"In considering the democratic side of golf we are forced to remember that all the original links were common soil over which every man, woman or child had free access -- as free as the expanse of ice in the Dutch pictures where small boys are to be seen pottering about with putters tucked under their arms. It seems a pity that the boundaries of the popular links should ever be closed - even in the interests of gate money. People may be inconvenient in their numbers, but barriers are worse. The perfect course, will, I think, always be as free as the air."
- H.N. Wethered
After 3 months of construction and almost 4 months of growing-in, Winter Park Golf Course has finally re-opened for play. While attending the grand opening celebrations this weekend, I was amazed at the local buzz and positive feedback we received regarding the newly designed 9-hole course. Local residents, news channels, and golf enthusiasts alike came out in droves to welcome their beloved golf course back into the community. And at the end of the day, that's exactly what this was all about: returning quality golf back into the public realm.
In 2015, Keith Rhebb and myself were asked to redesign, reinvent, and reinvigorate the 100 year old dilapidated golf course. The course we toured back then was severely overgrown with trees, the turf was diseased and spotty at best, the ground no longer drained due to 12 inches of impenetrable thatch build up, and the irrigation system was reduced to nothing more than a constant leak ready to give up on life at a moment's notice. The design of the old course was awkward, lacklustre, void of any strategic charm, and just plain wrong in so many different ways. As for the site constraints, we inherited a completely flat site surrounded by roadways, housing, and a labyrinth of city infrastructure zigzagging every which way underneath the property. And if that wasn't enough, we also had a cemetery, a church, a wedding venue, and a railroad to deal with! It was truly a bizarre piece of property with a list of challenges too long to list.
SLIDESHOW: Before photos of the Golf Course
All that being said, we accepted the challenge, but under two conditions: we had to be the ones in complete control of the daily shaping/construction activities, and that the City of Winter Park had to be an active partner. This would require a great deal of trust on the City's behalf and a leap of faith. However, at the end of the day, this close working relationship proved to be the perfect recipe for success. The City focused their energies on purchase orders and providing us with the necessary equipment, materials, and labour; and we focused on golf course creation and daily construction logistics.
SLIDESHOW: Some original hole concepts
The beauty of this partnership is we didn't have to deal with any cumbersome contractors, change orders, focus groups, or committee meetings -- all which inevitably breed decision making paralysis and cause the cost of golf projects to balloon out of control. Instead, we were able to focus on design implementation, creative and quality craftsmanship, and daily site management. Our goal was to bring the project within budget and within schedule, and in order to achieve this we needed full control of both.
SLIDESHOW: Construction photos of renovation
After my visit this week for the grand reopening, I would have to say the proof is now in the pudding. Not only did we bring the project in on time, we brought it in under budget. In fact, with the money we saved the City, we were then able to build an 18 hole family putting course. This is how we hoped for the project to play out, and the big winner at the end of the day is community golf.
Using only a D3 dozer, a mini excavator, and a track skid-loader, I am very proud of what the team created and the end result. The new course is reminiscent of a Scottish links courses with tight, rolling, contoured fairways and slightly pushed up green's complexes. The wall-to-wall short cut Bermuda grass is growing-in nicely and is already starting to firm up, lending itself to interesting ground game shot-making options. Like Pinehurst #2, the putting surfaces have a slight crown to many of them and bleed off into tight lies in-and-around the greens presenting fun shot recovery options.
The bunkers, built by the talented Blake Conant, are unique to Winter Park and the style fits beautifully into the parkland setting. Strategically placed to challenge both the aggressive player and help steer golfing traffic away from "real" traffic, the bunkers function on two separate levels. Tees are none descript, many joined into the previous green and flow seamlessly into the next fairway. The state-of-the-art irrigation system designed by Don Mahaffey is so lean and mean, he was able to irrigate the entire golf course with 50% less irrigation heads as a normal course would have installed - that's value engineering at its best!
Having played multiple back-to-back rounds on the weekend, I am very excited for the public to enjoy the new Winter Park Golf Course. I think we struck a balance between making the course fun and enjoyable for beginners, yet still offering a fun challenge for accomplished players. It is exciting to see the Rollins College golf team practicing right next to a family of four enjoying a playful round of golf. I believe we created 9 unique, and distinct golf holes that offer a variety of interesting and memorable shot options. The golf course exudes charm and beauty and has become the pride of Winter Park again. Like the timeless courses that inspired us to build the new Winter Park 9, we hope the next 100 years offers endless enjoyment for golfers and inspires even more people to take up the game.
Long live Community Golf!
PS. Below is a construction video we made during the renovation and some Golf Channel segments aired during Architects Week on Morning Drive....enjoy.
VIDEO: Winter Park Construction Clips