Richardson designs closest-to-the-pin challenge for Castle Hot Springs

  • Castle Hot Springs

    Forrest Richardson has designed a closest-to-the-pin green for Castle Hot Springs

  • Castle Hot Springs

    Castle Hot Springs previously had a three-hole course

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Golf course architect Forrest Richardson has designed a closest-to-the-pin challenge for the Castle Hot Springs resort, 50 miles north of Phoenix, Arizona.

The resort, founded in 1896 and located in the foothills of the Bradshaw Mountains, was known for its 120-degree natural hot springs bubbling out of a small canyon. In its heyday it attracted many famous families, including the Wrigleys, Vanderbilts and Rockerfellers.

It closed in 1976, but is now having its buildings, grounds and meeting spaces renovated and restored. Richardson is constructing a new green that will be the target for evening closest-to-the-pin contests. The green will sit on the edge of a small pond “just a half wedge away from the new swimming pool and patio spaces”. Mike Watts, leader of the resort’s re-development group, has a vision of guests enjoying a beverage before dinner, taking aim at the green from an elevated tee. “It’s intended to be fun,” said Richardson. “Just as fun as TopGolf but set in an amazing natural canyon without all the people and noise – the goal at Castle Hot Springs is to create an oasis feel at every corner, and we hope to do that with the golf green as well.”

The target will also serve as a putting green during the day. “We’re bringing golf back to this special place,” said Richardson.

The new design has become known as the ‘Billy Bell green’ in honour of golf course architect William P. Bell, who is believed to have visited the resort in the 1920s at the invitation of William Wrigley Jr. (founder of Wrigley’s gum), who at around the same time was busy completing ‘La Colina Solana’, now known as the Wrigley Mansion, in Phoenix, which would include an 18-hole Bell layout.

“Mr Wrigley came to know Billy Bell over several projects,” said Richardson. “Bell was asked to design the nine-hole course on Catalina Island for the Wrigleys, and he also travelled to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, to build a small pitch and putt course on the family’s sprawling lakeside estate.”

Historic aerial photographs of Castle Hot Springs that show a three-hole course, which Richardson thinks could have been a Bell design. “We are still hunting for plans or other accounts that more formally tie Bell to the resort,” said Richardson. “All of the timing is right with Bell spending time with the Wrigleys in Arizona during the late 1920s and early 30s, and you can bet that some of that was spent visiting Castle Hot Springs where the family got away from it all.”

Other archive images show Victorian-era visitors putting towards wooden flagsticks adorned with hand painted hole number medallions. “It may well have been one of America’s first resort putting courses,” said Richardson. “Besides soaking in the hot springs, swimming, or an occasional horseback ride, guests would partake in many lawn games as part of their stay, and it’s neat that golf was a part of the recreation there.”

John Hagenah, great grandson of William Wrigley Jr., has been trying to ‘connect the dots’ on Bell’s work at Lake Geneva, even though the course no longer exists. “We can still see some evidence of the little course, plus I have all of the flagsticks and flags,” said Hagenah.

According to Richardson, Bell was among a handful of Golden Age designers that believed in the shorter formats of golf. “Bell never forget how difficult the game is for beginners,” said Richardson. “He had many short course ideas and plans, and that commitment carried over to his son, William F. Bell, where you can still find many par-three and short examples.”

Richardson has overseen a restoration at the Bell-designed Arizona Biltmore Resort, as well as various projects on Bell courses in Arizona, California, Utah and Hawaii.

The resort will be managed by Westroc Hospitality and is scheduled to reopen in late 2018.