Tom Marzolf, senior design associate at Fazio Design, has overseen the completion of a golf course restoration project at Fox Chapel Golf Club in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Fox Chapel was originally designed by Seth Raynor and opened for play in 1925. It features many template holes that both CB Macdonald and Raynor made famous.
“The club decided that restoring the course back to the original intent made sense and would help protect the history of the great course,” said Marzolf.
The Fazio Design team completed a restoration master plan with the member-based committee in 2015. “We researched the history and found many photographs from the early days, and aerial photos from the 1930s that captured the holes and recorded the design features,” said Marzolf. “We also found examples of the holes that been adjusted by AW Tillinghast in the mid-to-late 1930s. Many holes and several greens [four, five, nine and thirteen] were changed by Tillinghast, and the bunkers were revised to include Winged Foot-like grass fingers. Tillinghast began to round out the bunkers, and the original geometry was lost.”
Along with the Tillinghast changes, further adjustments were made in recent years, again, a move away from the original design.
“Unfortunately, the changes to the Raynor design did not fit the layout and it was obvious that a strict restoration made the most sense,” said Marzolf. “However, the club also decided to react to the improvements in modern club and ball technology. We decided to take the Raynor bunkers and slide them down the holes to the modern carry point. This allows the original design concepts to once again be relevant, presented in locations that match the modern driving distances that create an updated classic venue set to challenge future generations of great players.”
The project has included building 97 new bunkers to shapes as seen on the original 1923 course. Sand lines, mowing lines, green shapes, fairway widths have all been restored to how Raynor originally designed them.
Greens have been restored, including the fourth and ninth holes, a Road and Lion’s Mouth design, respectively. The fifth green – a Cape – has had its original four-leaf clover shape restored along with its split fairway approach and central guarding bunker. The design team have recreated the bentgrass mowing lines on the Punchbowl second green and surrounds, as well as restoring and sculpting the fine fescue feature fronting of the Alps seventh green.
“We have restored lost bunker features and locations on every hole,” said Marzolf. “Most notably is the re-introduction of the Bottle landing area bunker pattern on the sixteenth, and the re-introduction of bunkers on holes six, sixteen and seventeen. We have also recreated the Spectacles bunkers on the second and fourth holes, with low mow bentgrass framing the Spectacles perimeters – a stunning fresh take on this classic Raynor design.
“The mowing angles around the bunkers have been softened back to the original shaping intent, eliminating a recent overly sharp – and hard to maintain – interpretation that the last bunker renovation performed. This formal Raynor geometric mowing pattern is now once again in view as an example of the classic restoration.
“The original wide fairway patterns that fronted the bunkers with low cut turf is now back on the ground. This was an extensive change to the course and the lines of play off the tee are once again restored, allowing more options to move the ball into the best angle to attack the greens.”
Twelve new forward tees have been added. Several back tees have been pushed further back to lengthen the course, with more planned for the future.
“The new combined teeing ground at the eleventh and fifteenth holes are perhaps the greatest visual enhancement to the round,” said Marzolf. “A massive tee now allows dual tee marker locations for the two holes, and a new upper back tee was installed to gain distance on both holes. This feature replaced the previous tees that were bisected by a cart path. This unique dual tee setup looks stunning and is a large improvement to the feel of holes eleven and fifteen.”
The project began with renovations to tees and paths in 2015-2016, but the main body of work has taken place between summer 2019 and August 2020 with contractor NMP Golf Construction.
“Building this project in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic was a sincere challenge,” said Marzolf. “As the State imposed a ‘stop of work’ in March, we had to pause the work and prepare for the pandemic. The construction team re-mobilised once a start back was permitted and we all adapted the steps to allow safe working conditions.”
Marzolf moved to the area and was on site daily, ensuring the project progressed. “We decided not to fly on planes as a safety precaution during the early pandemic concerns for air travel,” said Marzolf, about Fazio Design’s travel policy.
“We wore masks all day every day, practiced strict social distancing, and stayed safe as you would expect. The work progressed at a fast pace as the weather cooperated, with almost no rainfall. The dry conditions were difficult on the cool season turf grasses of turf-type tall fescue, but the golf maintenance staff led by Jason Hurwitz stepped up and hand watered each hole throughout the project.”
The course is now fully open for play.
“In an era that rewards things new, this course will serve as the benchmark restoration on how to properly and historically preserve the game and recreate the flair of the 1920s golden era of golf course architecture,” said Marzolf.
“The golf course looks like a genuine walk back in time to the 1920s!”