Golf course development – both brand-new layouts and consequential renovations and restorations – has reached levels scarcely seen since the mid-2000s. The game is booming in popularity, with entrenched golfers playing more rounds and a slew of newbies jumping in with both feet and 14 clubs.
Yes, there are a lot of high-end private and resort golf improvements happening, but public golf’s “Munaissance” – a renaissance of municipal golf courses that I’ve tracked for the last several years – continues apace, as well.
From a $50-million super-muni project in Florida to an anticipated Alister MacKenzie revival in California and several other exciting projects in between, major golf institutions and local towns and cities alike are realizing just how important it is to devote resources to golf’s most beloved public spaces.
Here is the latest on the resurgence of golf’s country-clubs-for-all.
State of the Munaissance, 2023: Municipal golf courses receiving much-needed attention
Washington, D.C. – National Links Trust’s big plans get underway
Four years ago, the National Links Trust took on management of the National Parks Service’s three D.C.-area courses with an eye toward rehabilitating each one in the coming years. The organization is in it for the long haul, first focusing on stabilizing its existing golf assets, including improving the conditions at its courses and raising community awareness. The first big domino in their plans fell earlier this year, as they got the go-ahead to embark on a Gil Hanse-led renovation of Rock Creek Park, a historic William Flynn design whose next phase of life will ultimately encompass a 9-hole regulation course, a 9-hole short course, new practice areas and a new clubhouse. The latter two items on that list are expected to break ground this coming winter.
Georgia – The home of the Masters invests in ‘The Patch’ and a brand-new muni coalesces
To say the members of Augusta National Golf Club like to keep their cards close to the vest is a massive understatement. Their announcement during the week of the 2023 Masters – that the club seeks to invest in rehabbing the Augusta Municipal Golf Course – nicknamed “The Patch” by locals – was so closely-held that it was news even to The Patch’s employees, per a Golf Digest piece. Augusta chairman Fred Ridley and his club declared “a new era for public golf in our city,” adding that they will also help upgrade the First Tee facility that runs out of the course, and establish closer ties between it and Augusta Technical College’s golf course management program. Established in 1928, The Patch actually predates Augusta National by five years.
A hundred miles downstate, architect Mike Young is building a brand-new municipal golf course for the city of Vidalia to be called Warmouth Sands. Clearing and shaping are underway ahead of an anticipated 2024 course opening.
Philadelphia, Pa. – Tiger Woods gets involved at Cobbs Creek
Of all of America’s golf courses built before World War II, Cobbs Creek would be close to the top of the list of most impactful potential renovations. Thanks to years of awareness and fundraising by the Cobbs Creek Foundation, the historic course, one of America’s first true munis, is embarking on a multi-year, comprehensive revival of the facility, which includes the 18-hole championship course, a 9-holer and associated facilities. The latest piece of the puzzle to fall into place, thanks to Tiger Woods’ TGR Foundation: a 30,000-square-foot TGR Learning Lab, a STEM education facility that will host various programs for Philadelphia youth. TGR Design will also build a 9-hole short course on property.
Florida – The Munaissance continues across the Sunshine State
Florida has always been a hotbed of golf, but for years its municipal golf product has lagged behind most of the other states. That’s changed over the last decade, though. With successful projects at courses like Fort Myers Country Club, Winter Park 9 and more, the state is becoming a haven for quality inexpensive golf.
This spring saw the debut of The Park West Palm, the most ambitious municipal golf course project in the state. Built over the bones of the long-neglected West Palm Beach Golf Course, a group of benefactors, including PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh, billionaire Dirk Ziff and a host of others, raised more than $50 million to totally remake the property, bringing in Hanse to build a brand-new championship 18, a 9-hole short course, a putting course and more. With out-of-state green fees topping $200, it pays to be a West Palm Beach local; a round costs city residents as little as $60.
At the end of 2022, St. Johns County, just south of St. Augustine, unveiled a massive renovation of its St. Johns Golf Club by former Arnold Palmer Design associate Erik Larsen. Larsen blended his own concepts with interpretations of the designs of Golden Age architects C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor, while reducing the facility’s footprint from 27 to 18 holes.
The future of Florida municipal looks bright, too. On the Panhandle, about 25 miles south of Tallahassee, Wakulla County is overhauling and rechristening the former Wildwood Country Club as Wakulla Sands, which will not only serve local golfers, but will also incorporate a system of rapid infiltration basins to help replenish the aquifer over which the course sits.
