Shady Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, will reopen on 1 October following a redesign by OCM, the Australia-based design firm of Geoff Ogilvy, Mike Cocking and Ashley Mead.
OCM started working with the club in 2015 with the preparation of an overall master plan. Two years later, construction began on the club’s nine-hole par-three course – Little Nine – to trial construction techniques and grasses ahead of work on the main course.
“This 10-acre patch of ground in the middle of the property was famous for being Ben Hogan’s range from 1959 onwards, where he would spend the majority of his time either practising or testing new clubs for his equipment company,” said Cocking. “When we first visited the course, the Little Nine was a fairly rudimentary layout – nine greens and a couple of bunkers, but nothing like the standard of the big course. It was however a lovely place to practice and big enough to allow golfers to be selective about where to hit from, to take advantage of the often, strong winds.”
OCM created a flexible short course with nine green complexes like those found on the main course, with a handful of extra bunkers added that come into play when playing cross country holes. “It’s proven to be a popular addition, especially at the end of the day chasing the light with your buddies,” said Cocking.
Following work on the Little Nine, OCM’s attention then turned to the club’s main course, originally designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr in 1958 and renovated by Coore & Crenshaw in 1995.
“Our work wasn’t so much a restoration but more a redesign,” said Cocking. “The routing was very good and the land was terrific with some lovely natural features to take advantage of, including a river which bisected the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth holes; an old barranca which once crossed the par-three fifth; and some wonderful elevation changes elsewhere across the course.
“Coming from Melbourne and working at a number of Sandbelt courses, there can be a perception that we wanted to turn Shady Oaks into a Sandbelt-style course, but that was never the aim. The land, the climate, grass types and vegetation are all different and it really would not be possible. However, the concepts of strategy, options, creating width and space to play, short grass, interesting green complexes and bunkers which promote thoughtful play are just as relevant here in Fort Worth as they are in Melbourne.”
Construction work began in July 2019 on the fourteenth hole. One of the general motivations for the redesign, coming from the 2015 plan, were the bunkers. OCM had identified them as in need of being visually and positionally improved – the team wanted the bunkers to influence play and force golfers to make a decision about what type of shot they should hit to the green.
“The use of short grass around the course has been a bit of a revelation for the club,” said Cocking. “Since starting work with [golf course superintendent] Brent Doolittle, we have slowly been mowing the course out, year by year. Even prior to the construction, we managed to generally simplify the mowing patterns, reducing the number of step cuts around greens and mowing fairways out to the fairway hazards. We also started introducing the concept of short grass – as opposed to rough – around the greens and in many cases linking them into the oncoming tee complex. This was a significant aesthetic change, and importantly, making for more interesting recovery shots around the greens. In one season, we added almost 10 acres and then through the construction process we would have added at least that again.”
The first hole to be built was the par-five fourteenth, where the river cuts across the fairway at a driving distance before running diagonally towards the green. “Over the years trees had been planted on the greenside of the river, robbing the course of perhaps its best-looking approach shot and one of the best par fives in the area,” said Cocking. “Perhaps one of the most dramatic changes was here – the tree removal at the fourteenth returned the role of the river as a wonderful diagonal hazard for the second shot, plus extending the green across a little has made for a dramatic pin position hanging over the edge of the water. When the pin is on the right half, the golfer is rewarded for playing close to the water but when the pin flips to the other side, so too does the strategy, and bunkers have been added 40 yards short and left of the green to add interest to this play.”
Tree removal has opened up views across the course, while the elevated holes offer vistas of downtown Fort Worth. OCM’s work also revealed the barranca on the fifth and some of the steep rocky sections around the fifth and sixth holes. Tree removal on the seventeenth has unveiled a skyline green, which when playing into the predominant headwind will make for, as Cocking said, “a thrilling second shot with a 20-foot hollow right of the green”.
“My favourite holes, as is so often the case, are probably those which sit on the edge of par, especially the short fours and fives,” said Cocking. “We always felt the third sat on some really interesting ground – even though the main hill was obscured by trees – and we were confident it could make a great short four. I think it turned out exactly as we had hoped and really sets the tone for the holes that follow. A huge bunker sits across the line of play around 285 yards from the tee and helps separate the main section of fairway with a small upper level where the green is also located. Some will be tempted to try and drive over the trouble with the promise of an easy chip and a birdie. For those laying up, the question of position becomes an interesting one – from the right over by the large bunker, the angle is better, but the shot is largely blind; whilst from the left, the green is visible but the shot is far more difficult.
“The par-three fifth is one of the most spectacular one-shotters we’ve ever built, playing from the highest part of the property, across a deep valley to an elevated green,” said Cocking. “Tree clearing down the left opened up views of the wide creek, which at one point would have run straight across the hole. Reinstating it and adding a large bunker into the far wall added some visual drama and tree clearing beyond the green has helped give it a skyline type look and feel. For the most part this plays as a long par three with slopes and short grass helping a running ball funnel toward the target, but left pins are a different proposition altogether and we added a forward tee for when the pin is tucked into the most difficult, left quadrant.”
One of the biggest changes at Shady Oaks can be found at the par-four eleventh hole, which originally had bunkers left and right of the wide fairway but were not having the necessary impact on a player’s tee shot. The green was similarly bunkered.
“It was basically a driver every day of the year – no matter the wind, weather or pin position,” said Cocking. “The new hole gives the player much more to think about. Wings on the green extend left and right and allows pins to be tucked behind hazards and force players to hit to the edges of the fairway to create the best angle. Fairway bunkers then extend well into the line of play and defend these positions. With some natural rises to construct hazards into, the result has also made for one of the more impressive visual changes.”
Work was just about complete in mid-March 2020, coinciding with the rise of Covid and the introduction of restrictions.
“Whilst construction was more or less complete, a few greens were still left to float out, plus there were some bunkers built that needed to be cut out and grassed,” said Cocking. “So, for the few months back in Australia – particularly during my two weeks of mandatory isolation – we had countless emails, marked-up photos, and FaceTime calls to finish off these details. Working so closely together made the process a little easier, but still, a great deal of credit should go to Brent and his guys for their patience, attention to detail and the countless hours spent finishing things off.”
Shady Oaks is currently preparing to open the redesigned golf course on 1 October.
“Golfers will still recognise the old Shady Oaks, but hopefully they see a more elegant golf course, with features fitting into the terrain a little more naturally,” concluded Cocking. “Golfers will definitely notice the more natural looking, artistically shaped bunkers but it’s their positioning that’s the biggest difference. Hazards have been brought further into play, forcing the golfer into making a decision – play short, skirt the trouble, or try and play over. There will almost always be a reward for playing closer to the trouble, with a better angle or shorter shot to the green.”