Hills/Forrest Renovation Keys Centennial Tourney-fest at Columbus CC

Fortified by a major renovation from Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates, and boasting a full dance card of tournaments this summer, the Country Club of Columbus in Georgia is ready to celebrate its centennial in style.

Designed by Donald Ross and opened 100 years ago, the Country Club of Columbus will host one of the nation's top amateur championships next month, when the Southeastern Amateur visits western Georgia June 18-21. A month later, the Georgia State Amateur Championship will be held at the Country Club of Columbus, July 9-12.

The Country Club of Columbus (CCC) has long been an influential club within Georgia and nationally. The Haskins Award, presented annually by the Haskins Commission to honor the nation's top collegiate golfer, is named for Fred Haskins, the former teaching pro at CCC, where the trophy is permanently kept.

But the flurry of tournament play at CCC in 2009, to mark its centennial, is arguably the biggest month in the club's long history, and it would not have taken place without the comprehensive course refurbishment undertaken by Hills/Forrest partner Drew Rogers and completed in 2002.

"The course renovation really made all this possible," said Richard Wilson, CCC member and officer with the Georgia State Golf Association, which stages the Georgia Amateur. "The course hadn't been touched in almost 100 years. It was tired, really tired, and frankly it wasn't a worthy championship venue. The renovation changed all that."

Under Rogers' direction, Hills/Forrest refurbished all 18 greens, added more than 200 yards to what had been a 6,500-yard routing, refitted every bunker with a rolled-grass face, installed a country mile's worth of drainage, and removed a small forest of trees.

"We did a lot of clearing. The old layout was totally overgrown," said Rogers, who revisited CCC in the spring of 2009 to direct one last tweak (at the 13th hole) in preparation for this summer's 100th anniversary tournament schedule. "Looking at the course today, it's hard to think back and envision just how choked down the old fairways had been - like little bowling alleys.

"The storied 11th hole had only about 20 yards of width!" Rogers continued. "This compromised the golf, but just as important, it hurt the course conditioning. Most of the trees we removed were deciduous. They were out of character with the pines and they blocked out all of the air and light penetration that is so vital for healthy turf. The results are healthier turf and a more attractive, majestic stand of Georgia pines."

Toledo, Ohio-based Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates (AHSF) is one of the most active course designers in the world, with more than 200 original designs and 130 major renovations in its portfolio. Over the past 12 months, one of the least productive years of golf development in two decades, AHSF christened a pair of original designs: Journey at Pechanga in Temecula, Calif., named to Golf Magazine's "Top 10 New Courses You can Play" for 20088; and the TPC Treviso Bay in Naples, Fla., which hosted a Champions Tour event just eight weeks after opening. The firm also unveiled three renovation projects in 2008: at Oslo GK in the Norwegian capital, at Forest Glen Country Club in Naples, Fla., and at Naperville CC outside Chicago, a project that earned AHSF Renovation of the Year honors from GolfInc. Magazine in the Private Club category.

The renovation at CCC was, to a certain extent, championship-driven. Membership rolls were thin and the club saw its course falling out of local and regional tournament consideration. Because it was an original Ross design, much of the work was restorative in its intent, especially around the greens.

"It's interesting to look back on the Columbus job, because we studied the Ross plans for CCC and we undertook a series of preliminary coring projects, right down to the original subgrade, to determine the exact outline and elevation of the original greens," said Rogers. "Having experience with this sort of project, we found what we expected to find: The original greens were characteristically small but not nearly as small as they had become. We're talking 3,000 square feet on average, which is tiny - more akin to the size of some tees we build today. We restored their original parameters and expanded them in some cases to recapture strategic cupping areas.

"Just as important, we found layers of sand that in some places were as much as 2 feet thick! This sand had built up over the years, at the edge of bunkers and elsewhere due to long-term topdressing. Over time, these putting surfaces were totally transformed into 18 inverted teacups with uncharacteristic troughs around the edges that trapped water.

"Now, are these the character of greens' folks associate with Donald Ross greens? Yes. Are these the contours Donald Ross designed and what his teams built at CCC? It's clear to me they were not. We've seen the plans and studied the soil profiles. It's plainly obvious that these crowns and these steep drops at the green edges were adulterations that evolved over time."

It's a delicate job renovating such greens, Rogers noted; people think these are "Ross" greens and the members are have grown accustomed to them over the course of decades. At CCC, the putting surfaces were expanded slightly, the crowns were softened, but several of the false fronts and steep drop-offs were kept. Why? "The members liked them," he said. "And that's a legitimate design element on three or four greens. When all 18 greens feature something like that, it can get tiresome. But, there was a still sense of pride among many, so we were sure to keep the greens very small, recapture some key pin positions, retain several strategic fall-offs and create some new collar-collection areas."

Rogers is just as proud of the new water features and bunkers at CCC, which transformed a tired-looking course into a stunning visual experience. The ponds were expanded, interlinked (to expand irrigation capability) and lined with stacked stone. "One of the members took on the installation, a real craftsman. We ended up converting one of the real eyesores on the property into a true postcard.

"That's a good example of an aesthetic improvement doubling as a practical gain," Rogers added. "The water features were stagnant and unhealthy, frankly, now they're showpieces - but we made the club's water consumption more efficient, which has come in handy during the ensuing drought years.

"Same thing with the bunkers. They used to be big saucers with sand flashed up high - every time it rained, they would wash out and expose that Georgia-red clay, which contaminated the white sand. We brought the grass face down near the floor of the bunkers, which is a Ross look and mitigates the washouts."

Rogers, for one, will be watching the Southeastern Amateur results closely. The architect is keen to see whether 100-year-old CCC holds up well against the length of today's top young players. Yet, in another way, some young stud going low cannot taint the progress that has already been made.

"It's amazing what has happened at the club since we finished the bulk of our work there, in 2002," Rogers explained. "The membership is younger, there are more families. They have a terrific junior golf program. It's a far more healthy, viable club than it was when we first arrived 10 years ago. And it all started with the golf course."

For more information on Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates, call 419/841-8553 visit www.arthurhills.com.