Rees Jones is progressing with a bunker renovation project on the layout at Fairview Country Club in Greenwich, Connecticut, created by his father Robert Trent Jones in 1966.
In 2010, the club selected Jones to develop a vision for the golf course and practice facilities, which included improvements to bunkers, tees, fairways, rough, paths, drainage, and practice areas.
The club completed the first phase of plans in 2011-12, replacing the irrigation system and renovating the clubhouse.
The next phase is now under way, addressing the current mix of bunkers that are uncharacteristic of the original Robert Trent Jones style. Lead architect Greg Muirhead, a senior designer with Rees Jones, has worked alongside Fairview’s golf course superintendent Jim Pavonetti.
“We determined that some bunkers needed to be relocated for today’s game, or to enhance shot options, while others were only penalising shorter hitters or less-skilled players and probably should be reduced in size or removed to improve playability and the overall member experience,” said Pavonetti. “For these reasons, the green committee felt, after the irrigation system, the bunkers would have the greatest impact on visual appeal, playability, and overall function for all that play the course, regardless of their skill level.
“Aside from the architectural inconsistences that the bunkers had in terms of shapes, sizes and construction methodology, many of them also did not drain or handle rainfall very well. During even a normal rain event, sand would wash out and mix with the underlying soils and rocks, effectively ‘sealing off’ the internal drainage and creating an undesirable mess that required significant staff resources to constantly restore. The contaminated bunker sand would then vary in firmness and playability, so the bunkers often played quite differently.”
The aims of the bunker project include restoring the original bunker style, ensuring all bunkers are properly located and built with state-of-the-art construction techniques. The project will also include the re-sodding of primary rough around each green. Eventually, all primary rough will be a consistent, Kentucky bluegrass blend.
“In the plan, some bunkers were eliminated, some bunker floors were raised to make them less deep and penal, while others had their original depths restored after they had become too flat and had lost their concave shape from fifty years of adding sand,” said Pavonetti. “In several cases, greenside bunkers were shifted closer to the putting surfaces, and fairway bunkers were either shifted closer to the fairway or the fairway was widened so that the fairway bunkers will engage play more effectively. Approaches were widened on holes four, eleven, twelve, and thirteen to adapt to the shifted bunkers.”
Pot bunkers, which had been added by architects and in-house staff over the years, have been eliminated in some cases, and in others, converted back to a flowing style with noses, flashed sand bays and sweeping contours.
“The most ‘radical’ changes to the course could be on the par-five thirteenth,” said Pavonetti. “The original hole included two opposing fairway bunkers in the second landing area, approximately 100 yards from the green. The right fairway bunker has been eliminated and the fairway was widened about halfway into the old bunker. The left fairway bunker now encroaches diagonally into the fairway, functioning as a cross bunker, with the fairway directly behind it. Playing over the cross bunker with the second shot provides a preferred approach angle into the green. Up at the elevated green, a deep pot bunker that was directly in front of the green, requiring a forced carry, has been eliminated, along with another one on the middle-right of the green.
“A wide greenside chipping area was created along the entire left side of the green, providing a ‘bailout’ area and a variety of interesting recovery shot options for those avoiding the deep, front-right bunker, which was shifted slightly to the left,” continued Pavonetti. “The combination of the fairway bunker and green complex work has significantly improved the shot options and strategic value of the hole, as well as its visual appeal.
“I think the initial reaction from members following the bunker project will be a sense of amazement regarding how beautiful the renovated bunkers look and how much better they will play. There’s a considerable ‘wow factor’ resulting from the work.”
Total Turf Golf Services began work on bunkers in October 2019 and will be completed by May 2020. Bunkers will be built with the Better Billy Bunker method. The course remains open for play throughout the project, with holes only being closed temporarily while being worked on.
“Another item that affected play and cart use, is how wet the lower holes on the front nine would stay after a substantial rainfall,” said Pavonetti. “As a result, a drainage plan to improve these areas during wet periods was also added to this phase.”
The remainder of the 2010 plan will be completed in smaller phases. Some of the work includes rebuilding and adding tees, plus restructuring the practice facility.
Pavonetti said: “I have been involved with several large renovations during my 33-year career but working with Greg and Rees has been the most rewarding. I am so excited to have this golf course looking and playing the way I have thought it should since coming here in 2008.”
“Fairview was one of my original golf course projects while working with my father,” said Jones. “Our hands-on approach at that time created a timeless golf experience. Jim Pavonetti’s work has maintained my father’s design intent while at the same time improved the layout for today’s players. It has been a pleasure coming back to Fairview and working with Jim.”