Renovations A-Z: Your Course Needs a Makeover. Here’s How to get Started
In the past two decades, dozens of prestigious private clubs and top public venues in Southern California have subjected their golf courses to a nip and tuck, wholesale surgery or something in between. Most prominent was The Los Angeles Country Club, which put its wonderfully restored North course on display in June as host to the U.S. Open. Two months later, fabled Bel-Air basked in universal praise at the U.S. Women’s Amateur following its own restoration. Often, however, renovation isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity. Infrastructure ages. Tastes change. Decisions must be made, sometimes controversially so. If your golf course is a candidate for a refresh — and it’s not really a matter of if, but when — here’s what to consider.
RENOVATION VS. RESTORATION
When remodeling a golf course, it’s never one size fits all. One club may opt for a restoration, another a redesign, another for a hybrid of the two. Gil Hanse, who brilliantly reworked LACC North together with design partner Jim Wagner and consultant Geoff Shackelford, illuminates the options.
“Restoration is when the principles, style and objectives of the original architect are the overriding factors for decision-making on the project,” said Hanse, who also enhanced LACC’s South course, Soule Park GC, in 2005 and is completing jobs at Omni La Costa’s Champions course and at L.A.’s city-owned Maggie Hathaway GC. “There’s also sympathetic restoration, when those same elements are put into place as the overriding factors, but then you’re accommodating the modern game and technology in placing and designing the features.
“Renovation is when you allow your own thoughts to creep into the equation, either because there’s no significant architectural pedigree, or no desire to restore what was there, or perhaps there’s something that just doesn’t work based on the modern game.
“Redesign is when there’s little of inherent value that we can identify.”
Understandably, not everyone is going to agree as to what to prioritize in a renovation and how to proceed. David V. Smith, founder and president of Agoura Hills-based Golf Projects International (GPI), believes it all begins with determining the scope of work.
“Typically, the process starts with the superintendent going to the club general manager with an irrigation system that’s failing and asking how to move forward,” says Smith, whose company has served as project manager or “owner’s rep” and club consultant on more than 100 private club projects in 27 countries since 1990, including recent renovations at Hillcrest CC and Rancho Santa Fe GC and original builds at Sherwood CC and at Ladera GC near Palm Springs. Wilshire CC is also a client.
“Then the issue goes to the greens committee or board, which can be a problem, because this is a world (fixing a golf course) that they’re not familiar with and is further complicated because of different agendas. You start by identifying the scope of work — what needs to be done, what else would you like to see done and how do you budget for it?”
Smith recommends starting by establishing a task force — a group of board-appointed members — who have the best interests of the club in mind. Clubs utilize a company such as GPI to help facilitate discussions on everything from choosing an architect that fits the project and the club culture, to deciding on grasses, landscaping and other aesthetic considerations, to assisting with permitting and engineering and for targeting what it will cost and how to pay for it.
According to Smith, it takes roughly 18 months from the start point to go to the membership with data, costs and a real project. From there, it’s about one year to break ground and another year to completion.
Remarkable SoCal Renovations You Can Play
PGA WEST (Stadium)—Tim Liddy, a longtime protégé of Pete Dye, restored his mentor’s desert masterpiece over the past 12 months. Liddy kept the design features intact, but enlarged the greens to their original sizes and shapes and refined the edging on the bunkers.
Torrey Pines GC (North)—Long overshadowed by its U.S. Open-hosting South course sibling, the North was elevated after Tom Weiskopf’s 2016 makeover. Weiskopf added 300 yards, created larger, flatter putting surfaces and substituted short-cut green surrounds for shaggy rough. He also flipped the nines, so the ocean holes appear later in the round. New irrigation, revamped bunkers and two new closing holes now make the North a must-play as well.
Rancho Santa Fe GC—The original home of the Bing Crosby Pebble Beach Pro-Am (1937-1942), this 94-year old Max Behr-designed layout features superior turf and restored bunkers, following a 2021-’22 project by David McLay Kidd. A wonderful walk atop gently rolling canyon terrain, this exclusive club has limited tee times available for guests of the nearby Inn at Rancho Santa Fe.
WILSHIRE AT WORK
Currently, 104-year-old Wilshire CC is midway through the process. The venerable home to four PGA Tour Los Angeles Opens and most recently to an LPGA Tour stop since 2018 Wilshire is looking to restore its classic Golden Age design features — notably the barranca that acts as a handsome, strategic hazard — but also to utilize 21st century technology in its infrastructure, primarily to solve flooding issues.
“Ultimately, Wilshire was looking to update everything ‘under the hood,’ while taking special steps to protect our Norman Macbeth design,” says Brad Hughes, president of Wilshire CC. “With the guidance of Golf Projects International, the board of directors selected a core group of diverse members to establish a task force: low and high handicap, men, women, old, young and those with differing views on our course. That group had a series of discussions over several months and they unanimously concluded that we wanted to complete a restoration, as opposed to a renovation.”
Hughes notes that GPI summoned golf course architects, agronomists, engineers and landscape architects to educate the task force. “No one in our membership had experience in building a golf course, much less restoring a course with 104 years of history, so it was important for our task force to rely on experts.”
Kyle Phillips, who has tweaked Wilshire in the past, has signed on to do the full restoration, pending membership approval. His award-winning transformations at nearby Hillcrest CC in 2019 and the California GC of San Francisco in 2007 have placed him among the top makeover specialists in the industry. Wilshire’s members vote on the plan in late October this year. If it passes, look for work to start in September 2024 and to be completed by September 2025.
9 Great Private L.A. “Resto-vations” (since 2010)
The Los Angeles CC (North) —Gil Hanse, Jim Wagner, Geoff Shackelford (2010)
Bel-Air CC—Tom Doak/Renaissance Golf (2018)
Lakeside GC—Todd Eckenrode/Origins Golf Design (2018)
Hillcrest CC—Kyle Phillips with Mark Thawley (2019)
San Gabriel CC—Todd Eckenrode/Origins Golf Design (2015)
El Caballero CC— Rees Jones with Steve Weisser (2021)
Brentwood CC—Todd Eckenrode/Origins Golf Design (2014)
Red Hill CC—Casey O’Callaghan (2021)
Virginia CC—Todd Eckenrode/Origins Golf Design (2015)