Design Notes

Andrew Green transforms Texas’ Vaquero

Todd Quitno and Nathan Crace team up to renovate Illinois’ Merit Club; Missouri’s Big Cedar Lodge to add a Morris family-designed par-3 course

Vaquero Club — Hole 13
Vaquero Club's par-4 13th hole.

Dallas’ Vaquero Club, located on former ranch land west of the DFW airport in the Westlake, Texas, community, has reopened following a transformation by architect Andrew Green. The renovation has breathed new life into the course and according to Green has "uncovered the potential of the property and utilized the amazing topography." Tom Fazio crafted the original incarnation of Vaquero in 2001.

Vaquero’s redesign incorporates its unique landforms, including a majestic hill on the front nine that offers unparalleled vistas of the surrounding area, making it a distinct focal point of the course. The third and seventh greens, along with the fourth and eighth tees, showcase these views. The remainder of the layout features rolling terrain with dramatic edges and slopes, adding variety and a distinctive character to each hole.

Calling the result a "brand-new golf course," Green aimed to make it enjoyable for a wider range of players, challenging the many low handicappers who have made the course a local favorite, while welcoming beginners, higher handicap and experienced golfers.

The redesign has introduced more variety off the tees, added width, and rerouted some holes to provide increased flexibility. The acreage of the bunkers was reduced from 6.95 acres to 2.58 acres, but the total number of bunkers was increased from 61 to 92. These changes will encourage players to carefully consider shot placement and strategy for each hole.

The greens have been entirely redesigned, adding unique contours and shapes that give each putting surface a distinct personality. Most of the greens are now accessible along the ground, allowing players to bounce the ball on and recover by putting, chipping, and using a hybrid or other clubs.

Green said: "The goal was to encourage members to play the golf course more than they ever did previously, while making them better players." Members will constantly face different types of shots and will have to find new and different ways to navigate the golf course. Each day," the course should be a wonderland of variety, fun, and challenge, so even if their score doesn’t reflect it, they’ll have a ton of fun,” he added.

Among the notable hole changes are an entirely new first hole, playing in the opposite direction from its previous design. Golfers are welcomed by a wide fairway with a challenging line down the right side, which shortens the hole significantly. The left side offers more room but extends the approach.

The par-4 fourth hole, at around 330 yards from the back tees, is drivable for those who can carry the ball over a series of bunkers and use the rolling fairway to push it onto the putting surface.

On the par-5 seventh hole, approximately 70% of the existing sand has been removed. The remaining bunkers have been strategically relocated, providing a more visually appealing and challenging experience.

The all-new short par-3 16th hole — labeled "devilish" by Green — is 130 yards or less for most players. But it plays slightly uphill between two post oaks, with a green featuring different levels and contours, offering a challenge for those who aim at the flag.

The work at Vaquero represents a significant milestone for this prestigious golf course, promising a fresh experience for its active and engaged membership. The course’s transformation emphasizes diversity, fun, and challenge, ensuring that every visit is a memorable adventure.

Vaquero is currently ranked in the top 20 courses in Texas by Golf Digest. The club occupies 525 acres of what was once the Hunt brothers’ Circle T Ranch in Westlake, one of the most sought-after communities for residents, businesses, and visitors in Texas. A 42,000-square-foot clubhouse was renovated and expanded in 2018.


Architects Todd Quitno of Quitno Golf Designs and Nathan Crace of Watermark Golf are collaborating to create a masterplan for the renovation of Illinois’ Merit Club. Located in the northern Chicago suburb of Libertyville, the 31-year-old course played host to the 2000 U.S. Women’s Open, won by Karrie Webb.

"It’s a great layout. Original architect Bob Lohmann did an especially great job with the routing," said Quitno, speaking of his longtime former mentor and colleague. "Like so many other courses that are now 20 to 30 years old, we’re seeing clients wanting to investigate options to renovate bunkers, add tees and evaluate green surfaces."

Crace echoed Quitno’s sentiments: "Merit Club has great bones and a wonderful routing on a tremendous piece of land. We want to maximize the potential that already exists. What Todd and I have discussed with the club is more akin to a facelift than full reconstructive surgery.”

The masterplanning work is expected to focus on bunkers, tees, greens and how those features can be improved for today’s golfers. They will also develop a tree management strategy, investigate irrigation needs and upgrades, examine options to expand green surrounds and re-align some hole angles that have changed as a result of advances in club and ball technology.

"We look forward to Todd and Nathan getting started," said PGA director of golf Don Pieper, who has been at Merit Club since opening day. “We met with them twice and were impressed with their professionalism and understanding of what we’re looking to do. They have some great ideas and an eye for detail that really impressed me.”

No timeline has been established yet for any actual construction work to be done on the course.

"We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves," Quitno said. "To the club’s credit, they’ve asked us to take the necessary time and do our due diligence in ensuring that the best interests of the club and its members remain the top priority."

Big Cedar Lodge, the powerhouse resort in the Ozarks of southwestern Missouri, is currently building its sixth golf course, Cliffhangers.

Designed by the team of John Paul Morris and his father Johnny Morris, domo of Bass Pro Shops and the Big Cedar Lodge, the 18-hole par-3 layout occupies a 50-acre cliffside site and is expected to deliver up to 400 feet of elevation change.

The course will join the nine-hole, Jack Nicklaus-designed Top of the Rock and the 13-hole, Gary Player-designed Mountain Top in Big Cedar’s short course stable. The resort’s championship courses include the Buffalo Ridge (Tom Fazio), Ozarks National (Coore & Crenshaw) and Payne’s Valley (Tiger Woods) championship layouts. Due to the dramatic elevation changes, Cliffhangers is likely to offer shorter holes and will most certainly conclude beneath the Mountain Top clubhouse and alongside the memorable finishing holes at Payne’s Valley. Expect a late 2024 or early 2025 opening for Big Cedar Lodge’s Cliffhangers.