Welling transforms visuals at Sea Island’s Ocean Forest

  • Ocean Forest
    Joe Titzer/BWD Shaping

    Ocean Forest will reopen in October following a renovation by Beau Welling

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Ocean Forest Golf Club on Sea Island, Georgia, will reopen its course in October following a renovation by Beau Welling Design.

“Greens are in the same locations as before, but they’ve all been totally rebuilt, reimagined and redesigned,” said Beau Welling. “Previously, many were elevated, very small and surrounded by bunkers, but now we’ve got a real mix of different sizes and they offer golfers more angles into them. There’s also much more contouring.”

Ocean Forest was originally laid out in 1995 by Rees Jones and Greg Muirhead and hosted the Walker Cup in 2001. For the course refresh, the club wanted to increase playability for high handicappers while retaining the challenge for elite golfers. “Being able to test the best players was very important to the club,” said Welling. “In some ways the holes are more playable with fewer hazards around the greens. But we changed how the course challenges players, with the putting surfaces providing the difficulty.”

Some tree clearing has taken place to provide better views across the layout. “Visually, it feels like a new golf course,” said Welling. “However, we’ve been very mindful that its name is Ocean Forest. So, we’ve protected the grand trees and exposed them as well as taken advantage of this coastal environment. We achieved this, for example, at the eighteenth, which runs along the Atlantic Ocean – we totally reinvented that hole by restoring the dunes it plays through.”

Welling adds that new bunkering has also changed the aesthetics. “There are fewer bunkers, but they are way more visual. Before, the grass went down the faces pretty close to the bottom and there was an incredible amount of square footage. But now, the sand is high, so they’re much more dramatic, and we’ve reduced the sand square footage by half.”

Most of the hard surface cart paths have been removed to be replaced by a series of exposed sand areas. Other work has included rebuilding all tees and installing new irrigation.

The driving range remained open throughout the project, so many members were hitting balls and then touring the course while work was in progress. “They’re super ecstatic and feedback has been very positive,” said Welling. “I was talking to my mother the other day – she knows some of the members – and she was reporting about how excited they all are. It has been a truly transformative project.”

Senior design associate Chase Webb has overseen the project with Beau Welling, while Landscapes Unlimited has handled construction, working with club superintendent Lucas Walters and USGA agronomist Jordan Booth.

“I have been involved in a lot of great projects. But this transformation is unbelievable and it’s going to be extraordinarily impactful both in terms of the playing experience and the aesthetics. I’m super excited about getting feedback from the players as it has been a truly special project.”

The layout is in the final stages of grow-in with some final detailing work and turf-to-sand conversion left to complete.