The Winter Park Golf Course in Winter Park, Florida, will reopen next month following a renovation by architects Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns in their first project as lead designers.
A grand reopening celebration is scheduled for 1 October, with the course opening for public play on 2 October.
The architects were commissioned to redesign and rebuild the city’s century-old nine hole municipal golf course, believed to be the second oldest course in central Florida, back in November 2015.
GCA caught up with Riley Johns to discuss the work, and find out how his first project as a lead designer played out.
“As someone who has been grinding hard for 15 years in a profession dominated by guys that are mostly much older than myself, it feels great to have finally broken through with my first project as lead designer,” Johns explains. “The responsibility was daunting at first, especially navigating the municipal planning and permitting corridors, but once we finally hit the ground and starting doing what we do best – building golf – I felt right in my comfort zone. I remember thinking to myself on the final days of construction ‘we pulled it off exactly how we said we would, that’s pretty cool’.”
Rhebb and Johns were able to deliver the golf course to the city of Winter Park on schedule and under budget, despite being requested to add a family putting course to the scope of the work.
Johns says the project has been a smooth process throughout – something he believes this to be down to the design and build model that was employed.
“Both Keith and I were on-site every day, managing daily events and ensuring the project kept moving forward while staying on budget,” he says. “We could troubleshoot any problems that popped up and figure it out immediately. We also kept the city informed on a daily basis – not via e-mail, conference calls and cell phone pictures, but in person, on-site, and in the flesh.”
When the project was commencing, Rhebb was quoted as saying ‘We plan to enhance the strategic charm and conditioning of the golf course, and to create a landscape of beauty that the community can be proud.’ Has this objective been reached?
“Absolutely,” says Johns. “We knew we were on the right track when residents started approaching us on-site to comment on how much better the property looked already, and this was during the shaping stages! People were buzzing about the beautiful bunkers being shaped, the interesting new greens, and all the new contouring in the fairways.”
Around 100 trees were removed to open up the fairways, and around 100 native trees have been replanted in better locations across the course. Greens have also been enlarged to create more interesting and varied pin locations.
“The course conditioning is night and day better,” says Johns. “We removed 100 years of thatch that had developed over time and exposed the free draining sand underneath. This simple technique improved drainage significantly and saved the City of Winter Park heaps of money on unnecessary drainage infrastructure. A new state of the art irrigation system was also installed, which allows complete control of watering and fertigation. All of this, coupled with new Tif Eagle greens and 419 fairways, will make this course stand out in the area as the best conditioned in my opinion.”
Johns said the feedback on the work has been positive thus far, with the course growing in well and people in the area eager to get out there and play.
“The residents are very excited about the look of the new course and golf enthusiasts are excited to try the new golf holes out,” he says. “I remember residents that lived adjacent to the course coming up to us at the end of the project and thanking us for how quickly we completed the job, which was nice. We will know more come 1 October when the course reopens and we start getting golfers feedback.”
Johns added that all-in-all, the project had been hugely rewarding.
“It was really cool to give back to the game of golf at Winter Park,” he concludes. “I learned golf on a municipal golf course, and I think many people do. It was great to have an opportunity to give back to the game in such a positive way by building a no frills, core golf experience for the people. Many designers talk about ‘growing the game’ but rarely actually do anything beyond that. This project was always about community golf – so much so that we even had community volunteers help with things like sprigging. We hope that one day, the next PGA mega-star comes from Winter Park, Florida. That would be a great cherry on top of this entire endeavour.”