Casey O’Callaghan has completed a bunker restoration at Red Hill Country Club in Rancho Cucamonga, California.
Red Hill was originally designed as a nine-hole course by George Thomas in 1921, before a second nine was added by William ‘Billy’ Bell in 1946.
The course has been renovated numerous times over the years, with several holes slightly altered due to a new road and the addition of houses around the course.
“Different architectural elements were added throughout the years as well as a bunker renovation in the mid-1990s,” said O’Callaghan. “Most of these changes were not in concert with a George Thomas/Billy Bell golf course.”
A member survey identified bunkering as the area of most dissatisfaction. “The bunkers were not clearly visible, were difficult to access due to steep interior slopes and limited points of entry and exit, and had poor drainage,” said O’Callaghan.
The club appointed O’Callaghan to create a bunker restoration plan and oversee work. Construction began in early July and was completed at the start of October. Work was undertaken three holes at a time with the course open throughout the entire project.
“We renovated every sand bunker on the golf course with great results, said O’Callaghan. “We were able to implement a visually stunning Thomas/Bell bunker style, introduce more strategic options for golfers of all abilities, address current drainage issues, and give members multiple points of easy access in and out of the sand bunkers.
“From the beginning of the project, the intent was to embrace the history of Red Hill Country Club by restoring all of the bunkers to a Thomas and Bell style. We had good aerial imagery from 1938 and 1949 that helped us understand the location and size of many of the original bunkers. We also researched a 1923 article by George Thomas, written for Pacific Golf and Motor, where he said, ‘The complete nine holes are a skeleton of a really fine test of golf, but as they are not fully trapped the ultimate value possible is not yet obtained throughout.’
“Furthermore, he gave a detailed description of each of the front nine holes and indicated, in many instances, where sand bunkers should be located in the future. We used this information to form the design and ultimate approval for a sensitive bunker restoration. We also studied Thomas’s book, Golf Architecture in America, and implemented many of his design principles on the back nine.”
The architect credits Craig Kimmel, the club’s superintendent, as critical to the success of the project, highlighting his research regarding the sand specifications, coordination of the project, and work to manage and maintain the course while the restoration was in progress.
Construction was done by Grip Golf & Landscape, led by its president Ramon Garcia and with a large crew on site throughout the project. Flexxcape bunker liner was installed in all bunkers.
“I am extremely happy with what we all accomplished on this project,” said O’Callaghan. “Craig Kimmel and I worked very hard to balance a historical renovation while making sure that the bunkers could be efficiently maintained by his crew. Grip Golf put a lot of effort into the final shaping and ‘tie ins’ to ensure that the new bunkers looked like they had always been a part of the original golf course.
“I spent considerable time on the final bunker configurations and ‘chopped in’ every sand bunker by hand with a shovel. I really grew as a designer on this project. It was exciting and challenging to work with the historical photographs and articles and marry this information with my own design ideas to meet the goals for Red Hill Country Club.”
Garrett Cunningham, board member at Red Hill CC and part of the sand bunker committee, said: “During the review process our membership was myopically focused on just fixing the problems with our bunkers. Casey had the foresight and knowledge of how much a well-designed bunker plan would impact the playability and visual experience.”
Paul Olivera, a long-time member, added: “We fixed our bunker issues and I feel like I am playing a new golf course!”
The club will be celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2021.