Brian Costello of JMP Golf Design is overseeing a golf course renovation at Palo Alto Hills Golf & Country Club in California.
The course was originally designed by architect Clark Glasson and opened in 1961. “Ken Venturi and, of all people, Walt Disney, provided some initial design consultation, which I thought was really, really unique. We are hoping to recapture some of that ‘magic’ if you will!” said Costello. It was later redesigned by Robert Graves in 1999.
This area of Palo Alto has a native mixture of Redwood and Oak trees, but initially the club planted 600 Monterey Pines on the course. “They planted them to help provide definition, some screening and more beauty,” said Costello, who has been consulting architect at the club for the past seven years. “While these tree-lined fairways were majestic, many of them were becoming diseased.”
An arborist produced a report around 10 years ago, advising the club to begin tree removal for safety reasons. “By removing the diseased trees, it would help the native Oaks and Redwoods and recapture the area’s native character,” said Costello. “It would also bring the course closer to how the site originally looked and recapture some phenomenal views that people had forgotten about.”
Over the past 10 years around 400 diseased pine trees have been removed, 75 of which have been during the current renovation project. That number expected to rise.
According to Costello, the tree removal revealed how dated the course design was. “The club had done many projects over the years, but the bunkers were out of position and the green complexes were rather small,” he said.
“Twenty years ago the club installed a rather extensive, perforated drainage system because of the heavy clay soil. The superintendent had been topdressing the course for many years and, as a result, they ended up with about a four-inch cap of really good growing medium. So, the course went from one that often became soggy during big rain events to one that played much faster and firmer. For the areas that don’t have this same four-inch profile, we’re trying to replicate that same profile so that there is a seamless visual experience. When complete, you shouldn’t be able to pick up where we’ve touched it and where we haven’t.”
When working on the green complexes, Costello found some that had six inches of sand and others that had 20. “We anticipated this, so we cored out the bunker sand, stockpiled it and then used it to recap around all the green complexes and approaches,” he said.
Previously, pin positions on greens were quite limited due to severe contour. “A lot of variety and interest was lost due to the lack of pin positions,” said Costello. “This was the reason behind us expanding the greens by around 20 per cent – to provide that missing variety and add more pin locations, therefore, addressing the older design style and bringing it up to more modern standards.
“The greens and surrounds are going to be so much more interesting and fun to play. We’re introducing a variety of collection hollows, deflection mounds and other features to shape the shot when the members are playing a bump-and-run shot, but they can also attack the different zones on the greens aerially as well. The new complexes will be a welcome change and appeal to the entire membership.”
The project has also seen bunkers reshaped and rebuilt, with all now featuring Capillary Concrete and white sand.
“The visual impact is one of the standouts of the project for me, it is going to be very dramatic,” said Costello. “There are a lot of bunkers out there, but many were not really visible. It was like looking at a plate from the side – completely level. Now, all of a sudden, we’ve turned up the presentation volume with flashed edges and lowering the leading edge – it is a remarkable change. The new course is definitely going to provide that wow factor.”
The project also includes a renovation of all tees, fairway grading, an increase in the size of the putting green, as well as the addition of a new short game facility.
Construction for the current renovation began in mid-September and is being handled by contractor Frontier Golf Course Builders.
“The overall project is being divided into two seasons, with the front nine being addressed this year,” said Costello. “Work on the back nine will follow in September 2021.
“It is going to be very well received. The master plan changes that have been implemented over the past seven years such as the tree removal to recapture the panoramic views has provided a great foundation for the transformation. Now with the renovation fully underway, the club will no doubt be turning some heads. It is a really exciting project.”
Costello expects the full renovated 18 to be playable by May 2022.