Gill Design completes three-hole project at Indian Hills

  • Indian Hills
    Garrett Gill
Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Gill Design completes three new holes at Indian Hills Golf Club in Stillwater, Minnesota.

The driving force for the project was heavy rain impacting the fifth, sixth and seventh holes. Located near a low basin, the situation has worsened over the past five years, especially in 2019 when there was record rainfall. A tipping point was reached in March 2020 when all three holes flooded.

Owner Mike Regan engaged Gill Design to design a new trio of holes. Principal Garrett Gill, the lead on this project, has worked at Indian Hills before, completing a bunker renovation project in 2018. “Indian Hills opened in 1970 and over the past 40 years an abundance of trees have been planted with the course, today, looking like an old-style wooded layout,” said Regan. “The new holes will add an open links-type of area that we do not have right now. The trees and greens will be much the same in terms of appearance. Of course, the members regret the loss of the three original holes, but they have gotten more and more excited to play on the new holes. The city of Grant and The Browns Creek Watershed District have been instrumental in granting timely approvals and helping us move the project along quickly.”

Golf course superintendent John Cameron said: “The new fifth-to-seventh routing will provide a new and unique experience for the membership and guests at Indian Hills. The fifth will provide an incredible view of the St. Croix Valley treeline that is not visible anywhere else on the property. Golfers will appreciate impressive stands of oak and white pine trees near the tee and green complexes, which are consistent with the rest of the course setting.

“The routing also highlights a historic trolley car line and cattle crossing that is unique to the town’s history. These holes will challenge any golfer while remaining fun as they all provide new strategy, terrain and views. We are very excited for the future of Indian Hills Golf Club and for the membership to experience the ‘new loop’.”

Gill added: “It took a few practice swings to figure it out, but when we finally teed it up and hit it, we got a great series of holes that fit the land well, look beautiful, and play great.” 

“Land was chosen to the northeast of the existing holes,” said Mike Kraker, a golf course architect at Gill Design. “The fifth would play as a downhill par five shooting out of the trees and into farmland. The par-four sixth would climb out of the farmland and dogleg into the woods. The seventh would play as a downhill par three from current woodland to the existing seventh green.”

A crew from YTS Tree Care began work in May cutting paths through the woods. Some trees were removed but many oaks, maples and pines remain. Contractor Arnt Construction then began work on the three new holes.

The new fifth was nicknamed ‘Trolley Troubles’ during design – the approach shot will bypass the former trolley tracks for the Stillwater line of the Twin City Rapid Transit Company. Upon completion, the previous 365-yard par four will have been replaced by a 570-yard par five.

“To cross the trolley bed, you will need to put your shot between two maples,” said Kraker. “These ‘goalposts’ will be major obstacles in years to come. The trolley bed will be saddled so you can bounce your shot over or run the ball along the fairway.”

The new sixth will play uphill and dogleg to the golfer’s right as a 415-yard par four. “The perfect tee shot will be a fade,” said Kraker. “A 240-yard drive from the white tees will leave you a 150-yard approach shot through towering pines. Cutting the corner will be a risky proposition as the landing area narrows considerably. Play it conservative and you’ll have a demanding mid iron into the green.”

The fifth and sixth holes will involve more elevation change than most of the current holes at Indian Hills. Gill Design looked at two options for siting the new holes. The site they chose gave them the potential to have a downhill par five with a dramatic tee shot out of a chute of trees followed by an uphill par four that angles back into the same forest of pine, oak and maples.

Hole seven is now a 180-yard par three playing to the existing green of the former par-five seventh. The green is framed by oak trees with a new lake at the back, created by the flooding earlier this year. The left side of the green will be enlarged to create more landing space, while the old cart paths have been removed.

Shots struck short of the green will have the chance to bounce onto the putting surface. The Sunday pin placement will be back-right and require a precise shot over the bunker. The seventh green is the only piece of the former routing that was retained. It was not impacted by the flooding and therefore saved us construction of a third new green.

Instead of coming at the green from the west with a par five, golfers will play it from the north as a par three. “That was the biggest question mark,” said Kraker. “Would the green be receptive to shots from an entirely different direction than originally designed? The answer is yes. Indian Hills members hit shots out of the dirt to the existing green and we were able to confirm that the green would receive shots, and pin locations would vary in difficulty.”

Advanced Seeding & Erosion Control has finished seeding and Leibold Irrigation has installed the new irrigation system.

“Fortunately, we have experienced no delays or difficulties due to Covid-19 on the project side,” said Kraker. “Golf was allowed to reopen in Minnesota on 18 April by Governor Tim Walz. Indian Hills and golf courses around Minnesota experienced above average amount of play.”

The new holes are expected to be playable by summer 2021.