Golf course architect Casey O’Callaghan has completed a bunker renovation project at Friendly Hills Country Club in Los Angeles, California.
The private club is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, its Jimmy Hines-designed course having opened in 1968. O’Callaghan has been working with the club for the past fifteen years and in 2017 his firm was commissioned to oversee the redesign of bunkers throughout the course.
Following a nine-month planning, approval and design process, work began in June 2018 and was completed in September.
“The main goal of the project was to enhance and improve the sand bunkers throughout the course while addressing existing playability, maintenance, and accessibility concerns,” said O’Callaghan.
"There had been no significant changes to the bunkers, other than replacing sand and drainage, since the course was built. A few bunkers had been added over the years that did not blend with the existing design. These bunkers and the existing ones had grown over the years to large oval or slightly rounded shapes that had been transformed over years by maintenance practices and sand that had exited the bunkers from play.
“The new bunker design focused on creating a bold visual impact to the golf experience. The leading edges were lowered for better visibility from the tee and landing areas and the support mounding was shaped to give more massing and support to the bunker edges.”
A key element of the approval process with the membership was the ability to minimise impact of play by only having three holes under construction at any one time. “We implemented temporary tees and temporary greens on these holes so that members could play all eighteen holes throughout the construction period,” said O’Callaghan.
Many of the greenside bunkers were previously ten to fifteen feet away from the putting surfaces, meaning they were more likely to be found by higher handicap golfers who may miss the green by some distance, rather than better players whose missed shots often landed in short grass between the green and bunkers.
Several greenside bunkers did not blend with the surrounding terrain and they have been reshaped to tie in with the contour of the green and the surrounding land features.
“The fairway bunkers were also adjusted to give golfers of all abilities multiple strategic options for their tee shots,” said O’Callaghan. “Many that were located 200 to 220 yards off the tee were either relocated or removed to make the course more playable for the higher handicap golfer.
Polylast bunker liner was installed to reduce sand contamination and to mitigate wash outs during heavy rains.
“There was 90,000 square feet of existing sand bunkers that needed to be maintained. We were able to reduce the new bunker area to 70,000 square feet while creating a greater visible impact throughout the course. The sand from the existing bunkers was used as a sand cap for the walk on areas between the cart path and green to minimise compaction in high traffic areas.
“Many of the existing sand bunkers had one or two points of entry and exit to the bunkers,” said O’Callaghan. “Furthermore, many of the bunkers had steeper slopes that made getting in and out of the bunkers difficult. The new design incorporated multiple points of access for the golfers. Many of the new grass noses allow for golfers to walk straight from the sand bunkers directly to the green surface.”
In addition to the bunker work, the fairway landing area on the seventh has been regraded. “The existing hole sloped severely from right to left and funnel tee shots toward one of the fairway bunkers or one small patch of fairway collection area that was full of divots,” said O’Callaghan. “The newly graded fairway has less slope and allows tee shots to come to rest in multiple locations within the landing area.”
The project saw O’Callaghan collaborate with the club’s general manager Russ Onizuka and golf course superintendent Nephi Diaz, and contractor American Landscape. Drew Littlefield and Zack Varty were on site daily working on design enhancements and shaping bunkers.