Snowmass Golf Club: Six Reasons To Start From Scratch, The Story Of A Complete Makeover

By David R. Holland, Contributor

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, CO -- When a golf course architect is asked to remodel an existing golf course or even restore it to its original design, it's often a thankless job. He might do an exemplary job only to be criticized.

Tom Doak did restoration work at Pasatiempo in Santa Cruz, CA, and immersed himself so much he wrote a book about the Alister MacKenzie jewel.

Keith Foster meticulously reconstructed the greens at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, TX, after taking countless photos at every angle and cross-section.

Rees Jones remodeled San Diego's public Torrey Pines South in 2001, lengthening, toughening and improving it to the sum of $3.5 million for the Buick Open. After Bethpage Black hosted this year's U.S. Open so successfully, many think Torrey Pines South will be a future U.S. Open public-course host, perhaps in 2008.

Did Doak, Foster and Jones get proper praise and credit?

Today, Jones' name can't even be found on the Torrey Pines web site -- William Bell Sr. designed both courses, North and South, at Torrey Pines in 1957.

Foster's work was the fifth in a line at Colonial that includes original designer John Bredemus in 1936, Perry Maxwell and Ben Hogan in 1940, Dick Wilson in 1956, Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1960 and Jay Morrish and Bob Cupp in 1982. Foster is lost in the long list, but says that's not important -- he just wanted to do a good job.

Doak is very prominent on the Pasatiempo website thanks to the club's very active historian -- Bob Beck.

Sometimes, however, situations arise for a complete makeover, actually eliminating the old track. That's what happened at Snowmass.

Colorado's Snowmass: The Complete Makeover

When The Snowmass Club asked Jim Engh to present a plan for updating its 1980 Arnold Palmer-Ed Seay layout, minutes from trendy Aspen, he proposed a blueprint that would eliminate any thoughts that his name would get lost in the shuffle.

Engh proposed a complete makeover or redesign, not for vanity's sake, but because it was the best alternative to fill in all the requirements Snowmass had asked of him.

So why take a Palmer-Seay layout and erase it? Here are six reasons Snowmass needed to start from scratch:

1. Upgrade your place in the competitive market.

While the golf course boom may be slowing in parts of the USA, it's alive and well in Colorado.

Snowmass, with its postcard views of the ski runs and the Elk Mountain Range, had been a mainstay for resort golf in the Roaring Fork Valley for 22 years, hosting as many as 50,000 rounds in a snow-shortened season. But the golf boom has surrounded Snowmass.

Aspen's Maroon Creek, Basalt's Roaring Fork Club and Carbondale's Aspen Glen are upscale private clubs in the valley. Just minutes away is River Valley Ranch, the No. 5-ranked Colorado daily-fee course by And Aspen Golf Club, the city's municipal, is dazzling after multi-million dollar improvements.

2. Replace the inefficient irrigation system with state-of-the-art product and improve drainage.

Ask any golf course architect -- almost every facet of a golf course eventually wears out and needs updating, repair or rebuilding. Drainage deteriorates with the constant pounding of rain or snow melt and irrigation systems simply wear out.

3. Introduce the latest grasses designed for specific areas, weather and altitudes.

Although replacing all the grass is a luxury and not a necessity, seed and sod companies are continually updating their products.

At Snowmass, L93 was used for the bentgrass greens and the fairways are a bluegrass-rye mixture. These areas were seeded at Snowmass and the rough was sodded. By sodding the rough, you also inject a buffer area that helps deter erosion that might be caused by any severe weather or runoff during the maturation process.

4. Expand the parking lot and improve access to the club.

The Snowmass Golf Club's parking lot had 20 spaces. Can you imagine, in today's competitive market, how that went over when some high-roller from New York City arrived and there was no place to park his rented Lincoln SUV? Or Alice Cooper arrived in his limo?

The new Snowmass Golf Club's access will be simpler. There will be direct access from Brush Creek Road, a main byway. The old access included turning off Brush Creek and following a feeder road to the entrance.

5. Upgrade the driving range.

Have you ever arrived at an upscale golf course, asked about the location of the driving range, and were told "it's over yonder a piece" -- meaning a five-minute hike or so far away you have to drive? Not good.

Snowmass didn't want that. Snowmass wanted what every golfer wants -- a driving range you can see from the clubhouse. That was Engh's job.

"The day we showed the property to Jim Engh, he came back at 8:30 the next morning with a completely new routing plan that addressed all our issues and had returning nines close to a new clubhouse site. It had a new driving range next to the clubhouse and the new parking lot we wanted. We looked at the plan and it worked for us," said Don Schuster, general manager of The Snowmass Club.

6. Build a new clubhouse.

The old Snowmass clubhouse was small, very modest, but functional; not what you want in the super rich, sometimes elite Roaring Fork Valley. In order to compete in this wealthy market, you need something special.

Once home to the Anderson Ranch, Cottle Graybeal Yaw Architects designed a 5,000-square foot ranch-style clubhouse. It features a metal roof, timber trusses, old fencing and latticework that will remind you of the land's former ranching heritage.

