Tripp Davis continues Tillinghast restoration work at Niagara Falls CC

Tripp Davis continues Tillinghast restoration work at Niagara Falls CC
Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Golf course architect Tripp Davis is in progress with a project to restore AW Tillinghast’s design at Niagara Falls Country Club in Lewiston, New York, just a few miles north of the famous waterfalls.

The course was originally designed by AW Tillinghast in 1919, with subsequent updates by Robert Trent Jones, Geoffrey Cornish and Brian Silva.

Davis has been working with Niagara Falls CC since the mid-2000s, initially to restore the second hole, moving the green to the original location in Tillinghast’s design.

“Since then, Jason Gold, my shaper, and I have helped the club rebuild nine more greens – all of those on the front and the twelfth green,” said Davis. “Eight of the ten greens we have rebuilt were original, all but the second and the twelfth, so we have focused on restoration. We have also rebuilt and restyled all the greenside bunkers on the front nine and the fairway bunker on the ninth hole.

“This fall, we are rebuilding the eleventh green, rebuilding the greenside bunkers on the eleventh and twelfth holes, rebuilding the fairway bunker on the eleventh and the third. The bunker work is focused on restoring Tillinghast’s unique style for this course, with a lot of capes, noses, and even some islands he originally built. All is being guided by a masterplan we have worked with the club to develop.

“While it has taken a long time to get to where we are now, the club is now committed to getting all greens rebuilt, and bunkers rebuilt, and most all tees rebuilt by the fall of 2021. It is a great old Tillinghast design and the work we have been doing is helping to bring the Tillinghast back in a way that is more maintainable, with a better playing quality for the modern player.

“The original Tillinghast greens are spectacular in a lot of ways, but one challenge we had was that they had some areas that held water, which is not good in Niagara Falls, where ice in the winter can cause turf loss in the spring if it sits in pockets,” said Davis. “So, in rebuilding the greens we have incorporated a sand-based system with subsurface drainage, and better surface drainage across all greens. Over the last few years, the greens we have rebuilt have handled the winters far better than the old greens. Even though we had to change the greens somewhat, we worked hard to keep the same basic character.

“Niagara Falls Country Club may be one of the most beautifully bunkered courses in the country, so our work was to preserve and enhance, while making the bunkers easier to maintain with Better Billy Bunker liners and a better angular/subangular bunker sand.

“The reason we have been at this for over a decade is because we have been doing the work with me, my shaper Jason Gold when I don’t have him on another project, and the club staff. So, we can’t do much at one time. This push the next few years will help the staff exercise what they have learned, and we are going to have to fit the work in more specifically with other work we are doing.”

The club hosts the Porter Cup every year for men, women and senior amateurs. “The men’s amateur Porter Cup has long been one of the most important amateur events in the US for the last 60 years,” said Davis. “I have played in 16 Porter Cups myself, finishing fourth once and being low mid-am a couple of times. Lately, I have been playing mainly to keep in tune with how the course is playing to do my job as a golf course architect better. I played last year and actually had it under par with a couple of holes to play the in the first round. While the work we are doing is mainly for everyday play by the members, we have kept an eye towards things that may specifically help the club set it up to test the best amateurs in the world.”