Oconomowoc appoints Richard Mandell for master plan of Ross course

Oconomowoc appoints Richard Mandell for master plan of Ross course
Alex Smith
By Alex Smith

Richard Mandell has been appointed to advise on the Donald Ross layout at Oconomowoc Golf Club near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, his eleventh project on a Ross course.

“Any opportunity to expand into a new state is of great interest to me personally and particularly a Ross project,” said Mandell. “We were contacted by the greens committee to gauge our initial interest, and I soon made a visit to spend a day at Oconomowoc with the committee and golf course superintendent. We walked the golf course and discussed its attributes as well as the club’s intent for a renovation business plan.”

The first nine holes of the course opened for play in 1916, with the back nine following in 1924 having been delayed by the First World War. Mandell has access to aerial photography from 1937 and 1941, along with a 1915 Ross drawing of his original routing.

“You can’t ever make any assumptions about Ross’s intent based on what you find on the ground. Researching aerials from different decades is the best way to fully understand what is in the ground today,” said Mandell. “You can most likely identify what is not a Ross feature through the evolution of holes found over time through aerial photography. We have already overlaid this information on our base material. The opportunity here will be interesting because it is one of Ross’s earlier designs which means the bunkering is a bit more utilitarian than his later work. It is also a bit more penal and tended more toward flat sand rather than some flashing from later years.

“Based on the 1915 drawing we have, we could accomplish a detailed restoration if the club desires because the golf holes are all in the relatively same spots,” said Mandell. “The club still has all of the same land that Ross was given. But it is too early to say if it will be a strict restoration because the needs of the members may require some modifications, such as softer slopes to accommodate faster green speeds as well as the possible removal of carry bunkers placed immediately off the tees of some holes.”

Initial plans for the project expect the process establishing the renovation business plan to be completed by autumn 2020, with the timeline for further work dependent upon the architect’s findings. “This will most likely be a project where we work on long-term implementation of the renovation business plan rather than shut the entire course down at once for a major project,” said Mandell.