Golf course architect John LaFoy has overseen a project to rebuild every bunker on the course at James River Country Club in Newport News, Virginia.
“The project came about as the old bunkers were just getting old and worn out,” said LaFoy. “The edges appeared to have crept outward and outward over the years. The slope toward the putting surfaces had gotten quite steep in many cases, and the edges were right at the top of the slope.
“I think all of us thought we would get a better look if the top edges were rolled from 18-24 inches down the slope. Also, over the years, the capes that at one time probably came down into the bunkers, were lost and we wanted to restore them,” continued LaFoy. “I was given a free hand by the club, but from our discussions I knew that they were not looking for a radical change. I sent them some conceptual sketches of the bunkers with a ‘lace edge’ or ‘dragon tooth’ effect but they did not appeal to anyone in a decision-making role.”
The project began in mid-February and was completed in mid-April.
Thirteen fairway and 41 greenside bunkers have been worked on as part of the renovation project. “We filled in one fairway bunker,” said LaFoy. “We also reduced the size of several bunkers that we felt did not need to be so large and in one case – hole five – reduced the size of the front two bunkers to allow for a more generous run-up shot onto the putting surface.”
All bunkers were rebuilt to Better Billy Bunker specifications. “We also wanted to eliminate the sand ‘build-up’ around the bunker edges that inevitably happens, either from sand blasted from bunker shots, wind blowing sand out, or a bunker rake going in and out of bunkers,” said LaFoy.
All bunkers required sod around the perimeters, which was done with dormant Celebration Bermuda. “The project was timed so that it would not have to sit for long before it began to green up and become viable,” said LaFoy. “Since it was done at the end of the winter we had to rely on the possibility of some bad weather, but luckily, we were able to work almost continuously.
“I am excited that the members will notice a total consistency from bunker to bunker, both from and aesthetic and playability standpoint. I feel sure that for the majority of members the playability will be the most important.
“Since the bunkers have always been pleasant to look at, I am not sure there will be a ‘wow’ factor with the new bunkers, although for some I think they will like the look considerably better. From a maintenance standpoint, I think making them smaller and being able to keep sand on the slopes after heavy rains will be huge.”
Golf course superintendent Rob Wilmans was on site every day and Total Turf Golf Services was the golf course contractor for the project. “I was very impressed with their ability to translate my plans from paper onto the ground,” said LaFoy.