Mike Young is in progress with a new phase of golf course renovation work at Johnson City Country Club in northeast Tennessee.
AW Tillinghast designed the course shortly after the club was founded in 1913. Nine holes (now the back nine) opened in 1919, with three more (current holes one, two and three) added in the late 1940s. The final six holes were completed in the 1950s, overseen by Tennessee-based architect Lon Mills. Upon completion of the full 18, the course was rerouted.
The last major work on the course was undertaken in 1987 by John LaFoy and was inspired, like much golf course work at that time, by the sand-flashed bunkers of Augusta National.
Thirty years later, the club decided to proceed with some changes, particularly given that bunkers had reached the end of their lifespan. In 2019, a small project was undertaken – the removal of a few dead trees and the renovation of a bunker on the fifteenth hole. And in 2020, with Brian Marion as chair of the greens committee, a vote was passed to rebuild the practice facility.
Young was appointed a year later to renovate the eighteenth hole. “The idea was simple: show the membership what a proper Tillinghast course could look and play like,” said Landon Owen of The Golf Crusade, who has been documenting the club’s renovation efforts over the past four years. Young trimmed some trees that had encroached too much into the fairway, and added Tillinghast-inspired rough-covered mounds. Three smaller bunkers replaced one large hazard on the right approach.
“Importantly, the project accomplished its mission to show the membership what this course should be,” said Owen. “Planning began to do the rest of the bunkers the following year.”
Read more: The Golf Crusade’s account of the project and course’s history, and a hole-by-hole analysis.
In spring 2021, work was undertaken on the ninth green as well as bunkers and trees on nine holes. The next phase of work began in late September 2022, focusing on bunkers on holes 11, 12 and 14, with some minor work taking place on the second, fourth, fifth and sixth.
“We didn’t really have a design brief other than trying to bring the course back to the look and playability of the period that it was built in,” said Young. “There had been a rework in the mid-1980s, and the initial charge was to rework bunkers, before later addressing greens and trees.
“I have never been one to research and study the old guys like some. I think we’ve created a bunker [at the eighteenth] that the average golfer would consider an old classic bunker similar to Tillinghast. But Tilly seemed to change so much with what he built from site to site that I don’t even go there.”
The project will also include upgrades to the course’s drainage and club facilities.
“Johnson City practices management that works for their membership,” said Young. “They will end up with a golf course that is fun, quirky and will function and exist efficiently for years to come.”