Ron Garl sweetens Florida’s Sugar Mill Country Club, Tom Lehman opens his namesake layout at Minnesota’s Cragun’s Resort
Busy Martin Ebert of Mackenzie & Ebert has embarked on a substantial bunker renovation at Hankley Common in Frensham, Surrey, England, southeast of London. MacKenzie & Ebert are best known for the firm’s renovation and restoration work on such high-profile courses as Royal St. George’s, Turnberry, Royal Portrush and Japan’s Hirono. At Hankley Common, the firm submitted a master plan in 2020 to revise the layout that directly addressed a critique formulated five years prior by Tom Doak.
In Doak’s most recent edition of "The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses," he marveled at Hankley Common’s setting, but believed the bunkering was too plain or otherwise lacking on the 1922 James Braid heathland course. Ebert’s plan called for renovating bunkers, creating new sandscapes to blend in with the surrounding features and also to address green complexes, tees, paths and heather management.
"The project has focused upon bringing the bunkers to life, making them blend into the heather surroundings and giving them a more classic, rugged look," Ebert told GolfCourseArchitecture.net. "The majority of the old bunkers were very simple in shape with little to commend them visually. There have been some adjustments to the bunker layout as well as to ask the right questions of the better players.
"The green surfaces have not been touched but there has been quite a lot of work to the green surrounds, which has raised the interest level around the putting surfaces. In some ways, that seems to have drawn out the features of the green surfaces themselves a little more.
"Some bare sand areas have also been developed which make a real impression. They provided heather for the bunkers and other areas and these will soften into the landscape as they establish."
Shaper Quinn Thompson, who handled much of the heavy lifting at Hirono, is assisting in the construction at Hankley Common with MJ Abbott and the club’s greenkeeping team. Fourteen holes on the project are now complete.
"In terms of bunkering, I think that the changes have been as dramatic as any project we have been involved with,” Ebert said. "Some of the bunkers were so simple and frankly, disappointing. There is still another phase to go to complete the implementation of the plan, but I think we are well on the way to achieving the overall vision for the course and the members seem to be very supportive of what has resulted, which is the most important result of course."
Ebert expects the final phase at Hankley Common to be completed late in 2023.
Making great progress at Sharon Heights. Miles of drainage going in, greens and bunker work continuing by @TotalTurfGS Shaped up through about 10 holes now, so we've turned to the inward 9. Appreciative of all the efforts. A great team and client! pic.twitter.com/OzgzaKj6sU
— Todd Eckenrode - Origins Golf Design (@OriginsGolf) July 24, 2023
SUGAR MILL GETTING PATRIOTIC TREATMENT
Sugar Mill Country Club, located in coastal New Smyrna Beach, Florida, is saluting Ron Garl for his progress on the renovation of the private club’s three nines. Garl and his senior designer, Ricky Nix, are revising the Joe Lee-designed layout one nine at a time. Lee crafted the original 18, comprised of the Red and White nines, in 1970. He added the Blue nine in 1984.
Garl, a veteran architect who once worked under Lee, recently completed the White nine renovation, complete with new forward and intermediate tees, new bunkers and greens, and a comprehensive overhaul of its irrigation system. Renovations on the Red nine began May 1 and is expected to be complete by December.
"The current project is 'top to tail,'" said Derek Morrison, Sugar Mill’s director of golf. "It keeps the bones of the course but brings it up to date."
The Blue nine is expected to benefit from the same treatment in two to three years’ time.
TOM LEHMAN PUTS SIGNATURE ON CRAGUN'S RESORT
Following a multi-million-dollar renovation by Minnesota native and 1996 Open Champion Tom Lehman, the Lehman 18 at Cragun’s Resort celebrated its grand opening on July 24. Located in Brainerd, two-and-a-half hours north of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, the Lehman 18 layout is comprised of new holes from Lehman and his lead architect, Chris Brands, as well as holes that were completely redesigned from two earlier Robert Trent Jones Jr. courses on the site.
Lehman was serenaded on the first tee by the University of Minnesota alumni band, Cragun’s Resort owner Dutch Cragun, general manager Eric Peterson, director of golf Jack Wawro and director of golf course maintenance Matt McKinnon. The new layout stretches 7,491 yards and plays to par 72.
"Having grown up 90 minutes from here, it’s great to return to be a part of this resort’s golf legacy," said Lehman, an Austin, Minnesota, native who grew up in Alexandria and who attended the University of Minnesota.
Open for its first full season following limited play last fall, the course eases through a 1,000-acre wooded sanctuary, working its way around Stephens Lake and through many other natural wetlands, providing an authentic Minnesota backdrop. Dramatic and aesthetic changes occurred on every hole, with lake and forest views in abundance throughout. Increased width and strategic options highlight the difference between the previous courses on-site and the Lehman 18.
Two burly par 5s — the 618-yard second and the 627-yard fourth — are among Lehman’s favorites. Lehman likes the second hole for how he and Brands managed to combine the old par-4 second and par-3 third hole into a fun, yet challenging, par 5, with wetlands potentially in play on the right side. The fourth features the summer’s prevailing wind almost always at the golfer’s back, allowing the chance to think about getting home in two shots and a chance at an eagle. Avoiding a trio of fairway bunkers guarding the right side of the fairway is key off the tee, he explained. The green is protected by a massive bunker in front that will need to be avoided.
Highlighting the back nine is the closing trio of 16 through 18, each with handsome lake views.
The Lehman 18 is joined by a sibling, the Dutch 18, which features an ongoing Lehman Design Group makeover. Currently it’s comprised of the Blue nine and White nine, which hosts the PGA Tour Canada’s CRMC Championship. In late 2024, the Red nine will open, making the Dutch a 27-hole layout.