Kona Country Club's Ocean Course to Get a Facelift

Golf architect John Sanford has been hired to remodel the Ocean Course at Kona Country Club in Hawaii. Not only will Sanford modernize the 1966-built layout, his Jupiter, Fla.-based team will introduce 21st Century environmental techniques to cut maintenance costs and reduce the course's use of the island's limited supply of fresh water.

"We are excited about this particular project because the course occupies a site of historic value," said Sanford. The Ocean course and its Mountain course sibling are located on Keauhou Bay, the home of King Kamehameha, Hawaii's first monarch credited with capturing and unifying the islands.

"It's a very nice golf course designed by William Bell. Both nines open out to the ocean," added Sanford. "The third and 12th are both signature holes, par 3's, playing right along the ocean, very spectacular settings," Sanford said "It also has some very nice topography but it hasn't been improved much in the last 40 years so the owner decided to move forward with a full renovation."

The renovation will take the course back to its volcanic roots. "The course is 100% grass. All 125 acres is grass, wall to wall," Sanford said. "Our concept of the renovation is to take approximately 30 acres out of grass, out of play areas where we can expose lava and plant native bunch grasses to give the course more character and definition."

Removing some of the grass will reduce maintenance costs and water consumption. "We are always looking for ways to reduce grass areas without sacrificing playability for water consumption purposes," Sanford said. "That is certainly part of the reasoning there. They have a limited fresh water supply, but by exposing some lava and introducing some native plantings you get better esthetics, better definition and just a better looking product."

Another major cost saving will be a watering system for the course that will depend on water extracted from a nearby sewage treatment plant. The treated water is pumped to a reservoir on the mountain and will be used to irrigate the both courses. "We are going to use gravity to feed water to the Ocean course," Sanford said. "Not only are we using recycled water, but we are doing it with gravity pressure and eliminating pumps. It's a pretty conservative low-cost system when you don't have to pay for fresh water, you don't have to pay for a pumping system, or electricity to drive an irrigation system."

Another major improvement will be the conversion of the all the turf from Bermuda grass to paspalum grass, a strain that is a natural for ocean side courses. "It has greater salt tolerance, it's a very hardy grass," Sanford said. "It's a beautiful grass a lot of people call it Caribbean bent (grass) and unlike Bermuda it has a nice shine to it and you can really stripe it up and get a nice effect."

Sanford said new tees will be added to stretch the course from 6,500 yards to a more challenging 7,000 yards from the championship tees. He said construction will begin next April with completion projected for October. The course will reopen in December 2010 or January 2111.