Soon after local businessman Steve Sterrett purchased Old Oakland Golf Club, on the outskirts of Indianapolis, USA, he appointed golf course architect Ron Kern to oversee a comprehensive redesign.
The private club was founded in 1964 with an 18-hole course laid out by Charles Maddox. In 1994, it was redesigned and expanded to 27 holes by Michael Hurdzan. When Sterrett purchased it 22 years later, all three nines were ready for some more care and attention.
The first phase of construction began on the East nine in autumn 2016. By May 2018, all three nines had reopened, and work is now progressing on new practice facilities, to open this summer.
Old Oakland has already attracted an additional 100 members. GCA spoke with Kern to find out more about the work.
How did you approach the redesign of Old Oakland?
I analysed the routing with respect to the sequence of strategic concepts and penal situations it offers through its topography, natural features, lines of play and golf course elements such as tees, fairways, green complexes, bunkers and mounding.
A variety of shot-making requirements into differing circumstances are significant and essential ingredients. This provides a challenging and enjoyable round of golf, day in, day out.
In the case of the club’s plan, it was paramount to develop and implement a design that delivers to the golf course definition, strategic options – alternate lines of play for various skill levels – and beauty.
All detailed design was performed on site. I spent a significant amount of time on site during construction working hands-on with the shapers, the contractors and the golf course superintendent. Many times, I was on site five or six days a week during each phase of the project.
What have been the major elements of the project?
A significant component of the remodelling plan was a stream relocation and reconstruction project, to cure substantial erosion problems and to improve the strategy and playability of several golf holes.
Increased runoff from upstream development, in a very large watershed, caused Indian Creek and one of its tributaries to erode creek banks in a very serious way where the waterways meandered through the property.
For example, on the West nine, the seventh hole’s fairway lost more than six feet of width in just one spring’s rainy season. Therefore, I recommended that Williams Creek Consulting be contracted to devise a plan in concert with the golf course remodelling.
The plan was to reconstruct and fortify creek banks with large stone walls in particular locations and to relocate a portion of Indian Creek and one of its tributaries to make holes three and seven on the West nine more playable.
On hole three, the tributary to Indian Creek was moved out of the tee shot landing area and located closer to the green, making what was a terrible golf hole into one that is challenging and fun to play.
On hole seven, Indian Creek was relocated to widen the golf hole. Also, a wetland was filled in to provide additional fairway, making the hole much more playable. The wetland reduction was mitigated by the construction of new wetland on hole eight.
Much of the golf is on very flat ground and did not drain efficiently. Therefore, a drainage tile system was incorporated to better convey flow during large storm events and to provide storage capacity for small storm events. Also, in several locations, shallow, poorly draining and unsightly ditches were replaced with pipes allowing for continuous fairways.
Tree removal was an important element in the plan. Trees that either encroached on lines of play, were in poor health or impeded air flow were all evaluated for removal and were cleared on a case-by-case basis. The entire property has also been re-bunkered, incorporating the Better Billy Bunker method.
What has been your personal highlight of the project?
My highlight was creating a design that took the three existing golf courses and thematically tied them all together with a new bunker style while incorporating a variety of strategic risk and reward elements that constantly challenge Old Oakland’s members, but does not unduly frustrate them during their rounds.
What are you working on now?
A comprehensive short game practice area of over three acres was designed to accommodate Old Oakland’s membership. It consists of a 7,000 square foot practice putting green and two pitching, chipping and sand-shot greens of 8,000 square feet. Bunkers, greens and fairways were placed and contoured to provide any type of short game shot that a player may want to practice.
The existing practice tee was regraded to nearly double its size to 28,000 square feet on one level. A new auxiliary practice tee of 10,000 square feet and a practice fairway bunker were constructed at the far end of the practice range.
Old Oakland’s members love to practice, so these new facilities will provide excellent opportunities for them to enjoy improving their golf games.
It’s been a major project – it must have required quite a team effort?
The project was a total team effort that exceeded all expectations, with golf course superintendent, Chase Walden, being the glue that held everything together. Chase and his crew worked incredibly hard and did an exemplary job throughout the entire project.
Doc O’Neal served as the club’s general manager and project liaison. Shaper Derek Dirksen formed and graded the golf course features, with the exception of two fairways that Eric Graudszuz of Leibold Irrigation shaped. Golf Creations constructed the East nine. Duininck Golf constructed the South and West nines. AS Altum & Associates designed a new irrigation system for the 27-hole site, which was installed by Leibold Irrigation.
Albanese & Lutzke constructed the short game practice area. Jim Held of Automatic Supply designed the short game practice area’s irrigation system, which was installed by Commercial Irrigation and Turf.
This was a significant project with many moving parts (especially, with Old Oakland located in the United States’ Midwest, the weather), to be accomplished in a compressed timeframe.