio Design team for 14 years before venturing out on their own in 2009, so both men are well versed in the Fazio sensibilities and philosophy. However, they have also incorporated their own unique stylings that modernize the layout, yet do justice to the original creation.

"The club was initially focused on improving the maintenance and playing characteristics of the bunkers in order to match both the expectations of their membership, but also to continue to be a relevant option for the premier golf events that populate its history," Jackson told "As importantly, the club also needed to repair its original irrigation system that dated to the club’s founding. The reality is that when a new irrigation system is needed, any additional golf course design improvements should be considered at that time. Through conversations with the club, the need of a fuller masterplan for the golf course became apparent. The golf course had tremendous bones but many of the strategic elements had become somewhat outdated due to the advancement in equipment and golf ball technology."

The Jackson Kahn masterplan, developed in 2017 and commenced in 2021 revolved around relocating and reworking bunkers, installing a new irrigation system and remodeling the first green and its surrounds. Other fixes included redesigning two short par 4s, the seventh and the 15th.

"In these instances, angles and options are what create great golf,” Jackson said. "While we could implement adjustments to those options from the tee, they would have been lost without marrying those concepts to the design of the greens. Essentially, in our opinion, the best of these types of holes are played from the green back. The club was very supportive in making the resources available to execute the concepts we identified, and the seventh hole has certainly lived up to the billing given the feedback from the membership over the last golf season.”

The elevation of strategic options has been a highlight of the Jackson Kahn work. “The look of the golf course has changed as well, adjusting from a more open ‘clamshell’ type of bunker style to one with a higher degree of shadowing and articulation in its presentation,” Jackson said. "The fairways now have greater width and great lines that flow with the golf holes and movement on the land."

In collaboration with Wadsworth Construction, work on the front nine concluded in December 2021, with the back nine finished in December 2022. Additional grassing will take place this spring.