The Decision Process

Schuster did call Palmer-Seay to get their thoughts and bid first.

"We talked to Palmer-Seay and we just couldn't come up with a plan to have a new clubhouse, driving range and parking area without a major rerouting of the course. Without these elements we would have just had the same course, only modernized," Schuster said.

Schuster decided to seek more opinions. He attended a Society of Golf Course Architects Remodeling University in January of 2001 in Chicago.

He talked to Rick Phelps and Keith Foster. Foster, designer of Colorado's Haymaker in Steamboat Springs and Texas Star in Euless, immediately said he was just too busy.

But Engh's bid and design thoughts were right for Snowmass.

"With Engh's proposal, I was looking at only a 25-percent cost difference from just fixing up the old layout and having something brand new," Schuster said.

A $13 million price tag included the whole project -- new golf course, state-of-the-art irrigation system, improved drainage, clubhouse, parking lot, driving range, site work for roads and a new entrance off Brush Creek Road.

"Before, Snowmass was a nicely soft layout, but the new one will borderline on dramatic," Engh said. "It will be a radical change."

The bunkering first caught Alan Ogren's eye. He's the Snowmass superintendent.

"I really like the bunkers. There's so much shape to them, with noses and fingers. The bottoms are flat and fair, but the sides are so steep I doubt I'll be able to use a machine to groom them. They probably will have to be hand-raked," Ogren said.

Engh's bunker complexes are just as penal even if you aren't in them. "You probably will have a tough sidehill lie if you aren't in the bunker," Engh said. "The bunkers at Snowmass are similar to my other courses. They are linear with lots of shape, gnarly noses and small bottoms."

The other characteristic of Engh's designs is the ability to take severe terrain and make the holes appear natural. You see it at his Colorado layouts The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa, Sanctuary and Red Hawk Ridge.. His new course The Club at Black Rock in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, set to open in 2003 is another prime example. He took dramatic mountain land and transformed it with an artist's eye.

Picking the right tees will be important at the new Snowmass. "The Jim Engh courses I've played can be somewhat visually intimidating, but most landing areas are generous. Some of the fairways are bowled and some greens are cut into the hillsides, creating steep banks behind the greens. We moved a half-million cubic yards of dirt and created contours everywhere. We also introduced six acres of wetlands and limited the amount of irrigation to 75 acres of turf," Ogren said.

The former Snowmass layout was 6,662 yards long and had only three sets of tees. The new layout will have five sets of tees, and stretch out to almost 7,000 yards, with a par of 72 says Engh.

No. 18 is a dramatic downhill par 5 at 585 yards and should provide plenty of discussions for those who have finished a round and are sitting on the clubhouse deck enjoying a cool Colorado brew.

"The pedestal tee box has a 360-degree panorama of the Snowmass ski runs and the Elk Range, set up on a ridge," Ogren said. "The fairway looks narrow from up there, but it really has plenty of landing room. If you nail your drive, you have a chance to reach the green in two, but there is a pond and wetlands right and pot bunkers guarding the front and back."

Schuster and staff are contemplating a name change at this time. Stay tuned. He also projects a $130 green fee. Current rate at Aspen Golf Club is $80 and River Valley Ranch is $75 for non-residents.

Engh's portfolio of golf courses have all won awards. The Colorado list includes -- Sanctuary in Sedalia; Red Hawk Ridge in Castle Rock; and The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa in Grand Junction. Hawktree Golf Club in Bismarck, ND and Tullymore Golf Club in Stanwood, MI have also scored awards.

Snowmass' Makeover Step-by-Step:

Mike Hines, Project Architect of Engh Golf Design provided the information for this process.

1. Get out the bulldozers? Nope, first spray the grass with Roundup Herbicide.

2. When the grass is dead, tear down the existing turf grass. Strip off the grass and stock pile as much topsoil as possible to be re-used.

3. Dig out the greens, which include sand and gravel in the lower levels. Stock pile these and recycle. Take sand out of bunkers to re-use.

4. Shaping the land is next. Bulldozers of different sizes create the rolls and contours of the land and dig out and shape bunkers. This step was tough because of the amount of rock or cobble located just below the topsoil at Snowmass.

5. Drainage and irrigation system. Once the golf course is shaped, the land is basically torn up again to create the drainage and install the irrigation system. Some of the old recycling pumps and pump-station equipment can be used in the new system.

Normally, top soil has already been added. But at Snowmass, there were so many small rocks they decided to wait and add the top soil until after the irrigation line ditches were dug and PVC was in place.

6. Test the irrigation system and make sure you have the water flowing with no leaks to the system.

7. Prep and smooth the topsoil into the final contours. Put seed down and lay sod outside of the fairways, greens and bunkers. Greens complexes include drainage work, four inches of gravel, 12 inches of sand and peat, topsoil on top of that and seed.

8. Pray for rain and snow in drought-stricken Colorado. When the snow melts next spring, start watering and hope for a July 1 opening date.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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