Dan Hixson has renovated bunkers, greens and tees at Portland Golf Club in Oregon.
The layout was originally designed by George Turnbull in 1914 and hosted the Ryder Cup in 1947. It has only undergone minor changes since it was renovated by Robert Trent Jones Sr in 1964. Hixson, who has lived in Portland for 35 years, was hired to update the greens, bunkers, tees and irrigation system.
“Out of respect to our rich golf history, the board wanted to preserve the integrity of our golf course, while improving it for the modern game,” said John Vranizan, president of the board of directors at Portland Golf Club. “Our focus is to enhance the member experience, striving to be better from the moment a member sets foot on the golf course.”
Some tree removal was undertaken around 10 years ago, with 75 trees removed, including more than 20 near the thirteenth green. Hixson has continued a tree maintenance programme as part of his masterplan with renovation work beginning in March 2022.
The main focus of the plan has been to make bunkers more strategic, attractive and drain better.
Hixson has reduced the number of bunkers on the course from 63 to 51, with 15 repositioned to doglegs or moved further down the hole. Every bunker now features the Better Billy Bunker II system and new sand from Ohio-based Best Sand.
“There is a homogenised style with greatly enhanced aesthetic appeal due to improved drainage and sand quality,” said Hixson. “The bunker style is unique to Portland Golf Club based on capturing and retaining the best existing characteristics and topographical features.”
Nearly every green has been expanded with the aim of preserving their original character, while the fifteenth’s putting surface was rebuilt.
“Facing many clubs of this era are the tremendous changes in green speeds,” said Hixson. “There are some very steep greens here and we didn’t want to tear into them unless it was absolutely necessary. On many, we expanded at the corners, often in conjunction with the bunker work we were doing. We’ve even gotten down on the ground and used our hands to get the new turf to lay perfectly so it looked like it’s always been there. We like to say this course was ‘hand-made’.”
Nearly a dozen holes have had tees regraded and regrassed, with new forward tees added to 10 holes.
Hixson says the club allowed him to be flexible. “The best designs happen in the field,” he said. “It allows me to be more creative and it’s more efficient without wasting money. The club gave me a great deal of freedom, making for an awesome project. I love work of this nature and the results are showing.”
Lonnie Lister, Portland Golf Club’s chief operating officer, said: “Sequencing the work the way we did revealed on a hole-by-hole basis what the future is going to look like. You could feel the buzz and excitement when holes three, four and five were completed and members saw the aesthetic changes. For many, it’s been eye-opening. It’s like a new golf course out there.”
An irrigation project will start in spring 2023, with irrigation specialist Brent Harvey overseeing the work.
The club is in discussions to host future Oregon Golf Association and USGA championships. “Members’ expectations are that our golf course should be tournament ready at any time,” said Lister. “When these projects are complete, I am confident that we’ll have one of the finest courses in the region.”