PGA of America's new home outside of Dallas features just about everything, but it's the 36 holes of golf that will open later this spring that is garnering major attention
ORLANDO — The golfing public will see a lot of the Omni PGA Frisco resort over the next dozen years, even if they don’t venture to the great state of Texas to enjoy the latest and greatest golf destination first hand.
That’s because the new home of the PGA of America outside of Dallas will be hosting six major championships in the next 12 years on the 7,863-yard Gil Hanse-designed Fields Ranch East course. As usual, most of the golfing world will be glued to their TVs and gazing at not only the drama of a major but the spectacular 660-acre “campus” that will open May 2.
Fields Ranch West, designed by South Carolina-based Beau Welling, rounds out the 36 holes of golf set among the North Texas rolling hills.
Golf will only be a portion of the appeal to the $520 million resort that was featured at the recent PGA Show.
The PGA Frisco project is the largest Omni property in the United States and one of the grandest in the world. Themed along the lines of a modern Texas ranch, there is a 510-room luxury hotel for starters, 13 restaurants (five of which are signature venues), 127,000 square feet of indoor-outdoor meeting space, a Topgolf presence, four pools, a spa and on and on.
"At a high level this is first and foremost a destination resort that is designed to absolutely compete with not only the top 10 in our country but worldwide," says Jeff Smith, vice president and managing director of Omni PGA Frisco. "Those expectations set a pretty high bar. But that is where we will begin."
The sprawling resort 30 minutes from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport opens in nearly three months, meaning Smith, with four decades in the hospitality industry, has to hire 900 employees to execute the high-end vision.
"You can have a beautiful atmosphere but without the right training or experience it really won’t matter," Smith says. "The service is where the magic is going to happen."
Hanse, one of the current stars in the golf architecture business, and Welling had never met prior to this project, but the two became friends as the challenging project unfolded.
"I was fortunate enough to be in Beau’s office when the two met and you could just see and feel the energy behind it," says Paul Earnest, director of golf and operations at the Fields Ranch courses. "It just became a series of dreams that were being answered and ended up in a place that far exceeded those dreams and collectively is just a magical place. It really has something for everyone."
Hanse and his partner Jim Wagner, who designed The Olympic Course in Brazil in 2016, were first struck by the area’s topography.
"That and Panther Creek," Hanse says. "To have an opportunity to have a creek that runs through the golf course property and utilize that in any number of ways, from a standpoint of strategy and beauty, was just great."
But Hanse also had to deal with a few water issues to get his latest gem accomplished.
"We had to elevate numerous holes above the 100-year flood plain because it is going to rain in May in Texas and we needed to make sure the playable parts of the golf course would be high-and-dry," Hanse says. "We did more engineering on this job than any job than we’ve ever worked on."
For Welling, his 7,319-yard Fields Ranch West layout also underwent a series of twists and turns.
"You go through all this process to get a golf course down on paper and there are changes you make as you go, but you generally don’t change the routing once you start," he says. "I think we changed the West Course routing four times during construction. At the end of the day we made great enhancements."
Both courses will play to wide corridors off the tee, with the Hanse layout having the ability to narrow its fairways and tuck pins to make the world’s best players uncomfortable down the stretch of a major championship.
“Jim and I always talk about the concept of the skill set required to just go play golf should be fairly low, but the skill set required to score on the golf course should be high. As a result we have pin locations we can tuck and have interesting strategies with various bounces and rolls within the golf course,” Hanse says. “So from a set-up standpoint, they can set up the golf course as easy as they want or difficult. The other thing we had in the back of our minds was there’s going to be a certain level of difficulty expectation with this course. If you are going to host a major championship I don’t think most people are going walk up and say ‘I can just hit it anywhere I want, find my ball and go play.”’
“We like to feel like the two courses are related, maybe cousins rather than siblings, but both complement each other, and when people come from around the country and world they’re going to enjoy both golf courses,” Welling adds.
While the two 18-hole designs are individual to each architect, the two collaborated in the field to design the resort’s 10-hole short course called The Swing. It is also lighted for night play.
“A short course should be all about fun, and from a design standpoint that’s liberating,” Hanse says. “We’re always talking about shot values and what you’re hitting here and how does this hole work, but on this it doesn’t matter. It was just about creating fun golf holes.”
Hanse also did most of the shaping on the massive 2-acre, 36-hole putting layout called The Dance Floor.
“It’s the biggest I’ve ever done. It took forever,” Hanse says. “I kept looking up saying ‘Do I have more to go?’ It’s certainly Texas size.”
Welling gets major kudos for his master planning of the entire campus.
“The more involved I get into master planning, and I’ve been doing it for 27 years, the more I realize that golf is more than greens, tees and bunkers to me,” Welling says. “It promotes friendship, it promotes community — it’s a really, really special game we have.
“So as it relates to PGA Frisco getting all the elements in the right place was very important. Yes we have 36 holes of golf but we have so many more things. To get all that positioned and to be able to host major championships, which have their own set of functional requirements in terms of people, media and play, the site was tight. It wasn’t like we showed up Day One and said ‘Oh it should all be like this.’ It took us years to get to where we felt everything was organized the right way. That’s one of the reasons we’re so excited to be opening in a few months because it’s not just people playing golf but it’s the experience that is being created."