Forse Golf Design aims to reinstate Seven Oaks as top collegiate course

  • Seven Oaks
    Forse Golf Design

    Forse Golf Design is progressing with a renovation of the Seven Oaks golf course at Colgate University in New York

  • Seven Oaks
    Forse Golf Design

    A waste area dubbed the ‘Great Hazard’ is being added to the left of the thirteenth fairway

  • Seven Oaks
    Edward Page Photography

    Construction is expected to be completed in spring 2022

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Forse Golf Design is progressing with a renovation of the Seven Oaks golf course at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.

Golf at Colgate dates back to 1916 when Hamilton Golf Club was founded. Initially a nine-hole course, a second nine was added on the upper portion of ‘the hill’ behind the student dormitories two years later. In 1927, golf course architect Thomas Winton redesigned the layout, and it was renamed Seven Oaks.

In the mid-1930s, the university brought in professional golfer Gene Sarazen to replace the original course with a new 18-hole layout on the newly acquired Dunn Farm, an area northeast of the main campus where the first 12 holes of Seven Oaks are now located. Sarazen, assisted by Stanley Thompson and Robert Trent Jones Sr, hoped to build a course “exactly as he wanted”.

“After looking over the Colgate acreage he [Sarazen] reached the conclusion that this was just the type of tract that would make it possible for him to construct such a course,” the Hamilton Republican reported on 11 January 1934.

“The vision for Sarazen’s course was never fulfilled,” said Jim Nagle of Forse Golf Design. “However, in the late 1930s, Jones ventured away from Stanley Thompson and was awarded the design commission for the Seven Oaks course. He performed numerous studies of the land and completed a design for 18 holes, complete with individual hand sketches and explanations for each hole. The sketches and explanations are fascinating and provide a glimpse into his early design thoughts. Ultimately, the course was scaled back to a nine-hole routing that was built in 1955. A second nine was added in the late 1960s.”

JS Hope, CFO for Colgate University and project chairman, said: “Almost 10 years ago I spent time at the rare book room at Cornell Library and went through Jones’s work that he gave to the university. We found some great information about the Seven Oaks project that we were excited to share with an architect. Seven Oaks for years did not really have a long-term plan so we wanted to take the time to develop a plan that could be used as resources allowed. Once Forse engaged with us we knew they were the perfect long-term partner.”

The university hired Forse Golf Design with the aim of improving all course features as well as undertaking some tree management. “There is also a strong desire to re-establish Seven Oaks as one of the premier collegiate courses in the United States,” said Nagle. “The course was often listed in the Golf Digest top 30 collegiate courses, but in recent years has fallen off the list.”

Forse Golf Design is attempting to add more challenge, interest and strategic shot options throughout the layout. “The course has numerous ditches and a large creek that meanders through the property and comes into play on numerous holes,” said Nagle. “The layout is devoid of fairway bunkers whereas all the greens have adjacent bunkers. Our plan continues to utilise the creeks and ditches while fairway bunkers are added, where appropriate, to improve play and to better engage golfers.

“Seven Oaks’ greens are excellent and beautifully contoured and therefore only require some expansion. The first, second and sixteenth greens are too severely sloped for today’s maintenance regime, and each will be softened. The entire second green will be rebuilt, while portions of the first and sixteenth’s will be levelled.”

Other aspects of the plan include adding new forward and back tees, redesigning the practice facilities and driving range, and creating a new practice putting green. 

Contractor Mottin Golf began work at Seven Oaks on 2 August, with the course remaining open throughout.

The project will see all existing bunkers renovated, while some will be removed, and others added. Capillary Concrete’s liner system will be installed along with Bestsand Signature 700 sand from Covia. Rain Bird is handling irrigation while project manager for the university is Jason Minor.

“Golfers will see changes made to many green surrounds,” said Nagle. “Every green on the course is either bunkered on both sides or bunkered on one side with a water hazard on the other. Our intention is to remove various bunkers and create runoff areas or expanded collars which introduces a variety of shot options around the greens. Playing out of sand or rough will now be complemented with bump and runs, Texas wedges, putting or other shots.

“Wider playing corridors will be readily apparent as we look to expand many of the fairways to complement the added fairway bunkers. This will provide strategic options off the tee. The greenside bunkers and runoff areas will also enhance the angles taken with approaches. Numerous greens will be expanded, which will reinstate long lost hole locations, therefore providing opportunities for bold play into the new pin positions tucked closer to the perimeter of greens.

“Personally, the change I think most golfers will see is the ‘Great Hazard’ that is being added to the left of the thirteenth fairway. The hole is a short par four and, previously, the inside of the dogleg was a poorly draining waste area consisting of field grasses, hummocks and depressions. Our intentions are to drain the area and create a sandy waste area. The inspiration comes from the first at Philadelphia CC and the sixteenth at Lancaster CC – both relatively short par fours with a very large meandering sand hazard to the inside of the dogleg. The difference with the thirteenth at Seven Oaks will be that the area will be a true waste area – the existing sand on the course will be repurposed within the floor of the hazard, while fine fescue and bluestem grasses will be propagated, with the sand not being maintained as consistently as other bunkers.”

Forse Golf Design is also aiming to improve vistas across the course, with a particular focus on the look and style of bunkers as well as revealing the many subtle rolls, bumps and depressions that are currently under two inches of rough.

“When complete, I believe superintendent Jon McConville and his team will be able to showcase the course to its ultimate potential,” said Nagle. “Jon has an excellent background of working on some of the best courses in the region as well as at Fenway CC for a number of years. The alumni and surrounding community take tremendous pride in Seven Oaks and our goal is to provide them with a truly fun, challenging and engaging course when it reopens in next year.”

Construction is expected to be completed in spring 2022.