Dave Zinkand renovates Ohio’s Sharon; Nick Faldo opens Vietnam’s Royal Long An
Four-time major champion Raymond Floyd opened southwest Florida’s Saltleaf Golf Preserve in late November 2023. Located beside the state's oldest aquatic preserve in Bonita Springs, the golf facility is a public-access course that embraces Florida's natural habitat and doesn’t have any formal bunkers — only large sandy waste areas.
In keeping with his design philosophy of remaining true to the native topography, Floyd wanted the course to feel it belonged in the environment — as if it were carved into what was already there rather than placing something on top of it.
Working again with architect Harry Bowers, this completely new course was built on the site of the former Raptor Bay golf course, which Floyd and Bowers originally designed 24 years ago. The new course is longer, going from a 6,400-yard, par-71 layout to 7,075 yards, par 72. There’s more water (22 acres of lakes) and more challenge in general. Additional golf offerings include a nine-hole, par-3 course, a 40,000-square-foot practice facility and a 12,500-square-foot clubhouse.
"I’ve always been fond of trying to lay a golf course out as part of the natural environment and let nature be its beautiful thing that it is," Floyd said at the 2022 groundbreaking. "My philosophy has always been traditional. I like not to change the land where it doesn’t look like it belongs, and so many courses through the years, there’s so much earth moved, when you go play it, it just doesn’t belong in the environment."
The experience is one of absolute tranquility. Unlike most top courses in southwest Florida, Saltleaf is surrounded by scenic landscaping and native flora — homes are rarely in sight, despite the fact that it anchors a new residential community, Saltleaf on Estero Bay.
The $25 million makeover was a key part of a project from London Bay Development Group near the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa in Bonita Springs. Atop Raptor Bay’s old back nine, London Bay is building twin 22-story condominium buildings, The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Estero Bay and Saltleaf Marina are expected to open in 2025 and 2026, respectively.
New course coming to Mayakoba! Excited for this next project. pic.twitter.com/O6qulENgbK
— Sergio Garcia (@TheSergioGarcia) January 31, 2024
OHIO'S SHARON IS REIMAGINED
The Sharon Golf Club in northeast Ohio reopened in November 2023 after a two-year renovation from architect Dave Zinkand. Originally designed as a private men’s club in 1967 by George Cobb, the much-admired layout 34 miles south of Cleveland and 17 miles west of Akron featured massive greens and reliably served as a U.S. Open qualifier course. The club engaged Zinkand to soften the sharp edges and link the course features more seamlessly to the surrounding environment.
“We reimagined the bunkering to add a rugged, natural appearance to dramatize the landscape and provide strategic options through thoughtful placement,” Zinkand told GolfCourseArchitecture.net. “The opening green was completely relocated and rebuilt, while we also enhanced contouring on the remaining greens to add interest and support for modern putting speeds. All the green surrounds were recontoured to introduce the running game to an extent rarely enjoyed on golf courses in Ohio. Also, all tees were lowered and recontoured to engage with the terrain, improve hole connections and maximize flexibility of tee placements.”
Zinkand also yanked out trees, exposed rock ridgelines, added wetlands and installed 40 acres of native fescues, shrubs and flowers, with a commitment to remove accumulated undergrowth in the years to come. He and his team also improved course flow from a design point of view.
“We also leveraged several weaknesses in the course’s routing, rather than trying to hide from them, resulting in multiple attractive convergence areas that enhance the flow of the golfing experience,” said Zinkand. “As a result, heightened strategic interest and transformative visual impacts greatly magnified the value of capital expenditures incurred by the club.”
Many courses built during the 1945-1970 period have fallen from favor among critics and course ranking pundits, with other design styles now in vogue. Yet, membership is up considerably at Sharon due to the tasteful transformation. Said Zinkand: “Our team and the excellent club staff have transformed this 1960s golf course—built in what many consider the dark ages of golf course architecture—on a sensible budget to accomplish noteworthy results seldom replicated by clubs built in this period.”
SIR NICK OPENS LATEST DESIGN IN VIETNAM
Faldo Design, under the direction of six-time major champion Nick Faldo, opened the firm’s latest creation, Royal Long An Golf & Villas, near Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The Faldo team integrated a series of lakes as a central focus of the design, not only for challenge and visual appeal, but to capture storm and rainwater for irrigation purposes.
“Finally seeing the course maturing is always a rewarding milestone,” Faldo told GolfCourseArchitecture.net. “It takes tremendous vision to deliver a golf course on a site like this. Seeing the forest through the trees is a unique ability when you have design challenges. Some sites simply have golf holes, and you just need to find them; other sites have nothing, and you have to create playable golf. I like both styles of design. They test your creativity in different ways.”
Faldo Design began the work on the 7,233-yard course ahead of the pandemic in 2020. When international travel ceased the firm progressed on the layout remotely, conveying instructions to the locals on site. A third nine is expected to join the existing 18 within the next 12 to 18 months.
“I’ve been coming to Vietnam since the mid-1990s, building golf courses and hosting Faldo Series events in different provinces, all aimed at expanding the game I love,” said Faldo. “Taking golf to new regions has been a passion of mine for decades. Royal Long An in Long An province is just a continuation of that dream.”