Yale University has announced the hiring of Gil Hanse to prepare a detailed master plan intended to bring back the full scale and drama of the Yale Golf Course, one of the monumental design works of 1920s golf architecture by Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor.
The course, which opened in 1925, occupies a rocky, heavily wooded site four miles west of the Ivy League campus. It has been widely heralded on every major Top-100 list for the boldness of its design but had gradually fallen into a deteriorated state due to tree overgrowth, bunker deterioration, green shrinkage, poor drainage and a general attitude of neglect at the hands of the university that had compromised the original design.
Recent efforts to reverse the decline have seen steady improvement. This is the first sustained restorative effort. It is being sponsored by a privately funded entity, yet unnamed, that is in the process of raising upwards of $20 million that will be used to pay for the restoration as well as insure ongoing operations and provide maintenance equipment.
Yale recently took steps to bring in fresh management, first with the naming of Peter Palacio Jr, formerly of Eu Claire Golf and Country Club in Wisconsin, as general manager in 2020. This year the club named Jeff Austin as superintendent; he came to Yale after serving at Quail Hollow Country Club in Concord, Ohio.
Hanse has considerable high-level restoration work on his resume. Recent projects include Merion Golf Club in Pennsylvania, the Lower course at Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey, the South course at Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan, the East and West courses at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York, and the 2022 and 2023 US Open sites: respectively The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts and the North course at Los Angeles Country Club. In a press release, Hanse said “The restoration of Yale Golf Course is the most significant restoration opportunity we have been entrusted with.”
Hanse told Golf Course Architecture that the likely scope of work at Yale would include a complete reconstruction of expanded putting surfaces – rebuilt to USGA specifications. Plans also call for a thorough overhaul of the bunkers, fairways, course drainage, irrigation, tees and trees. “The goal is to bring back the scale of the grounds. It was massive, grand and we hope to get back to that.”
Among the resources at Hanse’s disposal are the original design plans – which include a routing for two 18 courses, though only one was built. Hanse said: “We also have a trove of aerials, ground imagery, maps and notes that Yale has made available to us via Dropbox, and we have begun combing through it.” Among the dramatic changes expected will be restoring the position of the green at the par-four third hole from its current position – to which it was moved, behind a hill – back down to its original site near a pond.
Given the vast scale of work to be done, Hanse said that he expected to start at the end of the 2022 golf season and require full closure for all of 2023.
Yale GC is operated as a university amenity, with limited public access. The course was closed for all of 2020 due to Covid restrictions and reopened in April 2021 to the university community and to Connecticut residents on a very limited basis.
The restoration is part of a facility overhaul that will see considerable work done to the clubhouse interior as well as redevelopment of the driving range.