Fazio’s Tom Marzolf reinvigorates Florida’s Sabal course at Bonita Bay; CDP and Kruse Golf masterplan the future at Australia’s The Kew
Just hours after Viktor Hovland collected his $18 million check for winning the PGA Tour's Tour Championship at Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club, the fabled venue shut down for a comprehensive makeover.
Under the direction of architect Andrew Green, the course will be closed for nearly a year to bring back its Golden Age playability and aesthetics to again resemble the layout where Bobby Jones learned the game.
For such a heralded club, East Lake’s golf course has quite a convoluted history. Then known as the Atlanta Athletic Club, the course opened as an 18-hole layout in 1908 designed by pioneering American architect Tom Bendelow. That version was almost entirely discarded when Donald Ross redesigned it in 1913.
Since that time, tees, fairway corridors and green complexes have kept their locations, but lost their resemblance. George Cobb remodeled the course ahead of its hosting the 1963 Ryder Cup and Rees Jones performed a substantial makeover (and partial restoration) in 1994. Although Green has yet to reveal detailed plans, he undoubtedly won the bid due to his prowess with recreating Ross-infused magic at such courses as Oak Hill (East), Wannamoisett, Inverness and Scioto.
East Lake general manager Chad Parker explained that the new work was prompted by the necessity of an infrastructure overhaul — greens, bunkers and irrigation, since it had been 29 years since such work was last performed. As long as the course was going under the knife, the club figured it should explore what else was out there, what other thinking was out there. The club chose Green and his vision for what could be possible.
Green is taking many of his cues from a recently discovered 1949 aerial photo of East Lake. As with many Southern clubs of that era, East Lake’s green complexes featured two greens per hole, one with a warm weather grass (Bermuda) for summer play and a cool season grass (bent) for winter play. Cobb combined them in his early 1960s renovation.
Green will endeavor to instill Ross-worthy contours and expand their dimensions. He will also likely lower many greens and refine the bunker stylings, not only their shaping and placements, but in their sizing, in many cases eliminating portions of the bunkers that block green entrances. This will allow more running/ground game options to access the putting surfaces.
Adding length where possible, removing trees and replacing greenside rough with short-cut areas are further changes in store. After touring Green’s other successful efforts with Ross courses, East Lake officials decided that their new greens will attempt to emulate what they saw at Rhode Island’s Wannamoisett and the bunkers will embrace the stylings of Ohio’s Inverness.
Among the major changes, the green at the par-3 ninth will be lowered and shifted to the left, not only to bring the water more into play, but improve the amount of sunlight and air circulation it receives. Many more small changes will take place in the field.
"East Lake Golf Club is at the heart of golf," Green said. "Its legacy encompasses all that is great about the game and its history. From fostering Bobby Jones and Alexa Stirling to shaping its neighbors in Atlanta with the vision of Mr. Cousins to hosting the world’s best in the Tour Championship, the mission of East Lake has always portrayed excellence and purpose. As we strive to further connect the golf experience to the foundation set forth by Donald Ross and protect the course for decades to come, I look forward to working with the membership and leaders of the club. It is a tremendous honor and I can’t wait to uncover the journey ahead."
BONITA BAY FORGES AHEAD
Now that the Bonita Bay Club has finished renovating its Cypress Course, the private residential club in Naples, Florida has forged ahead on its next project, the renovation of its Sabal Course. Originally designed by Tom Fazio in 1998, the Sabal course will benefit from the handiwork of Fazio Design’s Tom Marzolf, who also handled the tweaks on the Cypress layout in 2022.
The $16.5 million renovation on the Sabal Course will be comprehensive in nature, touching all features on the course from drainage to greens. It will take approximately 16 months to complete. Bordering on a wildlife preserve, Sabal is a member-friendly golf course featuring five par 5s and five par 3s. Although a sturdy test from the tips, it’s a slightly less demanding course than its Cypress sibling.
On the same Naples campus (Bonita Bay also has a three-course complex in Bonita Springs, approximately 10 miles to the north), the 14-acre practice facility will undergo a $2 million renovation. Improvements will include enhanced fairway cuts to mimic tee shots found on the courses, a wedge-specific practice area with multiple greens at short yardage, an enlarged short game practice area, and a new practice putting green at the Sabal Golf Course. Nearly 47,000 cubic yards of fill will be used from the site to raise the range landing area and to create Bermuda grass target greens, creating a dramatic new practice area.
MASTERPLAN IN WORKS FOR HISTORIC KEW GOLF CLUB
Kruse Golf, led by Harley Kruse, a former design associate of both Peter Thomson and Greg Norman has teamed with Mike Clayton and Lukas Michel of Clayton, DeVries and Pont (CDP) to produce a masterplan for The Kew Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia.
The Kew is Melbourne’s third oldest golf club, dating to 1894 and considered among the best clay belt courses in Victoria. The course has changed radically over the years on multiple occasions, mostly owing to encroaching housing and freeway expansions. The hope in engaging two of Australia’s top golf architecture firms is to create lasting solutions for decades to come.
“Kew is one of several Melbourne courses located along the Yarra River,” Clayton told www.golfcoursearchitecture.net. “Our plan aims to rectify some of the problems resulting from a freeway which was built through the edge of the original course in the early 1970s. It’s a beautiful place to play and follows architectural principles similar to those so wonderfully exemplified across town at Royal Melbourne.”
Kruse and CDP already enjoy a similar working arrangement at Royal Perth and Wembley Golf Course, so the symbiosis appears to be seamless.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that our two teams’ skillsets are highly complementary,” Kruse said. “At Kew, it will be the sum of ongoing incremental improvements to course architecture, vegetation, and drainage that will make the golf course so much better for the next generations of members.”
At 6,179 meters (6,757 yards), par 72, The Kew offers a challenging, yet playable layout for members to enjoy. With multiple doglegs, precision is favored over power. Natural lakes, billabongs, Glass Creek and the Yarra River all come into play during the round.
“Working with Harley Kruse and Mike Clayton has already become an exciting journey,” said Mat Loughnane, CEO at The Kew. “Their expertise, passion, and vision for creating exceptional golfing experiences is truly unmatched. What has most impressed us is their ability to quickly identify the small but fundamental design flaws in the course and, through an exhaustive process, provide innovative design solutions. The club looks forward to the journey of course improvements ahead.”