Golf course renovations in 2020

By Alistair December 24, 2020 06:55 Updated

A number of golf clubs, which were due to carry out major renovations to their courses in 2020, have done so in spite of the pandemic – in fact in some cases the lack of golf due to the lockdown helped establish the turf.

The year 2020 has been unlike any other in history, but despite the pandemic changing the golf industry forever, some major golf course renovations have been taking place.

For example, Chart Hills Golf Club in Kent closed its venue twice in 2020 – the first time in early spring for the lockdown and the second in the summer, so that major works could be carried out.

Chart Hills

They are currently running on schedule, and the club is on course for a spring 2021 reopening.

Chart Hills

Led by director of golf, Anthony Tarchetti, and course manager, Neil Lowther, the team has been working to implement a total renovation across the property. The golf course was fully closed from mid-July to allow green staff, contractors and shapers to work on the championship layout.

Chart Hills

The first steps in the process included extensive irrigation work and sand-capping of the fairways, with over 30,000 tonnes of sand deposited across the course. The seeding team then covered the sanded areas with creeping ryegrass, designed to deliver a better overall grass coverage, with the final seed going into the ground this autumn.

Chart Hills

Off-course, there is also an all-new golf entrance leading directly into the newly constructed professional shop that is equipped with an espresso machine, HD televisions and a wide selection of clothing, hardware and accessories.

Chart Hills

Moreover, all corridors in the clubhouse have been redecorated with the addition of sleek, new, colour-coordinated signage. Work has also begun on the development of the driving range and short game areas, with new green targets cut into the range.

Chart Hills

“We are making really good progress,” commented Tarchetti. “Our project is right on schedule and we will continue the hard work over the next few months to prepare the venue ahead of its relaunch in spring.

Chart Hills

“Our owners, Ramac Holdings, have made a significant investment since taking over, and it is exciting to see the project moving in the right direction.”

Chart Hills

In September, Royal Dornoch also opened its new seventh hole on the Championship Course. It was opened by no less a person than former Open champion Paul Lawrie – just days before he retired from the European Tour at the Scottish Open.

While the par four hole, known as ‘Pier’, had been in play since the end of 2019, the pandemic put paid to Royal Dornoch officially unveiling the hole until September 2020.

The new hole – which measures 485 yards from the blue tees – has been pivoted to the right so the sea is in view for its entire length. It also features a green with only the sea and sky beyond it, a replica of the previous one. The work was first proposed after a course review in 2013 and approved by the club in 2015.

Royal Dornoch 7th par 4 – new hole – Dornoch, Sutherland, Scotland.

Lawrie, who made birdie on his first playing of the hole, said: “It’s a really, really nice golf hole and they have done a great job with it.

“The old hole was further left, so it’s gone further right with better views of the sea, which is beautiful. It is similar in length, there are two nice bunkers down the left-hand side which are in play and there is a nice little false front at the start of the green. It’s brilliant. Royal Dornoch is one of the best courses in the country – it always has been and always will be. I always love playing golf here right back to playing assistants’ golf. It’s just great to spend time here.”

Golf architect, Tom Mackenzie, added: “The view from the seventh tee is one of the most famous in the world of golf. Is there a first-time visitor to Dornoch who has not taken that photo down over the course?

“It seemed frustrating that once down off the tee, the sea disappeared until the green on the highest part of the course. There was plenty of room to the right so, logically, it made sense to rotate the hole that way, so the entire hole enjoyed the same glorious view with a new sea vista behind the green. It adds wonderfully to the Dornoch experience.”

Paul Lawrie

The former seventh green was added to the course after World War II in 1946 when the course was extended by George Duncan, another ex-Open champion. Local legend has it that the club is simply returning the hole to the style that Duncan first envisaged

General manager Neil Hampton added: “The local stories are such that George Duncan actually pegged out the seventh hole right along the top of the hill, but during the night some unscrupulous local moved the pegs inland! The hole was then built along the peg line!

“We think we are really putting it back to where George originally designed the hole, namely offering a classic links hole across the top of the hill and offering stunning views that we previously only enjoyed from the seventh tee. You now get those panoramas from every single pace that you walk along the seventh fairway.”

Mackenzie describes the green and its approach as “rich in options for playing running shots” and while the hole looks intimidating, “the playing corridor is the same width as the original one.” He added: “Bizarrely, the project has benefited from the Covid-19 situation because the seeded grass has had a period of lockdown rest and, although back in play now, levels of play have been reduced, allowing the turf to establish fully.”

As Royal Dornoch strive to improve their product, future work will see new raised tees built at the eighth hole on the location of the previous seventh green – again bringing more sea views into play and enhancing the original strategy of the hole.

Course renovations have been taking place in Europe as well. Excitement is building after the Verdura Resort in Italy revealed that it is set to reopen its second 18-hole championship course next summer following a major renovation programme.

Golf architect Kyle Phillips returned to Sicily in 2019 to start work on improving his original design after a freak flood damaged a number of the championship layout’s holes along the coastline at the end of 2018.

Verdura Resort

Having completed all the design and construction work just before the pandemic started, reseeding of the fairways, greens, tees and rough began at Verdura, as at Chart Hills, in the summer of 2020.

The resort – home of the European Tour’s Rocco Forte Sicilian Open – will give the course plenty of time to grow in over the coming months but, providing everything goes according to schedule, it aims to reopen its second layout in the summer of 2021.

Phillips, famous for layouts such as Kingsbarns Golf Links in Scotland, said: “In early 2019, plans were assembled to conform to the new landscape and shoreline configuration.

“The intertwined nature of the layout of the resort’s 36 holes required that the layout of the course remained intact, but there were significant adjustments to the specific design of each hole.

“Players returning to Verdura will be most likely to notice the changes that have occurred along the coastline and how we have incorporated them. All of which will add to the drama, and pleasure, of the course. They will also appreciate playing what is, effectively, a new course, with new surfaces on the greens, freshened bunkers and new turf in the fairways and roughs.”

Sir Rocco Forte in action during the ProAm ahead of the Rocco Forte Sicilian Open played at Verdura Resort, Agrigento, Sicily, Italy 09/05/2018.
© Golffile | Phil Inglis

Sir Rocco Forte, founder and chairman of Rocco Forte Hotels, said: “I am tremendously excited by the new course and layout, which will enhance both the playing experience and magnificent views over the spectacular Sicilian coastline.”

Nestled in 230 hectares of stunning Mediterranean landscape on Sicily’s southern coast, Verdura’s current golf facilities include an outstanding 18-hole championship course and a par-three nine-hole executive course also designed by Phillips, a double-ended driving range and first-class academy.


By Alistair December 24, 2020 06:55 Updated

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