A major remodelling of The Refuge, a public golf course owned by the City of Flowood in Mississippi, USA, is close to completion.
Golf course architect Nathan Crace has transformed the design of the course, following the decision to construct a new $50 million hotel and conference centre adjacent to the site.
The clubhouse will be replaced by a golf shop within the new hotel. “Guests can walk from the elevator, across the lobby, past the cooking school and restaurants to the golf shop,” said Crace. “Then you just pay and walk out the door to the practice facility, golf carts, and first tee.”
Revisions to the routing, including the creation of three new holes, will enable golfers to play five, nine or eighteen-hole loops. “In the past, it was nine out and nine back,” said Crace. “That’s fine for a classic course, but not for an upscale public course trying to promote nine-hole rounds or one that will be available to resort guests when it re-opens.”
The project also involves the renovation of all greens, which will be re-grassed with TifEagle ultradwarf bermuda, the renovation and redesign of all bunkers (eliminating some and adding others), and new tees, including the introduction of new forward ‘family’ tees. The new course will be playable from 4,500 yards to 7,045 yards.
There have also been extensive irrigation upgrades, additional drainage and new cart paths throughout the course.
The par-three sixteenth hole has been extended to become a new par-four eighteenth. “It's a great finishing hole because you play up to the fairway in a saddle and you’re looking down at the green with this beautiful new 15-acre lake behind and to the left and the new $50 million hotel and conference centre will be across the lake in the background, rising up 10 stories into the sky as a backdrop,” said Crace.
The second hole was previously a 90-degree dogleg left with a tee shot through a narrow chute between trees. “You couldn’t hit more than a four-iron because it was so tight and you had to keep it low,” said Crace. “I softened the dogleg by building a new green to the right of the old green, out on a peninsula we created at the back corner of the lake, and adding 25 yards to the hole.
“There is a new pot bunker that divides the upper fairway from the lower and gives you something to align yourself with off the tee. Additionally, since big hitters now have the option to cut off the corner by going over the trees inside the dogleg, a new shelf runs diagonally across the approach and kicks errant tee shots down to the lower fairway, forcing an approach shot across the water.”
Playing corridors throughout the course have been widened. “Prior to the renovation, The Refuge made Harbour Town look like St Andrews,” said Crace. “There were some holes where the canopy of the trees left and right of the tee boxes were literally touching overhead! We had to carefully widen the course to make it more appealing without a significant increase in operating expense as a result.
“The course was in this strange no man’s land of being too short with awkward water hazards for longer, better players but too tight and awkward for higher handicappers.
“Fixing that was priority number one. In addition to relocating a number of water hazards that were in the landing areas on a number of holes, we very carefully studied all of the trees along the playing corridors of each hole. In addition to removing underbrush from areas with briars and such, we began by taking out invasive tree species, then trees that were dead or dying, trees that posed a risk or danger to life and then any trees that were causing turf issues around tees and greens. By the time we addressed those key issues, the course was transformed and now the trees we have can be healthier and live longer.”
Crace is based in Mississippi and has studied the course for 20 years. “When they asked me if I was interested in handling the renovation, I jumped at the chance to make it happen,” he said.
Construction work is being done by Eagle Golf & Athletics and the project includes the installation of a new Rain Bird irrigation system. “The project could not have happened without the full support of Mayor Gary Rhoads and the Flowood board of alderman. Without their leadership, none of this would be possible,” said Crace. He has been supported throughout the project by superintendent Bill Whatley and his staff, and golf professional Randy Tupper.
“I really believe people will be shocked to see the dramatic improvements that have been made. I can't think of another public course in the state that will have this feel and level of playability for all skill levels with the amenities that will be on-site at the resort,” said Crace.
The course close for renovation work in July 2017 and is expected to reopen for play in late summer or early autumn 2019. The hotel and conference centre will open in 2020.