The Club at Lac La Belle in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, is on track to reopen this autumn following a comprehensive renovation by Craig Haltom of Oliphant Golf.
Haltom explained how the project began: “Tyler Morse [vice president at The Prestwick Group] initially reached out about a small putting green project for Prestwick’s new corporate headquarters. At around the same time the Morses were approached about getting involved at La Belle Golf Club, so we stopped talking about the putting green and started talking about that! Within a few months we broke ground on what is essentially a new golf course.”
The course features a new routing with four new holes being built on new land adjacent to the existing course purchased by Matt Morse, the CEO of Prestwick Golf. Haltom is making use of existing holes sixteen, seventeen and eighteen – originally built in 1896 – as well as the first and ninth – built in 1963.
Jimmy Cavezza is overseeing construction, which began in May 2018, and he will stay on as the golf course superintendent at La Belle. Haltom and Cavezza have worked together on previous projects, and Cavezza has provided input on design and grass decisions.
“We had the wettest summer in 125 years last season, so we experienced delays and some heart-breaking wash-outs,” said Haltom. “But we’re on track now.
“About eleven holes were in chronically wet areas and by rerouting the golf course and adding four new holes on 30 acres next door, we only have three holes that require special drainage treatments.”
The original plan was to increase the green size by 20 to 30 per cent, but sand was found early in the project, so the decision was taken to build 18 new and much larger greens. “We have one green that was on the old nine that is probably now three times the size than it was,” said Haltom.
“Parts of the original course were very low lying and wet. So, the first job was to fix the water issues. Beyond that, Matt asked us to build eighteen memorable holes and to build something that was worthy of the club’s remarkable history.
“The low-lying holes have exceeded expectations, going from what was almost swamp to some pretty neat holes.
“We like how the last five holes have come together – it will be a fun finish with a very reachable par-five sixteenth, a cool downhill par-three seventeenth, and a long par-four eighteenth to a green in an amphitheatre-style setting below the clubhouse and event barn.”
The project also saw the removal of hundreds of trees, the re-grassing of all fairways – with eight being raised significantly, new tees and bunkers, and the restoration of stream features.
“I’m a decent player but Matt is a very good one – he is constantly reminding us to keep things interesting for better players, while I have adopted the voice of the average golfer,” said Haltom. “We have had some fun with that, and hopefully we have been successful in building a fun golf course.”
There will also be a new putting course that wraps around the restaurant; new practice areas and a new driving range. The clubhouse has also been renovated and there is a new event centre.
Construction work on the course is expected to be complete in June.