Connecticut’s Bull’s Bridge Golf Club fashions a Fazio fix; Steve Stricker transforms Cherokee Country Club into TPC Wisconsin
Tom Doak’s latest New Zealand creation, executed atop high dunes 90 minutes north of Auckland, officially opened for play on Oct. 1. The North Course at Te Arai Links joins its sibling South Course to make up a 36-hole resort complex.
Doak and his team at Renaissance Golf Design have fashioned the North Course in the shadow of their own work just up the beach: the ultra-private Tara Iti Golf Club, a layout routinely ranked among the top 25 in the world. Just down the beach, the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw-designed South Course at Te Arai Links has garnered similar acclaim since it opened on Oct. 1, 2022.
"It feels a bit weird to apologize for having seven holes on the ocean, especially when the rest of our North Course plays through terrain where the best comp might be Pine Valley," Doak said. "At Tara Iti, you’re looking at the Pacific Ocean from every hole. On Bill’s course, all but the first few holes play directly at seaside. That’s just the reality down here, yet everyone is pleased with the way the North Course stands on its own, beside each of these world-class golf courses. We honestly didn’t feel we were competing with Tara Iti or the South Course. But we did want the North Course to be different — and fun. We’re quite certain that we succeeded on both counts."
Doak’s 6,931-yard, par-71 North Course opens and closes at seaside, with another sweep down to the Pacific Ocean at holes eight and nine. Elsewhere, the unique routing explores what had been a pine forest set on dunes high above the beach. Doak spent months on site — personally shaping green complexes and fairway features behind the controls of a bulldozer. Typically, Doak jets into a project, inspects and suggests for several days, then leaves the earthmoving to his long-time associates in the Renaissance shaping and construction crews. However, because the North Course took shape during the COVID-19 pandemic, Doak traveled to New Zealand in the spring of 2022, and stayed for two full months.
"I’m still not that great on the dozer, but I do love it," Doak said. "Some of the results are pretty wild, like the greens at four and seven. Maybe too severe at first glance. But in the end, they looked really cool and we all agreed: Let’s keep that.
"To be honest, for this course to be spoken of equally, alongside the South Course, we felt we had to do more with the golf. This is legitimately great inland terrain — pure sand and dunesy, with big undulations. But we couldn’t rely on that. We agreed that if we’re going to produce something different, we should probably be a bit edgier. The overall shaping, greens and fairways speak to that, I think."
The routing includes several world-class seaside holes — including the par-3 17th, and the par-5 closer that tracks the shoreline all the way home. Throughout the routing, Doak and his fellow shapers Angela Moser, Clyde Johnson and lead associate Brian Slawnik (who also shaped Tara Iti) each managed to create dramatic features.
However, the inland holes on the North Course are what Doak talks about first — especially those that occupy a massive valley in the middle of the routing.
“Before we moved any dirt, we all identified that natural bowl and I think we used it very well,” he said. “I really like how the holes in there, four through seven, came out. All of them. Eight plays down to the water from the edge of that bowl, and I love the way nine comes back uphill into the bowl. Really cool, with a blind approach — over a road. The last 150 yards of that par 5 are just awesome.”
Doak’s routing also produced a traditional, linksland staple: half-par holes.
"At one point, we had the potential of five or six par 5s out there,” he said. "The course will play to a par of 71, but the routing does affect difficulty. There are some very strong par 4s on this golf course. Good short ones, too—but some real beasts. The reality is, everything on the North Course remains very close to the ocean. On any given day, each of the 18 holes can play completely differently depending on wind direction. That’s what golf by the sea is all about."
The more visits I make for the planning of the North Course @NCRCountryClub, the more fascinated I become with the wonderful natural golf topography Dick Wilson had to work with. It's amazing to view the change in the natural moraine landforms from the South Course to the North. pic.twitter.com/ympQ4GqFbU
— Jim Nagle, ASGCA (@jimnagle_gca) September 20, 2023
BULL'S BRIDGE GETS FAZIO TOUCHUP
A bunker renovation commenced in early September at Bull’s Bridge Golf Club in South Kent, Connecticut. Fazio Design and course superintendent Stephen Hicks are overseeing the work.
The golf course master plan calls for new bunkers to be added to eight holes — the first, third, sixth, ninth, 10th, 13th, 17th and 18th). On these and other holes, bunkers also will be repositioned to improve visibility or removed to address changes in equipment and enhance course playability.
Other on-course work includes select bentgrass fairway and short-cut approach expansion and the building of additional tees on select holes. New back tees will be added on holes two, nine and 18 and new forward tees on holes three, six, 10 and 17. The new Gold tee distance will be about 7,200 yards, an addition of roughly 200 yards.
This is the first major renovation of the golf course since it opened in 2004. Macdonald and Sons is the construction contractor.
Bull’s Bridge Golf Club’s clubhouse expansion plan has been approved by the local zoning commission. In addition to a redesigned clubhouse, a Golf House is being built and will be connected by a breezeway. The Golf House will include well-appointed locker rooms and a new golf shop.
“This is an exciting time at Bull’s Bridge, with these significant upgrades being made to enhance overall member enjoyment of our facilities,” said Brian Freeswick, General Manager. Grow-in and full completion of the golf course project is expected by November 2023. Ground was broken on the new Golf House in August.
"I’ve lived on this course for many years," said Stricker, a 12-time PGA Tour winner and Wisconsin native. "This is my home. I consider it a privilege to bring my PGA Tour career experience to bear on its re-envisioning and I have totally enjoyed working on the project with PGA Tour Design Services. TPC Wisconsin will play to exact PGA Tour standards. It’ll be a fair test for players of all levels, and yes — it’s going to be exceptional."
Originally designed 60 years ago by David Gill, Cherokee’s redesign involved regrading the terrain, repositioning design features, rebuilding the infrastructure and installing new cart paths. Stricker and PGA Tour Design Services rerouted several holes to enhance walkability and connections from one hole to the next and created new tee and green complexes to provide for spectator mounding.
“The redesign of the course has gone exceptionally well. We’ve raised our fairways two to four feet to ensure drainage and playing surface perfection," said Dennis Tiziani, Sticker’s father-in-law, who is owner and president of TPC Wisconsin. "The work that has been put in on the property from 2021-2023 is an engineering marvel and an ecological miracle. I’ve been around the game for a very long time. I assure you that what we’ve created is not only going to be a challenging course but a memorable one."
Tiziani is a four-time Wisconsin PGA champion and coached the University of Wisconsin men’s golf team for 26 years.
TPC Wisconsin will host the 2025 American Family Insurance Championship on the PGA Tour Champions.