Jackson Kahn Golf Design has completed a renovation of the golf course at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Illinois.
Conway Farms has hosted various tournaments since opening its Tom Fazio course in 1991, including the BMW Championship in 2013-2015-2017, a Western Amateur, a NCAA Division One Men’s Championship, and a USGA Mid-Amateur and Boy’s Junior Championships.
“The club was initially focused on improving the maintenance and playing characteristics of the bunkers in order to match both the expectations of their membership, but also to continue to be a relevant option for the premier golf events that populate its history,” said architect Tim Jackson. “As importantly, the club also needed to replace their original irrigation system that dated to the club’s founding.”
“The reality is that when a new irrigation system is needed, any additional golf course design improvements should be considered at that time. Through conversations with the club, the need of a fuller masterplan for the golf course became apparent. The golf course had tremendous bones but many of the strategic elements had become somewhat outdated due to the advancement in equipment and golf ball technology.”
Jackson Kahn began developing a masterplan in late 2017, which received approval for construction to start in August 2021. The plan involved repositioning and reshaping bunkers for more impact and improved aesthetics, and installing Better Billy Bunker liner. A new irrigation system, designed by Brian Vinchessi, was installed by Leibold Irrigation. Other work included rebuilding the first green complex and the short par-four seventh and fifteenth holes, redesigning the creek on the tenth and eighteenth holes, along with tee work, fairway adjustments and tree removal.
Construction work was carried out in two phases by Wadsworth Golf Construction. The first nine was completed by December 2021 and the second nine by December 2022, with some grassing to be finished in spring 2023.
“The first green was reconstructed due to the difficult agronomic conditions both in its surrounding environment and subsurface conditions,” said Jackson. “The green was one of the putting surfaces most negatively impacted by trees at Conway Farms. As such, prior to Connor Healy’s tenure as director of agronomy, it had been re-sodded when the combination of heat, humidity, shade, and lack of airflow conspired to overcome growth potential. This re-sodding had created layering in the soil structure, which impacts proper drainage and root growth.
“To correct this, a number of trees were removed to improve sun exposure and air movement. The green was repositioned as well to take better advantage of the available light, but also create a stronger angle of approach into the green. The new construction eliminated the layering issue and, in combination with the tree removal and new location, immensely increased the opportunity for agronomic success.”
The seventh and fifteenth greens were identified as complexes that could be improved with new design work. Both holes are short par fours. “In these instances, angles and options are what create great golf,” said Jackson. “While we could implement adjustments to those options from the tee, they would have been lost without marrying those concepts to the design of the greens. Essentially, in our opinion, the best of these type of holes are played from the green back. The club was very supportive in making the resources available to execute the concepts we identified, and the seventh hole has certainly lived up to the billing given the feedback from the membership over the last golf season. We are excited for them to experience the fifteenth hole this upcoming season and hopeful of similar success.”
Feedback from the membership over the past two years has been positive. “They are experiencing a golf course that contains more strategic thought than previously, with line of play options that are much more defined,” said Jackson.
“The look of the golf course has changed as well, adjusting from a more open ‘clamshell’ type of bunker style to one with a higher degree of shadowing and articulation in its presentation. The fairways now have greater width and great lines that flow with the golf holes and movement on the land.”
“Forward tees have been more appropriately positioned, while length and stronger angles have been designed for the championship tees, which is important as Conway has added many strong players to the membership roll since the project started.
“It is interesting for us in that so many of the course adjustments, which are so transformative, were relatively easy to execute. It is a great testament to Tom Fazio and his staff and the work they did bringing Conway out of the ground in 1991.”