Architects Brian Ross and Jeff Stein have developed a master plan for an 18-hole Great Dunes course at Jekyll Island Golf Club in Georgia.
The existing Great Dunes layout comprises nine holes originally designed by Walter Travis. Jekyll Island also has three 18-hole courses called Pine Lakes, Oleander and Indian Mound.
In 2023, Ross and Stein were hired by the Jekyll Island Authority (JIA) to lead a restoration of the Great Dunes nine and create nine new Travis-inspired holes on a portion of the Oleander course. The design has been approved, funding is in place and construction is expected to begin in November.
“I was working with Jeff at Brookside in Macungie, Pennsylvania, last spring when I came across the RFP for this project – Jekyll Island is a state park owned by Georgia but operated by the JIA,” said Ross. “I had been to Jekyll Island before and knew about the potential of the Great Dunes course and, given that Jeff has a lot of experience creating and restoring sandscapes that existed on courses built in the 1920s, I asked if he’d be interested in pursuing the RFP with me. I felt like we were probably underdogs, but we ended up winning the commission!”
Ross and Stein have been referencing historic materials from an archive maintained by the JIA, which has records dating back to the late 19th century, to help develop their restoration plans of the Great Dunes nine. The pair have said aerials and ground-level images from the late 1920s has helped them see, in detail, how the holes originally looked and played.
“The JIA is really on board with our vision for the project and has given us the artistic freedom to bring back as much of that classic look as possible,” said Ross. “This includes burying power lines and removing invasive plant material along the new fourth and fifth holes to give golfers unimpeded views of the Atlantic Ocean that had been lost over time. We’ll also restore the back tee on the new eleventh hole and the weathered walking bridge that led to it.”
In addition to restoring the Great Dunes nine, Ross and Stein will also transform portions of the club’s Oleander course into a new Travis-inspired nine to join up with Great Dunes to create an 18-hole layout.
The front nine of Oleander will be redeveloped to become holes one to three and thirteen to eighteen in the new routing. Seven of the remaining nine holes will be given over to the island’s conservation department. This team, in the coming years, will restore this area to its native environment, complete with nature trails and educational elements.
“The result is a golf footprint reduced from 63 to 54 holes and a plan to take the new Great Dunes course off existing freshwater wells,” said Stein. “Our plan eases some of the pressure on the local aquifer by switching to seashore paspalum and irrigating with brackish water, which is plentiful at these special coastal links. The JIA and our design team are thrilled to be a part of a plan which will not only restore native dune habitats but also protect the unique wetland habitat which surrounds the golf course.”
A development map created prior to the golf course project means the designers have to work mostly within the existing playing corridors on the Oleander course because of protections placed on the oak trees which line a few of the fairways. “While working within these limits, we are still able to clear invasive plant species, move tees, fairways and green locations so we can develop a more compact routing that feels more intimate and less ‘cart golf’ oriented,” said Ross.
“We have spent a lot of time studying Travis’s work at Jekyll and at other places. We took Noel Jensen, JIA’s deputy executive director and project manager, on a whirlwind tour of some of Travis’s best work in New York and New Jersey last fall and have similar trips planned for the spring. I believe we will do our best Travis impersonation on the greens – he was one of the great, if not the greatest, designer of greens of the Golden Age and built some incredibly unique designs. We have been focused on identifying themes that exist from course to course and will work to incorporate our interpretations of these elements into our work on the new nine.
“The existing Great Dunes nine will encompass holes four to twelve of our new routing so one of our primary objective is to blend these two courses together in such a way that the golfer won’t be able to tell which holes were Travis and which are Travis-inspired. A tall task, but I believe we are up for it!”
Ross and Stein will also be redesigning the practice facilities, with the existing tenth and eighteenth holes on the Oleander course being renovated to become a new driving range and a Himalayas-style putting green next to the clubhouse. A new short-game area and a small warm-up putting green will also be built near the first tee.
The masterplan also includes eliminating all existing asphalt cart paths, with new, more natural paths created that weave through native areas and have limestone screenings that blend in with the sandy subgrade that will be exposed on the perimeter of each hole. Ross and Stein will be assisted on shaping and dunescape restoration by Danny Loveridge and Robert Nelson.
“The partnership between myself and Jeff has been great,” said Ross. “We’ve primarily been working on it together and have spent a lot of time on the island developing our ideas for the new nine. We have separated out some tasks to be completed individually and have a shared Dropbox where we bounce things back and forth. Then, periodically, we will have a Teams meeting or a call to hash out and finalise tasks. Currently, for example, I’m working on construction documents for the bidding of the project while Jeff is writing the specifications. Once we’re done with those, we will send them to the other to review before finalising and forwarding them on to the JIA.”
Construction is expected to be complete in summer 2025 with the new Great Dunes course potentially opening in November 2025.