THEN AND NOW by Bobby Weed, ASGCA
Those who subscribe to the view that being a golf course architect
requires jetting about, playing golf, and rubbing elbows with the elite,
might do well to spend a day on a site with an architect while a course
is under construction. Let me reflect a few experiences and observations
from the "startover" construction in 1996 at Timuquana Country
The pedigree of the golf course is well documented as Donald Ross was
the architect of record in 1923. I can only assume that Mr. Ross was
favorably impressed with the site upon his initial inspection. The property
meets standards that have never gone out of favor with views along the
moss-laden, live oak banks of the St. John's River and a native, sandy
soil. Mr. Ross, who was quite prolific in the south Georgia-north Florida
area, set out to build a course that could be favorably enjoyed by its
The end result in 1923 was a masterful, core-routed layout. Not until
we uncovered an early 40's aerial from the adjacent Naval Base did,
we realize how treeless the original golf course was. Except for a few
live oak hammocks and surrounding native vegetation, the course was
open with ample space to play. Interestingly, it appeared from the photo
that a number of green complexes were sited near these live oak clusters,
like holes' two and eleven.
With the postwar euphoria of new technology, ( i.e., automatic irrigation,
golf carts, ball and club improvements), much of Mr. Ross' work was
redone. In the mid 50's, Robert Trent Jones was called upon to modify
the golf course with subsequent alterations by George Cobb and Dave
Gordon. This type of evolution on a golf course, which occurs over such
a long period, typically goes unnoticed. How often do you see yourself
change if you look in the mirror every day?
While the effects were obvious once we began to rebuild the golf course
in '96, the Naval Base aerial was the only evidence of Ross' original
intent. With such a lack of data, we believed that the only way to properly
restore the golf course was to check our ego at the clubhouse and endeavor
to see things as Ross might have seen them.
With only fourteen weeks of actual construction to accomplish what
originally took well over a year to complete, I remember a quote from
Mr. Ross about a day in the heat at Pinehurst: "I was plastered
with dust, and looked like a coal miner!" With a prolonged drought
in the summer of '96, the entire site at Timuquana was a dust bowl and
I could certainly relate to the "coal miner" after a twelve
to fourteen hour day. We mechanically roto-tilled the entire property,
removed more than 800 trees and built a brand new golf course, start
to finish and reopened in six months.
During the clearing process, we discovered three sets of 150-yard markers!
The original 150-yard markers, now 75-foot Southern Red cedars, were
discovered approximately 60 to 75 feet in the woods, followed by a second
set of holly bushes and most recently ligustrum shrubs. Just look to
the right on hole #11. This is one of the most profound examples of
how a course evolves and matures over time.
The construction and feel of the features on the golf course mimic
what Mr. Ross might have done. Because scoop pans, drags and lots of
hand labor was used in the 1920's, we restricted ourselves to the smallest
dozers and mechanized equipment. The flat site warranted small features
with little elevation change, hence the subtle Ross-style bumps and
fall-offs around the greens.
Where one of Mr. Ross' associates oversaw construction and made numerous
on-site observations, we paralleled the process with intensive supervision
during the project. This could mean shaping a 'green' with our hands
in the dirt at an operator's feet or climbing on a dozer or power rake
ourselves. The best golf courses are always the result of in-the-field
The reconstruction of the course also solved severe infrastructure
problems. Drainage and irrigation constitute the two major components
of infrastructure. Three drainage outfalls were found and numerous open
ditches installed by Mr. Ross were reclaimed. Groundwater wells used
to irrigate in the past were abandoned and an agreement with the adjacent
Naval Base allowed the use of treated effluent to be sprayed onto the
golf course, which had up to this point, discharged into the river.
Strategic values worth mentioning include the balance and variety of
the golf holes. Mr. Ross was a master at alternating left-to-right and
right-to-left shots within the same hole, like at hole #17. We have
tried to implement this same concept throughout the golf course today.
An interesting note regarding the bunkers at Timuquana is how they are
offset in the strategic mode instead of penal, or opposite each other.
For example, consider the offset bunkering at greens two,ten and twelve.
Today, the members at Timuquana are enjoying their golf course as it
continues to evolve. The game today is different even since we upgraded
the course just six years ago. Technological advances have been a challenge
well before Donald Ross was designing and building golf courses. I wonder
what Mr. Ross would think today if he could witness how the game is
being played on his courses. For me, I accept the challenge and continue
to play in the dirt.