Playability, sustainability, pace are goals for Virginia course renovation


Playability, sustainability, pace are goals for Virginia course renovation
Sean Dudley
By Adam Lawrence

Golf architect Lester George is leading an ambitious renovation project at Independence GC in Virginia. Opened in 2001, the daily-fee golf course needed significant design upgrades, turf refurbishment and operational optimisation.

“We are redesigning of all of the bunkers, regrassing all 18 fairways and converting the greens to Champion bermuda, but this project is more than just whitening the sand in the bunkers and making the grass greener,” said the course’s new owner, Giff Breed of Richmond-based sports marketing firm Pros, Inc.

Breed reckons George’s improvements will have a positive impact on the surrounding community. Pace of play was a big issue for Independence, as was maintenance efficiency and environmental sustainability.

George says his work will repurpose the maintenance budget to make it more efficient and use funds for better turf maintenance practices, as well as producing a much more user-friendly course that will be an enjoyable experience for both low-handicap players and high-handicap ones. “We threw a lot of balls into the air for Lester to juggle, and he accomplished all of our goals,” Breed said. “The golf course has been improved in many ways.”

“One of the conundrums for course owners and managers is that they have what seem to be conflicting goals – improving play for more experienced players while also catering to beginners who are just learning the game,” said George. “They are often overwhelmed with the idea of making these alterations, along with meeting the individual needs of the course and community. The paramount goal of the renovation at Independence is to create a golf course that golfers of all skill levels will enjoy.

“When renovating a golf course, you have to find that delicate balance between paying homage to the existing look and feel of the course and creating a course that meets the needs of the players. It takes a significant amount of planning and design to take everyone’s needs into account, both from a strategy standpoint and from an aesthetic one. It is a daunting task, but it is never impossible. At Independence, we removed more than 500 trees and bushes that were cluttering the golf course and obstructing views. We really opened up the course to make it more visually appealing, and we also removed or redesigned dozens of bunkers to make the course more strategically viable for a wide variety of players.”

Superintendent Dan Taylor said: “We’ve really opened up the course. It has been a great team effort. Giff is out here every day, and Lester is onsite very often. We’re lucky to have an involved owner and a hands-on architect. It’s very helpful to have Lester here when we need him.”

Some areas are designed for a variety of uses. The bunkers on the driving range, for instance, have been filled in order for that area to be used for concerts, fireworks, soccer – and even frisbee golf. There is a new turfed lawn area off of the patio that doubles as a croquet course and will be used for weddings, social events and other outdoor activities. There will also be significant improvements to the clubhouse to offer more options for dining and entertaining. “Independence will be offering many activity options to the community on top of our new and improved, user-friendly golf course,” said Breed.

“We have quite the jigsaw puzzle for this project,” said Breed. “Lester brought it in UNDER budget. That’s just crazy. Lester is an ‘under-promise, over-deliver’ architect. Maybe it is his military background that keeps him so on course, but Lester created a schedule, and he’s sticking to it! We know what’s going to happen just about every day during the process.”

“The weather has cooperated with us, which has kept us on schedule. With only six weeks allocated for the shaping and grassing, it was nice to have Lester here on a regular basis to keep the pace moving smoothly,” said Brian Walker of Riverside Turf, the grassing contractor.

“Watching this renovation in action is like Christmas every day! There is always something new and exciting to see as we watch this unfold. We couldn’t be happier,” said Breed.

Nebraska-based contractor Landscapes Unlimited is handling the build. “It looks like we have redone the entire course in six weeks,” said project manager Roberto San Juan. “The changes to the bunkers and grassing are a major improvement. I’ve really enjoyed doing this project; it feels like home here.” Independence is scheduled to reopen on 15 September.