Along Florida’s Gulf Coast, two Donald Ross designs are in varying stages of restoration by two of the craft’s best practitioners. In Sarasota, Richard Mandell is overhauling the Bobby Jones Golf Club to recapture the design intent of Ross’ original 18 holes on the property, built in 1925, while reducing the cramped facility’s golf complement from 45 to 27 holes, with a targeted opening date of fall 2023. A longer-term project is also set to get underway at Dunedin Golf Club, where Ross expert Kris Spence is set to lead a restoration that will commence in late 2023 or early 2024.
One architect, two new munis
Architect and former professional golfer Bill Bergin is busy, driving Albie, his mobile office, to and from several sites across the Southeast, including two new municipal golf courses he is currently building. On the east side of Memphis, Tenn., Bergin is rerouting and rebuilding The Links at Audubon, a city course that dates to the 1950s. The new par-71 course will stretch more than 7,000 yards.
In Auburn, Ala., Bergin is overhauling Indian Pines Golf Course, whose property is being altered to accommodate some federally-mandated expansion of the neighboring airport. The cities of Auburn and Opelika seized on the opportunity to bring Bergin to build a new golf course on the property. Despite losing a handful of acres, the new Indian Pines will measure more than 7,000 yards, some 700 yards longer than its previous iteration. It is expected to open before the close of 2023.
California – MacKenzie restoration dreams and more
The typical progression towards lead-architect status requires several years in a range of support jobs. Having paid his dues in recent years, Brett Hochstein secured his first headline gig in late 2022, developing master plans for two Sacramento munis: William Land Park and the Alister MacKenzie Course at Haggin Oaks Golf Complex. Hochstein, who was part of the Hanse-led team that recently revamped MacKenzie’s Lake Merced Golf Club in San Francisco, will get to work from a full set of original drawings of Haggin Oaks’ greens as he assesses how to deal with certain infrastructure changes to the property that will preclude a 100%-faithful restoration.
Just east of San Francisco, a tense saga between the City of Alameda and its golf concessionaire, Greenway Golf, has been resolved, finally enabling work to continue on the half-renovated North Course. Robert Trent Jones, II’s firm is taking over that project.
And in Southern California, in similar fashion to Augusta National, the USGA is devoting $1 million toward a redesign of Los Angeles County’s Maggie Hathaway Golf Course, a beloved 9-hole par-3 layout located near SoFi Stadium that is long overdue for some love.
Recently completed municipal golf projects
Settler’s Hill Golf Course – Batavia, Ill. This Kane County course built on a landfill in 1990 was adjusted by architect Greg Martin, who added a new driving range and four-hole junior course to the facility, among other upgrades.
Papago Golf Course – Phoenix, Ariz. The beloved city muni required adjustments to a handful of holes, particularly those around the clubhouse, to accommodate construction of new headquarters for the Arizona Golf Association.
Community Golf Course – Dayton, Ohio. In the fall of 2022, architect Chris Wilczynski completed a bunker renovation as part of a longer-term rehabilitative plan for both the Hills and Dales courses at this city property.
Anchorage Golf Course – Anchorage, Alaska Architects Forrest Richardson and Jeff Danner recently put the finishing touches on a long-term renovation of this public course, which became Alaska’s first to host a USGA Championship – the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur – in 2022.
Other municipal golf updates
KickingBird Golf Course, a muni in Edmond, Okla., is set to reopen in July after a renovation project of more than $19 million – more than $13 million of which went into building a new clubhouse.
Historic Chicago muni Canal Shores Golf Course will close in August for an anticipated $6 million renovation to enact its “2nd Century Campaign.” Architect Todd Quitno will oversee the project.
Closed since 2020, a 9-hole Donald Ross design in Allentown, Penn. called Tumblebrook Golf Course will be revived by architects Ron Prichard, Jeff Mingay and Christine Fraser, with Donald Ross Society member Vaughn Halyard assisting with the planning. After they rehab the existing nine, they plan to build 9 more holes on a 90-acre parcel adjacent to the existing course.
Architect Nathan Crace and Robert Trent Jones, II, have teamed up to build Otter Creek Golf Park, a lighted 10-hole par-3 course in Jackson, Miss., where an unsuccessful 9-hole par-36 layout once stood.