Second phase complete at Wanakah

Sean Dudley

Design firm CW Golf Architecture is finishing the second phase of a multi-year renovation programme at the historic Wanakah Country Club in Buffalo, New York.

Wanakah was formed in 1898 as a summer retreat for Buffalo businessmen. CW principal Chris Wilczynski said early historical records are sketchy, although he has found evidence that Wanakah’s existing layout, built in the early 1920s, is the work of architect Willie Watson, the creator of both courses at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Olympia Fields No. 3 in Chicago, and Interlachen in Minneapolis. Although many greens at Wanakah are evocative of Donald Ross, and some articles about the club mention Ross as the architect, Wilczynski could find no documentation of his involvement. Stanley Thompson has been linked to Wanakah, as well, but Wilczynski could find nothing to substantiate that claim.

Wanakah's terrain is relatively flat; the course's green complexes are what challenge the club’s 290 members and their guests. “The greens at Wanakah are really cool,” said Wilczynski. “They have lots of spines and ridges and swales.”

Wilczynski’s relationship with Wanakah dates to 2004, when the club contacted Hills & Forrest, Wilczynski’s employer at the time, about a renovation proposal. Four years later, a new green committee reopened discussions and approved a revised master plan for the renovation, to begin in 2010, with Wilczynski as lead architect. The timing, however, coincided with Wilczynski leaving Hills & Forrest as part of a company downsizing. As something of a going-away gift to a respected colleague who had begun working for the firm as a teenager, Hills & Forrest turned the project over to Wilczynski.

Wilczynski completed changes to four holes during fall 2010. Most of the work involved regrading fairways to improve drainage, and upgrading and repositioning bunkers and tees. Michigan-based Eagle Golf Construction is the general contractor.

Wanakah is taking a measured approach to the project, and no work was done in 2011. Phase two, costed at US$630,000, began this summer. Changes to the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth holes are complete, and the tenth, a 361 yard par four, will be finished before winter sets in

Extensive tree removal also is part of the master plan. “There were way too many trees, and bad varieties too,” said Wilczynski. “They were impeding playability and maintenance. We’re trying to get the corridors back, so people can enjoy the game more.”

Superintendent Gale Hultquist said Wanakah’s last major renovation occurred in 1925, with intermittent tweaks by a variety of architects over the ensuing years. The result was a disjointed presentation of the layout. “Working with Chris on a master plan is bringing continuity to the course,” said Hultquist. “Everything is starting to gel now. In the areas he’s done, Chris has just brought the course to life.”