The municipal McCall Lake golf course in Calgary, Canada, reopened last week following a renovation project led by Wade Horrocks, a principal and golf course architect at golf course design firm Ground Cubed.
The city of Calgary retained Ground Cubed to prepare a master plan for the redevelopment of the McCall Lake course in 2015, securing a C$6.7 million-dollar grant from the Alberta Provincial Government.
The city wanted the renovation to establish an identity for the McCall Lake course, and Horrocks was tasked with creating a parkland feel, including tree-lined fairways, elevated greens and large, strategically located, sand-faced bunkers.
“The golf course land was considered quite valuable, so a divestiture study was performed to investigate the potential for developing the land as an alternate use,” said Horrocks. “When it was publicly announced, there was considerable outcry from the golfing public about the lack of affordable golf facilities in the city. This public response, combined with the less-than-desirable results of the divestiture study, led the city to determine that the course should remain open and that considerable reinvestment would be required for it to succeed in a competitive golf marketplace.”
The course, located south of Calgary International Airport, originally opened in 1981. “It had become dated with the majority of the hazards out of play for longer hitters, with average players being unnecessarily penalised, leading to a slow pace-of-play,” said Horrocks.
Construction work began in April 2018. New back tees extend the layout from 6,700 to 6,950 yards and new forward tees have also been added, all grassed with dwarf bluegrass.
To enhance turf conditions, sub-surface drainage has been added and fairways raised above the existing water table. With the course previously suffering from periodic closures due to flooding of holes adjacent to McCall Lake, a new stormwater management pond was installed.
There are nine new green complexes, and three others have been resurfaced from poa annua to new T-1 bentgrass. Every bunker has been worked on and includes new drainage and sand.
“We have relocated hazards to be more visually engaging and strategically interesting as well as encouraging players to think and to be creative,” said Horrocks. “The addition of new features such as low-mow green surrounds provides more interesting recovery shots opportunities.”
Tree planting around the site exterior was completed to provide a visual buffer to the commercial area in which the course is located and to enhance the parkland character of the property. Trees were also removed in other areas to enhance turf conditions and open views across the course and to the downtown Calgary skyline and Rocky Mountains.
“In addition to the many technical enhancements, a major objective for this project was to make the course more engaging and strategically interesting for players,” said Horrocks. “Good golf course design should be democratic, where large budgets and high green fees are not required to provide an interesting, engaging and enjoyable golf experience. As golf course architects we have to be more creative about how we accomplish this by using features other than maintenance-intensive bunkers. We have utilised existing trees, established new tee locations, and the addition of mounds and low-mow green surrounds, amongst other features, to accomplish this.
“The two most noticeable changes that golfers previously familiar with the course will see are the renovations to the fifth and ninth holes. The golf course was able to expand on to an adjacent piece of city-owned land, that allowed for the expansion of the new par-five fifth. Previously a par four, there was no par five on the front nine of the course. This revision was not about adding a stroke to par, rather, it was an opportunity to add an exciting risk-reward par five where players would be encouraged to try different types of shots with the new strategic shot-making opportunities presented.
“Following a good drive, players are presented with the option of going for the green, carrying a central bunker feature to give themselves a good approach angle to the hole, or laying up with a more conservative approach to the hole.
“Another particularly exciting change was the addition of the driveable par-four ninth hole,” continued Horrocks. “The previous iteration of the hole was derided for being easy for long hitters and excessively difficult for shorter hitters. Further, the hole was a constant source of slow play. The new hole is 325 yards where players are presented with numerous strategic options from the tee. The fairway is guarded by water running the entire length of the left side, with a solitary bunker added at 270 yards in the centre of this exceedingly wide fairway. Aggressive players can choose to carry the central fairway bunker or shoot the gap between the bunker and water in hopes of driving the green. Less aggressive players can choose to play right or short of the central fairway bunker, however this can further complicate the approach shot into the green with a less favourable approach angle.”
The clubhouse and exterior staging area have also been renovated as part of the redevelopment project.
“I am proud to be part of a city and be part of a project that places a value on affordable, quality public golf,” said Horrocks. “This is increasingly rare. I am a great advocate for affordable public golf. These venues are essential for growing the game of golf and allowing players on a fixed income the opportunity to continue playing the game they enjoy so much. The game of golf is a lifelong endeavour – golf courses are a great venue for children to learn the values of good sportsmanship, honesty and integrity, where families can come together and bond in the splendour of the outdoors, and where seniors can continue to partake in an active lifestyle.”
The course reopened for play on 25 June 2019.