Norby reflects on Fox Hills project after first season of play

  • Fox Hills
    Peter Wong

    The new course at Fox Hills is set on 200 acres of rolling prairie

  • Fox Hills
    Peter Wong

    Wooden bulkhead-faced bunkers were chosen to ensure visibility of deep bunkers

  • Fox Hills
    Peter Wong

    The back nine plays along the east side of the creek (pictured, the par-five thirteenth)

Alice Chambers
By Alice Chambers

Golf course architect Kevin Norby has reflected on the development of his new Fox Hills layout in Watford City, USA, following the completion of its opening season.

Norby began work on this project in 2008, when the club hired him to explore the possibility of extending its existing nine, which he described as “an interesting piece of property but not a course you’d go out of your way to play”, to 18.

Initial concerns revolved around the question of whether there would be sufficient demand. “In 2008 we weren’t really sure the area could support another 18-hole course,” said Norby.

By 2013, and with evidence of an increase in ‘destination’ golfers, the club decided to go ahead.

“We wanted to create a unique golf course that would attract golfers from throughout the region,” said Norby. “This will be a great course for local residents but will also attract golfers who journey to western North Dakota to play courses like Bully Pulpit and the Links of North Dakota.”

The project started as a nine-hole addition to the existing course but by 2014 nearly 400 acres had become available for an entirely new golf course and associated development. “The added land allowed us to work with the natural features and existing topography to create some really stunning golf holes,” said Norby.

Construction was completed by Nebraska-based golf course contractor Landscapes Unlimited in 2019, and limited play began in 2020. A grand opening followed in April 2021.

The main goal at Fox Hills was “to build a golf course that would be fun for beginners and yet challenging for low handicap golfers,” said Norby.

The layout, now closed for winter, is set on 200 acres of rolling prairie and is part of a residential development that was master planned by Norby. It measures 6,980 yards from the back tees and 4,793 yards from the forward tees.

The front nine plays along the western bank of a creek that bisects the property and the back nine plays along the east side of the creek and along the higher hills.

The driving range and five of the eighteen holes play on property previously occupied by the original nine-hole golf course.

One distinctive aspect of the course is the wooden bulkhead-faced bunkers. “Wind is a big factor out here in western North Dakota,” said Norby. “The wood bulkhead bunker faces allowed me to make the bunkers deep enough to minimise sand loss and at the same time ensure that the bunkers are visible”.

“The par five eighteen hole exemplifies the strategic nature of this course,” says Norby. “The hole plays just 532 yards but six bunkers demand accuracy and restraint. A well-struck tee shot which avoids the first three fairway bunkers will leave a chance to reach the green in two. The green is large but the slope of the green requires a draw or an approach from the right side of the fairway.”