Changes at former Sand Barrens course following Union League’s purchase

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  • Union League

    Straka describes the course as being ‘Pine Valley-esque’ in some respects

  • Union League

    The course’s sandy waste areas are currently being worked on

  • Union League

    The course currently features 27 holes, and it is the Union League’s intention to keep it that way

Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley

The Union League of Philadelphia has acquired the former Sand Barrens Golf Club in Swainton, New Jersey, and hired Fry/Straka Global Golf Course Design to create a masterplan for the club.

The firm has been tasked with beginning the process of moving from a public and resort facility to an upscale private club, which will be known as Union League National Golf Club moving forwards.

GCA spoke to Jason Straka of Fry/Straka Global Golf Course Design to find out more about his firm’s plans.

“Union League CEO Jeff McFadden is one of the most respected general managers associated with the golf business,” said Straka. “He is credited with vastly expanding the Union League’s social and business opportunities. Knowing that many of their members own a vacation home down on the Jersey Shore, and/or vacation there quite a lot, Jeff saw an opportunity for a second golf facility to service those members and also expand their membership.”

The Union League owns a number of golf properties, including the Union League Golf Club in the Torresdale area of Philadelphia, the course at which was recently restored by Stephen Kay. The organisation looked into purchasing a number of different courses before deciding on Sand Barrens.

“This is a course our old company designed back in the 90s,” said Straka. “Dana and I maintained a close relationship with the original owners all these years, who are also members at Calusa Pines. They recommended us to the Union League to remodel the course.”

The Union League is at present intending to maintain a 27-hole facility at the club, as this was a major factor in their decision to purchase Sand Barrens in the first place.

“People like to golf in the morning and be at the beach by the afternoon,” explained Straka. “Having 27-holes gives them more flexibility in that regard. With that said, we will be looking at variations of 27-holes as part of an overall masterplan. Various options include maintaining the 27-hole course, changing one nine into a shorter family or executive course, and adding or changing one of the nines into a par three course. These options would all coincide with a greatly expanded and/or relocated practice range, short game facilities and a new golf academy.”

Other potential changes include moving the clubhouse into the interior of the property, though Straka says this would be considerably “down the road”. The existing clubhouse is also currently undergoing a major remodel.

“Concurrent to the long-term planning, we are doing a major amount of remodel work on the course now,” said Straka. “Over the past 20 years, the trees and vegetation have considerably grown up. We have removed several thousand trees to date and that number continues to increase. Additionally, there were many cost-cutting approaches taken over the years, including abandoning tees, narrowing fairways, eliminating approaches and making greens smaller. These all need to be rectified.”

The site of the course was originally flat but comprised of a deep profile of sand and a low water table.

“This meant deep, sandy waste areas were created by cutting into the ground,” said Straka. “We are now remodeling those waste bunkers, eliminating some of them to create more play areas, adding others to strengthen strategic angles, significantly improving drainage, restoring the green and tees sizes, adding new tees and revegetating much of the sand waste areas.”

Straka adds that the course’s sandy nature makes it reminiscent of a very high-profile course in the US.

“The new look could be called ‘Pine Valley-esque’,” he said. “While rugged looking, everything is being very much hand crafted. The crew doing the shaping and revegetation work just came off of Sand Valley in Wisconsin, so they are definitely used to managing sand materials and creating ‘the look’.”

Much of the initial work at the club is focused on greens complexes and approaches, with the goal to have work on the first four holes completed by May. Another nine holes will then be worked on in their entirety over the summer and autumn months. The overall renovation of the course is to take place over the coming years.

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