National Golf Club in Southern Pines, North Carolina, has begun a major renovation project that involves returning the course's greens to their original sizes, while softening some of the slopes on the heavily-contoured surfaces.
Designed by Jack Nicklaus’s firm, the course opened in 1989. Nicklaus senior design associate Chris Cochrane, the original project manager, has been brought back to monitor the renovation, which is being carried out by Carthage-based contractor Newcourse Golf along with course superintendent Dave Bowbliss. Nicklaus has also provided shaper Jeremy Miller.
General manager Ken Crow acknowledged some of the green contours have been an issue when combined with faster speeds of modern-day greens. The course opened with average green speeds of 8.5 on the Stimpmeter, he said, while today the average is between 10 and 11.
“We're keeping the heart and soul of our green complexes, which is what the course is known for, and using this process to update how they look and play,” said Crow. “There is still going to be some grade, but it probably won't be as steep and run away from you as much. The character will remain.”
From an agronomic standpoint, the greens were holding water, thus affecting the quality of the putting surfaces. Bowbliss has worked on the substructure of the greens, coring out aging soil and organic matter and rebuilding the substructure with better drainage. “We're going to each green and digging out potential future problems,” he said. “And the A1/A4 bent grass provides better uniformity and a tighter growth habit. This should result in a much better putting surface.”
Cochran said both he and Jack Nicklaus are fond of the greens at National. They played it a few years ago when in Pinehurst for a meeting and agreed that only a few tweaks were needed. “We've made adjustments to make sure the greens will behave properly, and still stay within the strategy and the thoughts Jack had here in 1987 and 1988,” said Cochran. “There's going to be so much more variety – you’re going to be able to put pins closer to features on the greens, closer to bunkers and closer to elevation changes. The membership may say ‘Some of these greens look a lot softer’ and I'm going to argue they are still going to be every bit as challenging because you have so many more pin areas. It's going to be a lot more fun.”
Club owner Kenneth Robinette said he was amazed at how much bigger the greens will be once restored to their original parameters. “It really surprised me when I went out and saw where the original greens were and how much the bermuda had encroached, and affected playability,” he said.