Design Notes

Kris Spence is restoring Donald Ross' Asheville Muni

King-Collins set for an August debut of Texas’ Red Feather; Agustin Piza master plans Mexico’s Zitara

Asheville Municipal
Donald Ross designed Asheville Municipal Golf Course, which opened in 1927 and is one of four courses he designed in that North Carolina area.

The Asheville Municipal Golf Course, a 1927 Donald Ross design listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is in the midst of a $3.5 million capital improvement project, funded by the City of Asheville (North Carolina) user fees and grants.

The first phase of the project started in October 2022 and will run through the winter of 2023-24. A major component of the project concerns stormwater and irrigation management and repairing infrastructure that has deteriorated over a century.

Tees, greens and bunkers are also being improved, and the pro shop has been renovated. Architect Kris Spence, a specialist in restoring and uplifting Ross courses, was retained through the Donald Ross Society to provide a master plan for the course.

"This project has been a long time coming and was very much needed," said Pat Warren, course general manager and head golf professional. "We’ve gotten so many favorable comments from regulars who cannot believe the transformation. There’s a lot of excitement over what’s happening now and what’s to come.

"The drainage and irrigation is old, to say the least. The layout is still pretty close to Ross’ original vision. The biggest piece beyond the water management is getting the tee boxes back in good shape, leveling them in places, resodding in places. We’re addressing fairways where they’re thin."

Ross built four courses in Asheville in the 1920s — Biltmore Forest Country Club (1922), Asheville Country Club (1926), Asheville Municipal (1927) and Beaver Lake Golf Club (1928). The Muni, in Ross’ mind, was a key element in developing a wave of city-owned and operated golf courses and followed, by one year, the opening of Wilmington Municipal on the opposite side of the state.

"The development of municipal golf courses is the outstanding feature of the game in America today," said Ross nearly a century ago. "It is the greatest step ever taken to make it the game of the people, as it should be. The municipal courses are all money makers, and big money makers. I am naturally conservative, yet I am certain that in a few years we will see golf played much more generally than is even played now."

That element of the Asheville Muni experience, which will celebrate its centennial in 2027, has played out over the decades. It was the first course in North America to racially integrate. The Skyview Open was conceived in 1960 as an all-African American event and had 50 competitors. Two caucasian golfers participated the following year, and it has been played each July since.

The Skyview has helped launch 29 Black golfers onto the pro golf tours, among them Lee Elder, Jim Dent, Chuck Thorpe and Harold Varner III. World Boxing Champion Joe Louis played in the tournament, as did John Brooks Dendy, who won three National Negro Open championships in the 1930s and was a regular caddie at the Muni, Asheville Country Club and Biltmore Forest Country Club.

Among the catalysts for the Asheville Muni renovation has been the course falling under a new administrative structure in the City of Asheville and taking on a new management company in the fall of 2022. The Asheville City Council voted to approve Commonwealth Golf Partners II as the new operator of the facility. Commonwealth Golf Partners is led by Peter Dejak and Michael Bennett. They have an extensive background in building, renovating and operating golf courses and country clubs in the Mid-Atlantic region.

“Every time I go to the golf course, I meet new people who say, ‘I can’t believe this is happening here,'" said Chris Corl, director of Asheville's Community and Regional Entertainment Facilities division. "The tried-and-true regulars are ecstatic. The next step is to get the out-of-market visitor to play during tourist season, then get good reviews and grow that business. That will allow us to reinvest — getting visitors to play the course, enjoying it, and coming back."

Fundraising is ongoing, and the Friends of Asheville Muni was launched as a 501(c)(3) organization to help generate money to assist the restoration well into the future.

"It’s been glorious to watch," said Phil Blake, who grew up in a house on the tenth fairway and has played the course for more than fifty years. "I never in my lifetime have seen this much money thrown at this golf course. There’s a new spirit around here, for sure."

