Fry/Straka Global Golf Course Design is making progress with the restoration of the Donald Ross-designed West Course at Florida’s Belleair Country Club, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year.
The west course, which sits alongside a half-mile of frontage on Clearwater Bay, features a 30-foot drop, which is not typical of many flat Florida golf course sites.
“After a comprehensive survey of members, it was clear that they did not want and support just a mundane renovation of the West Course, but a restoration that embraces its historical significance and pedigree,” said Ed Shaughnessy, director of the exploitation. in Belleair. “The bunkers and greens definitely needed to be rebuilt. This resolution led to several investigative and illuminating trips to the Tufts Archives at Pinehurst, where we learned how important this design is, historically, and how much documentation we have of Donald Ross himself – relating to both its original design effort in 1915, and its redesign in 1924. This information allowed us to make informed decisions resulting in a complete and faithful restoration. This is what we produce.
Clarke Construction Group broke ground on the project, which is expected to cost $8.8 million, in March 2022.
Each green is rebuilt to USGA specifications and restored to Ross’ 1924 construction plans. Straka and Belleair Superintendent Andy Neiswender chose the ultra dwarf TifEagle for the putting surfaces, with Bimini Bermudas everywhere else on the 120-acre West Course property.
“A lot of older clubs struggle to show that Donald Ross was there when he laid out their golf courses,” Straka said. “To have a course where Ross was on site so many times, for the initial design and then remodeling his own work 10 years later, is incredibly rare. Then to have such detailed construction drawings – and human hand notes. It’s even rarer.
“What it does, at some level, is take the guesswork out. We basically took all the plans from 1915 and 1924 and turned them into modern construction drawings. So if Ross had a seven-foot-tall cop bunker when he was 16, we’re building it seven-foot-tall. Ross detailed many “cop” bunkers on this 1924 route. These are totally in-play mounds – what Ross called “the beautiful green” – with wire-covered sand faces. So that’s what we build, because Ross’ own cutaway drawings and notes tell us exactly how to build them! When we’re done, this course will be kind of an amazing time shifter for members. »
Belleair was originally a six-hole loop built in 1897 next to railroad baron Henry Plant’s hotel, The Belleview, which opened the same year. The hotel survived the 21st century but was largely demolished in 2017.
“A portion [of the hotel] has been preserved and moved 100 yards to the south, where it operates today – fully restored and featuring the original decor – as the Belleview Inn,” said Hal Bodley, former Belleair President and Committee Chairman. renovation of the west course. “This restoration process began about five years ago, but our visits to the Tufts Archive in Pinehurst have been a game changer. It has helped members fully understand what we have here.
Bodley, who has written a 200-page book on the club’s history to be published in October, points out that the American Society of Golf Course Architects considered Belleair its unofficial home. The Society was established in 1947 and will visit Belleair four times in 16 years.
“Our restoration of the putting surfaces here is akin to an archaeological dig,” said Straka, who is the current president of the ASGCA. “Here and elsewhere we dug a green complex and found not one set of old drainages but two or three – all stacked on top of each other! Inverted saucer green, such a staple of the so-called “Ross style,” is a bit of a mistake. Here and elsewhere, these putting surfaces have become that way, over time, through multiple reconstructions and decades of top-dressing. Ross’ original plans for Belleair show this very clearly. They show that all but two of these greens were originally designed and constructed with zero-level entries.
“It’s a pretty rich irony: Ross came back here in 1924 with the intention of making the West Course much tougher, and I’m sure he succeeded. However, by restoring this design in 2022, almost to the letter, we are making the course much more user-friendly. Yes, we are re-exposing ravines and streams that had been filled in over the years. However, following Ross’ plans, these greens will not play six feet in the air, and we will lay all fairways to their intended width – fully 50% wider.
Belleair plans to reopen the West Course by mid-November 2022.