Home » Architecture

Garl: Thoughtful renovation can give an old course new life

By Ron Garl, Special Contributer

Based in Lakeland, Fla., Ron Garl has won national and international awards, from Golf Digest, the Audubon Society, Golf Magazine, Links Magazine and Southern Living, among others. He was named "Golf Designer of the Year" by International Network of Golf in 1996."

Renovation has been a part of golf-course architecture since the second course was built. Then, the owners of the first course decided they'd better upgrade their facility to keep up with the competition.

Seriously, renovation has been an integral part of golf-course design forever and never has it been more of a focal point as it is today.

Let's face it, the earth isn't getting any larger and it never will. However, because of golf-club technology and changes in the economic and social climes, there will be increasing demands for newer, bigger and better golf facilities. In many cases, renovation is the only option rather than building a totally new facility.

One of our biggest challenges in recent years was the renovation of Bradenton Country Club, a wonderful old golf course in Bradenton on Florida's west coast. The course still possessed a lot of its original charm, but it was a course designed for golf the way it was played in a bygone era.

Its challenges, although brilliant, were placed in areas where the golf balls of today stage flyovers. We set forth to come up with a plan that would maintain the integrity of the original design while fast-forwarding the course into the 21st century.

Membership had declined over the last decade and the average age of the remaining club members had risen greatly. This combination all too often hurts a club's membership. What was needed was to inject some new life into the club while maintaining respect for the wishes of the longtime members.

Our first step was to modernize the design. To do this, we had to add some strategy that would test the latest in equipment technology. This meant that we had to move some bunkers, particularly fairway bunkers. There were crossing bunkers that were no longer relevant. We moved them and reinstated the original strategic design.

We also added some options by moving some tees and bunkers. We felt that the new options would be appealing to the younger, stronger golfer and thus might tempt them to join as new members.

There were other key changes that we made to the course. Through the years, and this happens at just about every course, the turf becomes stressed in areas that are overused. You can have the greatest designed golf hole in the world, but if you can't find a way to alter the landing area from time to time, you're going to have a bad hole that is impossible to properly maintain.

By slightly adjusting the tee location, but without changing the fairways, we were able to not only add new landing zones, but we were able to do it subtly, so that even the veteran members of the club had to really look for the changes we made.

We also made some specific changes to the aesthetics of the golf course. We've found in the past that these changes don't have to be earth shattering to be effective, but what these changes do is breathe new life into the club. The course is still like an old friend, but the changes have invigorated it and made the course a new challenge on familiar ground. This satisfies the veteran members as well as attracts new ones.

Another key part of renovation is upgrading the overall landscape. If you remodeled your home, you'd certainly want new furniture that reflects the new architecture, wouldn't you? The same holds true for a golf course. If you renovate the course, chances are the existing landscape doesn't set off the aesthetics of the new design in the most advantageous fashion. Proper landscaping is an important part of golf course renovation.

A course membership committee or developer who is looking to renovate his facility should have their game plan firmly in place from the beginning. There should be a definite goal set and it should be efficiently and accurately communicated to the golf course designer.

The right course designer for your renovation project has to have the same goals and share the same enthusiasm for the project. A golf course designer has to be really committed to a renovation to make it work. It's not like designing a course from scratch where the earth is a bare canvas and it's created in concert with the developer to bring a totally new golf course on line. Renovation is taking an established, proven golf facility and improving it.

There are always going to be nuances of the original course that the developer or membership really like and want to keep. These have to be effectively communicated to the designer before the first shovel of dirt is turned. Only then can he produce the changes that will be both challenging and aesthetically pleasing.

We were able to preserve the unique challenges that were presented while updating the level of play in a manner that can be efficiently maintained at a reasonable cost. This is another key element in renovation. Not only has the equipment with which the game is played been so greatly advanced, the technology added to the equipment that maintains the golf course has improved as well. The golf course designer has to be cognizant of all these changes and how they affect the renovation.

In order to have a successful renovation team, not only does everyone have to be on the same page as far as the goals for the project, there has to be a synergy throughout the team. There has to be a true love for the game of golf shared by everyone.

Every golf course - good or bad - is a part of the history of the game and together, you are changing that history, rewriting it from that point forward. It(s a tremendous responsibility and not one to be taken lightly.

The course we have been writing about, Bradenton Country Club, was an original Donald Ross design and our renovation was a tremendous success. Membership has risen more than 75 percent.

Ron GarlRon Garl, Special Contributer

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
Howey in the Hills Golf Packages
Dates: January 16, 2018 - January 11, 2019
El Campeón is included in the Florida Historic Golf Trail, a group of 62 public, semi-private, military and resort golf courses spread across 31 counties and built between 1910 and the late 1930s. Join us as we celebrate El Campeón and the "Golden Age" of golf course architecture with this special package!
Price range: $267