Spence completes Roaring Gap resto


Sean Dudley
By Adam Lawrence

Architect Kris Spence has concluded a restoration project at the Donald Ross-designed Roaring Gap Club in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The project focused most notably on green and bunker restoration. Using old aerial photos and many original plans drawn up by Ross, Spence brought back to life greens buried under eight decades' worth of topdressing and organic material.

The club dates to 1926 with roots that can be traced directly to Pinehurst. Founder and first president Leonard Tufts was president of Pinehurst at the time, so Tufts commissioned Ross to build the course in Allegheny County to be promoted as 'the Pinehurst of the hills.'

Spence's project has received a strong response from members. “A large majority of club members were overwhelmed by the outcome. People are raving about how much the greens exceeded their expectations,” said Dunlop White, a long-time member of the club's greens committee and past president of the Donald Ross Society. “Kris's understanding of how the greens evolved over time was critical to the project's success. He really devoted his skills to bringing back Ross's distinctive design work here at Roaring Gap.”

White said so much of the greens had been lost over time that current golfers assumed the knobby regions outside the perimeters were chipping areas. Instead, they were integral parts of the original putting surfaces.

“These were 86-year-old greens which had never been touched. No one remembered exactly how they were,” said White. “I'm thrilled with what was uncovered. It was like finding a long lost treasure.”

“We've all been taken aback by how well this restoration turned out,” Spence said. “Uncovering such wonderful Ross greens is certainly a highlight of my career.”

In addition to the greens, the project renovated and restored most of the original bunkers, particularly fairway cross bunkers that Ross considered an integral part of the game. Tees were levelled and squared, with several new tees created to adjust distance for the modern game.

A new double-row irrigation system replaced a single-row system, while a tree management program returned playability, opened sweeping vistas, and added recovery options on many holes.

One way the project retained the course's rustic charm was the preservation of various turf blends and mutations which had naturally evolved over time. The fairways remain a mixture of native rye grass, Kentucky bluegrass, and poa annua. The greens retain a mix of bent and poa.