Design Notes

Fry/Straka reinvigorates L.A.’s Valencia Country Club

Costa Rica’s Peninsula Papagayo gets the Arnold Palmer treatment; Brian Curley begins a 36-hole project in Cambodia

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Valencia Country Club, Valencia, California.

Valencia Country Club, located north of Los Angeles in the Santa Clarita Valley, has reopened following an extensive seven-month renovation. The course, which opened in 1965, was originally designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and the recent renovation restores the layout’s classic design features. The L.A. Open (now the Genesis Open) was held at Valencia in 1998, when Billy Mayfair edged Tiger Woods in a playoff.

Fry/Straka Global Golf Course Design worked closely with Arcis Golf’s construction and agronomy teams to restore Jones’ original intent and historic significance, reduce water use, and enhance the strategic options that were the centerpiece of Jones’ vision. Tees and many bunkers were renovated to improve conditioning and make the course more playable for a wider range of golfers. All turf, except on the greens, was replaced, reducing irrigation needs by 30 percent.

“These significant architectural changes to this revered course layout reflect our commitment to Valencia Country Club and its members,” said Blake S. Walker, founder and CEO of Arcis Golf, which owns and operates the private membership club.

All teeing grounds were renovated, leveled and reshaped as rectangles, creating a more classical design/play feel. Tees on all par 3s were enlarged to distribute wear and eliminate the need for fall overseeding. New forward tees were added on all holes to accommodate beginners and high handicappers, while the back tees were extended to accommodate and challenge all skill levels. The new tee boxes also allow for the creation of hybrid set-ups and more options.

All sand bunkers were evaluated for their design and placement. Some bunkers were eliminated, others were repositioned, while others were added. The placement of new bunkers created new and different angles for tee shots and approaches into the greens. All bunkers were rebuilt, and new sand added.

Prior to embarking on the project, the agronomy team conducted a bunker study tour throughout California to view bunker styles and design approaches from different decades, visiting such storied clubs as San Francisco Golf Club, Lake Merced, Cal Club, Bel-Air, and Riviera to find inspiration and gain new ideas.

“I firmly believe that the more you see and experience, the more ideas you gain,” Jason Straka said. “In the case of Valencia Country Club and how this project turned out, these site visits undoubtedly made an impact. When golfers see the renovated course, they are going to be wowed.”


Arnold Palmer Design Company has returned to Costa Rica for a renovation of Peninsula Papagayo, the nation’s top-ranked golf course that Palmer originally created in 2004. Palmer’s Thad Layton has worked with contractor Steve Watkins to complete the back nine of an eventual 18-hole refurbishment at The Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo Resort, located in the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica.

Among the completed work were a bunker renovation, tee box expansions, recapturing portions of fairways and greens and the trimming back of tropical vegetation to regain fairway width and ocean views. Ten acres of maintained rough was swapped out for drought tolerant native grasses and a new Rain Bird IC irrigation system was installed to promote effective water use.

"We started with a very solid foundation," Layton said. "The existing course unfolds on one of the most beautiful natural landscapes you could hope for. In many cases, our task was only to peel back the layers of jungle that had obscured views and throttled down playing corridors.”

One such example occurred at the 421-yard, par-4 10th, where treetops and vegetation in a ravine were cut back, enabling golfers to obtain a view of the putting surface from the left half of the fairway. Further clearing has also provided long-lost views of the Santa Rosa National Park archipelago and the Pacific Ocean.

All nine back nine holes have witnessed bunker changes, from adding new ones to relocating and removing others. A prominent example occurred at the uphill, 581-yard, par-5 12th, which now sports an S-shaped fairway, thanks to the expansion and re-clustering of bunkers. Perhaps the most dramatic change took place at the 519-yard, par-5 18th.

“Cresting the ridge in the middle of the 18th fairway, you’ll clap eyes on the biggest improvement,” Layton said. "A completely reimagined green with a mammoth bunker encircling the lake and a larger, more receptive green with a prominent ridge feature that divides the green in two distinct sections.”

Layton, Watkins and the Palmer Design Company team are expected to begin renovation of the front nine and practice area in spring 2023.

Schmidt-Curley Design, long one of Asia’s most prolific architectural firms, has commenced work on two 18-hole courses at a yet unnamed club in Phnom Penh City, Cambodia. Led by Brian Curley, in conjunction with an in-house team and Martin Moore’s Flagstick Golf Course Construction, the complex will consist of an East course and a West course. The East will be parkland-style, while the West will incorporate a more rugged, lay-of-the-land design featuring vast sand sprawls that will house islands of native grasses. Copses of date trees will be another prominent West course feature.

Real estate development will be limited to the property’s perimeter.

“Our clients have decided to place the golf experience first and foremost to create the best courses in the country,” Curley said. “There is also a strong desire to create two distinctly different layouts, so every effort has been made to optimize this wish. A massive amount of earthmoving was undertaken to create large bodies of water for irrigation use, and the excavated dirt was used to lift grades above flood levels. The design and grading efforts were also used to create vast, sweeping open views across the lakes, establishing a distinct character that will be drastically different from other courses in the marketplace.”

Curley has long been a proponent of embracing intricate shaping for drainage purposes and eschewing unnatural looking landforms.

“There is plenty of cross slope on many fairways and a strong reliance on surface drainage, not catch basins,” he said. “Much of the dirt was placed under the golf holes as opposed to creating mounds to framing each hole, as so many courses do. There was an emphasis on creating landforms, not mounding, so the courses feel as if they were laid out upon a naturally golf-friendly terrain.”

Excavating dirt to create lakes allowed the team to raise the courses up from a floodplain. “While the lakes are a dominant feature of the landscape, there was a strong effort in the design to bring the water features into play, but always with more than adequate width. The concept was to create wide views over water but without a relentless attack of demanding shots with water in play.”

Curley’s greens will feature pronounced undulations, both on the interior as well as on the edges. Kick-slopes, backstops and contoured drop-offs will also be prominent. A 19th hole, featuring an island green will sit between the closing holes on the East and West courses. The green will reside close to the clubhouse, making for a drama-filled extra hole no matter which course you play.

“I am very pleased with the design we have established and the innovative elements we have incorporated,” said Curley. “I believe the courses will soon become the most favored in the region.”

Grassing has begun on the East course with Zeon Zoysia short grass areas and Bahia roughs. Both courses are scheduled to open in 2024.