Work has started on the restoration of the golf course at Wampanoag Country Club in West Hartford, Connecticut.
Home of the Donald Ross Society, the course, a 1924 Donald Ross design, is currently being overhauled by a design team of Tyler Rae, Kyle Franz and Bradley Klein.
The trio has been at work on a master plan for three years. They developed their plan following detailed research into the available trove of original Ross material for Wampanoag, including an overall course plan and detailed hole-by-hole drawings as well as historic ground and aerial imagery of the course as it evolved since its opening. That evolution included various work undertaken by William Flynn and Bill Diddel, as well as more recent tweaks by Al Zikorus and Brian Silva.
A group of Wampanoag members formed the Donald Ross Society in 1989 out of dissatisfaction with how some of that work turned out.
Rae, a former design associate and shaper for Ron Prichard, has an extensive portfolio of 25-plus Ross restorations, including his projects at Beverly CC in Chicago, LuLu CC in Philadelphia, Monroe GC in Rochester and Woodland GC in the Boston area. Franz, who started as a shaper and worked on the Rio 2016 Olympics course, Pacific Dunes and Pinehurst No. 2, has been responsible for the restoration of several Ross-designed courses in North Carolina: Mid Pines, Pine Needles, Southern Pines and Raleigh CC. Klein, a former member of Wampanoag, is a veteran golf architecture historian, journalist and design consultant and author of the biography Discovering Donald Ross.
Plans include tree work to open up parts of the 166-acre site that had become overgrown. Fairways that shrank to 30 acres will be expanded back out to 38 acres. Three greens are being stripped and rebuilt as push-ups to recapture their older character, with the sod on those surfaces used to achieve expansions on over the half the holes where the green perimeters had been lost over time. The course is getting lengthened by 400 yards to just over 7,000 yards while new intermediate and forward tees will provide members with more options.
The most immediately noticeable change will be in the scale and placement of bunkers. Bunkers will go from a total of 71,000 square feet to 140,000 square feet, with a considerable amount of that arrayed in the form of cross-bunkering that Ross deployed in his original design of Wampanoag.
“That sounds like a lot of sand,” said Rae. “But once you’ve opened up the site visually through tree work and fairway expansion, the bunkers take on the proper scale that Ross originally envisioned.”
MAS Golf Course Construction is the contractor, with Golf Preservations Inc handling drainage. Rae and Franz are doing the fine feature shaping themselves with their own team. With the course closed down for play until an anticipated reopening in June 2023, course superintendent John Ruzsbatzky and his crew have shifted their focus from day-to-day maintenance to aiding the recovery and turf establishment.
The project is budgeted at $4 million and paid for through a combination of club capital, dues assessment, bank debt and voluntary contributions by members that alone totalled over $1m.