Scott Hoffman’s Gravel Pit in Minnesota begins first full season; Texas’ Oak Hollow muni undergoes summer renovation
Unquestionably, Gil Hanse and design partner Jim Wagner are firecracker hot in architectural circles. Their restoration handiwork again earns the well-deserved spotlight this week when uber-exclusive Los Angeles Country Club’s North course hosts the U.S. Open.
In April, on the other side of the country — and on the opposite spectrum of access — their renovation work also took center stage, with the opening of The Park West Palm. A complete revamp of a once beloved West Palm Beach, Florida, muni, The Park is a 21st century golf experience with Old World sensibilities.
Working with billionaire Dirk Ziff and PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh, Hanse and Wagner completely transformed a site with a rich, but checkered, past. The original course on the site was a 1947 Dick Wilson design called West Palm Beach Country Club. It played host to several PGA Tour events and through the early 1980s was recognized as one of the top 10 public courses in the country.
Over the years, however, many non-native trees were planted on the rolling, sandy site and eventually, conditions deteriorated. The city directed PGA Tour player Mark McCumber and his design firm to restore and improve the course in 2009. He removed invasive trees such as Australian pines and Brazilian peppers, but the course never regained its previous stature and closed in 2018.
Several years later, the rebirth plan was unveiled, with some of the finance world’s heaviest hitters teaming up to solicit contributions for a new facility. That dream was realized on April 17, when all the principals were on hand to open the 7,145-yard, par-71 layout.
"When Jim and I understood that private citizens, including many of our friends, were giving charitable money to build a new course and facility for the public to enjoy within the city limits of West Palm Beach, we decided right away to donate our normal design fee and jump in with both feet," Hanse said. "The site is incredible, almost 200 acres of rolling sand and mature trees with 30 feet of elevation change, extremely unusual for south Florida. It’s obvious why it was chosen for a golf course in 1947 when the entire area was undeveloped.
"Jim, Dirk and I set out to design and build a new course that is wide, strategic, an easy walk and above all fun to play and appropriately challenging for golfers of all abilities. It was a blast to create, and the reaction to pre-opening play by everyone, from PGA Tour players to near-beginners, gives us belief that we achieved our goal. Jim and I are honored and thrilled to be co-founders of this wonderful facility."
Hanse and his team also crafted a lighted nine-hole short course, an 18-hole putting course, a 2-acre golf field reserved for kids and a double-ended driving range with a superb practice facility that includes Toptracer technology.
The championship spread features Golden Age touches such as firm-and-fast fairways, exposed sand, a blind punchbowl green at the long par-4 12th and nary a water hazard, a rarity in Florida. Holes return to the clubhouse and refreshments not only at the ninth and 18th, but at the third and at the 12th also, for those where a round of shorter duration might appeal.
"When ideas for this site were bring considered, I never imagined an outcome like this was even possible,” West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James said. "This is a tremendous gift to the City of West Palm Beach. People will be astounded when they see the outstanding facility that has been built for the city and its residents, especially the next generation."
Opening day for our new bunkers @Royaldublin1. A massive improvement for us. Thanks to all involved for your hard work to pull this off @cdpgolf1 @DARGolf_ @markchrisburke @RichieSHudson @gerard_rowlands pic.twitter.com/Ut73K0H9HB
— Alan Hammond (@alanhammond_) May 5, 2023
GRAVEL PIT TAKES HOLD IN MINNESOTA
Now entering its first full season of play is the Gravel Pit, a 13-hole par-3 course in golf-rich Brainerd, Minnesota, two hours north of the Twin Cities.
Designed by local legend Scott Hoffman, the Gravel Pit sits adjacent to Cragun’s Resort, another of the destination properties in the Brainerd Lakes region. The longtime superintendent at Madden’s on Gull Lake, Hoffman designed his first course, the Classic, for his employer in the 1990s and it soon earned Golf Digest Top 100 Public status. After 43 years at Madden’s, Hoffman set up shop as an architect and turf consultant in 2019.
Enter Nathan Tuomi.
Tuomi owned an old 50-acre logging property that contained the remnants of a gravel pit. His son Sam suggested putting some kind of golf product on the land, so the elder Tuomi summoned Hoffman for an assessment. Hoffman offered up a plan to create a 13-hole short course along with a putting course with a similar number of holes.
“When I looked at the property, it seemed to have great potential as a unique par-3 course,” Hoffman told GolfCourseArchitecture.net. "We are in the middle of lake country, major resorts and premier golf courses. It seemed like there would be room for a unique match play-style short course along the lines of what had been done at Sand Valley, Bandon Dunes, Pinehurst and many others.”
The Gravel Pit’s holes range from 60 to 180 yards and already each of them has witnessed an ace.
“Nathan insisted on something dramatic,” Hoffman said. “He wanted see some things you wouldn’t normally get away with on a traditional golf course. We also incorporated a few template holes, such as a reverse Redan, Short, an Infinity green, double plateau, Himalaya and Island. We wanted a fun match play course.”
Future plans call for an 11-hole course to join the original 13-hole layout.
TEXAS' OAK HOLLOW HITS REFRESH BUTTON
Oak Hollow Golf Course in McKinney, Texas, closed on May 30 for a $1 million greens renovation. The 6,679-yard, par-70 municipal layout was designed by Maury Miller in 1998. After 25 years, it was time to hit the refresh button.
“The improvements that we are planning for our municipal golf course are intended to address our aging infrastructure, first and foremost the 25-year-old greens,” said Michael Kowalski, Director of Parks & Recreation. “Not only will we deliver a new putting surface of exceptional quality, but we will also reshape and expand the greens to make them upwards of 30 percent larger in some cases.”
More than 150 trees were added to Oak Hollow in the past three years to boost aesthetics and the greens renovation will enhance playability. The original putting greens, tee boxes and collars were of TifDwarf Bermuda grass and were installed in 1997. Replacing them will be an UltraDwarf Bermuda.
The course is expected to reopen on September 1.