Design Notes

Apes Hill Barbados reopens after Ron Kirby reno

Progress continues for Dormie Network’s GrayBull in Nebraska; Drew Rogers begins new renovation phase at Michigan’s venerable Plum Hollow

Apes Hill Barbados Hole No. 16 Golf Course Image.jpg
Hole No. 16 at the recently renovated Apes Hill Barbados.

Veteran architect Ron Kirby gave his stamp of approval to his finished renovation of Apes Hill Barbados following the reopening in November 2022.

Originally opened in 2009 in the depths of the Recession, the property languished for several years before Kirby was summoned to bring out its long acknowledged potential.

"When I saw Apes Hill for the first time, I saw there were hills and vistas that were just superb," said Kirby during his recent visit. "You can see both the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean in many places. You have the elevation, so I thought all we had to do here was to make sure that visitors can enjoy the time and take in those vistas."

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The par-72 layout has likely acquired must-play status for its stunning views over the Caribbean Sea to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Set within 475 acres of natural, unspoiled terrain and perched on one of the highest points of Barbados, 1,000 feet above sea level, Apes Hill is the most elevated golf experience on the island.

And if there’s anyone who knows about getting the most from a spectacular site, it’s Kirby. He has collaborated with Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Jack Nicklaus in a distinguished career and is perhaps most noted for his work at Old Head Golf Links in Ireland.

"The fun at Old Head and the fun at Apes Hill are the vistas, and you just feel like you want to get out here and enjoy it on a course that has such world-class views as the backdrop," Kirby said. "We put four tee boxes in so that we could cover levels for every golfer. We have made this mix so that Apes Hill can be fun for everybody."

Kirby’s work, aided by shapers Justin Carlton and Gary Shapiro, began in 2019. The new layout stretches 7,002 yards, with forward tees set at 5,034 yards. Perhaps the ultimate highlight arrives at the par-3 16th. Named, "Cave," the hole features a coral rock behind the green and water along the right side.


In early March, Dormie Network, a national network of private destination clubs, named Michael Sheely as director of agronomy at GrayBull, a David McLay Kidd design set to open in the Nebraska Sandhills in 2024.

GrayBull will be Dormie Network’s seventh course and first facility built from the ground up. Course work will resume this month, with a goal to have the entire course seeded by fall of this year. Sheely will be onsite fulltime at GrayBull and will be joined by an all-new, recently hired team of superintendent Kit Lofgreen, assistant superintendent Katie Kramer and equipment manager Tyson Kramer. Before joining Dormie Network, Sheely served as the director of agronomy at ArborLinks since 2016.

"Dormie Network is well known throughout the industry for incredible course conditions, challenging, interesting and entertainingly playable course designs that meld with impeccable amenities which all come together to create an experience for members and guests that goes well beyond just birdies and bogies," Sheely said. "With David McLay Kidd at the helm, GrayBull will instantly become a bucket-list venue and I am thrilled to play a role in helping the Dormie Network’s vision for this facility come to life and prosper."

GrayBull will be a links-style course: wide open dunes with no extraneous trees, built on a firm, sandy soil structure that will allow shots to carry and roll. The terrain of western Nebraska promises less natural precipitation, lower humidity, and more wind than Sheely’s past positions.

"As agronomists, we love the challenge of balancing firmness and playability," Sheely said. "With state-of-the-art irrigation systems, we’ll install Bentgrass putting surfaces and fine fescue low-mow bluegrass mixture on the approach areas, fairways and tees that will all be close-shaven, helping the course melt into the landscape. I’m sure we’ll see some windy moments that will cause sand erosion, particularly for the bunkers. But those sands are part of what makes this area of the world such a great location for golf."

In addition to the playing experience through McLay Kidd’s design, amenities at GrayBull will include a full-service clubhouse, a practice facility, lit putting green, brand-agnostic custom club fittings and 60 beds onsite across 15 cottages for members to make the most of the evening entertainment available at network tournaments and private events.

On the heels of a well-received "resto-vation" in 2021, architect Drew Rogers will continue work at Plum Hollow Country Club in Southfield, Michigan, a northwestern suburb of Detroit.

Designed in 1921 by C.H. Alison of the legendary British firm of Colt & Alison, Plum Hollow played host to the 1947 PGA Championship. Sometime in the years after it opened, architect and club professional Wilfrid Reid effected design changes. Without original plans to learn from, Rogers, a former Arthur Hills associate, applied what he knew about Alison and the design style Alison employed in that era to renovate the layout in a style that could approximate a restoration.

“Tees were enlarged and rearranged with more varied playing angles,” Rogers told in 2023. “The bunker character is quite bold, with features of great scale and depth, more in the character that Hugh Alison likely built. Trees were also removed to open up the playing corridors so that dramatic vistas would be restored throughout the property and fairways could be properly aligned to their intended widths and angles."

During 2023, Rogers intends to evaluate greens and practice facilities for possible enhancements and will continue honing the aesthetics through landscaping which he believes “will present the course with heightened colors, textures and long, dramatic views.”