Among the highlights of the work completed:
— Thinning out underbrush and cutting trees to provide air flow, sunlight and turf health
— Cart path repairs
— Sodding tees and fairways where needed
— Extensive tree-clearing and new green and bunkers on the 16th hole
— New signage and pin flags
— Golf shop overhaul with new carpet, paint, fixtures and significant upgrade to the retail product offering
— A new weather station to measure green surface moisture
— Restoration of 10 bunkers
— Mounding and broomsedge grass installation on holes one and six to mirror Ross’s original design

"We have a good set of Ross’s individual hole drawings and a good general plan of the 18 holes," Spence said. "The routing is intact. The evidence on the ground is that the golf course was built according to the plan. In pulling a master plan together, my first step was to walk the golf course and try to decide the highest priorities.

"It’s not often you get to restore an original Donald Ross that has not been altered over the years. When I first walked the site with Commonwealth, we found Ross bunkers that had been abandoned decades ago. Tees that had trees growing over them. Green edges that you could clearly see and are still defined but have been abandoned. In some ways the lack of attention over the last century to this historic golf course has made the changes that much more rewarding for the players.

"The main thing was cleaning the weeds off, encouraging the Bermuda growth, clearing out trees. In time, we’ll restore the edges to the greens, and all of the bunkers around the greens, the ones in the fairways that bring back the essence of the Ross strategy. The Muni is headed in the right direction."


King-Collins Golf Course Design is slated to open Texas’ Red Feather Golf and Social Club in August. Best known for Tennessee’s Sweetens Cove and Nebraska’s Landmand, the firm’s latest design is situated in the western portion of the Lone Star State, in Lubbock. Three years in development, the private club on 135 acres will also have a real estate component.

"I think that Lubbock is underserved with golf courses in a city that is growing as fast as ours is, so we thought there was a need, especially on the south side of town," said Brad Ralston, owner of Red Feather.

"The site for Red Feather is a playa lake," architect Rob Collins told "These features, which are dry for most of the year, are very important for the drainage of the surrounding area. It doesn’t rain often in Lubbock, but when it does, it typically rains very hard and water from miles away will drain to the site."

The design team, working with superintendent and director of agronomy Garrett Holt, moved 1.3 million cubic yards of dirt creating sufficient contouring and drainage to accommodate a 500-year flood event. "The vision was to create a rugged, west Texas landscape on a formerly featureless and flat site," Collins said. "The finished course has an 80-foot-deep canyon and a network of barrancas running throughout that give it a one-of-a-kind look and feel."

After examining several possible routings and making changes throughout the process, Collins is satisfied with the final product. "One of our biggest goals was to create a great deal of variety in terms of hole length and direction," he said. “We also worked to create a thrilling, gambling finish, which includes a drivable par four, short par three and a reachable par five. Each hole is unique and asks its own set of questions, yet they are all tied together visually and thematically. I think people will be shocked at the diversity of the shotmaking interest, the bunkering and greens that our team labored so hard to create.”

Piza Golf will design a private 18-hole championship course called Zitara in Aquascalientes, Mexico. Located practically in the geographical center of the country, the master-planned community will roll out a par 71 golf course that will play just over 7,000 yards.

"We’re exceptionally proud of the golf course and master plan at Zitara," said Agustin Piza, president and founder of Piza Golf. "It will offer its members a world-class experience of beauty with the emblematic views of Mt. Picacho, a challenge with the combinations of strategic, penal and heroic holes with undulating fairways, elevated fairway bunkers and loads of vertical expressions."

RELATED: Get To Know: Agustin Piza

The golf course spans the entire Zitara-Cuidad Residencial community, with a routing that will begin and end at the clubhouse. The front nine features three exciting par-5 holes and the back nine will offer three par 3s, including an island green on hole 17.

"I designed Zitara for the members to discover something new or different each time they play the golf course through design nuances," Piza said. "I consider this approach an ensemble as each hole interrelates to each other."

Piza has designed numerous holes with Mt. Picacho in the backdrop. Holes 3, 4, 5, 11 and 15 have direct views of the stunning mountain range. In addition, golfers will enjoy night golf as holes 12 through 18 are illuminated.