Renovated Oak Park Country Club Reopens

With Rick Jacobson's renovation of Oak Park Country Club now complete, club president Mike Walsdorf describes the results as "unbelievably stunning. People that we take out there for the first time can't believe it. There's no comparison to what it was before. It is stunning. Rick did a fantastic job."

A Donald Ross original that opened in 1914, Oak Park CC in west suburban River Grove, Ill., officially reopened June 2 after being closed since July 31, 2006 for construction.

That's when the members got to see how Jacobson recaptured the spirit of Ross' original layout, while adapting the course to today's equipment and ball technology. "We were not trying to be literalists and restore the golf course to its original design," Walsdorf said. "We wanted to make it a modern golf course while maintaining a strong link to its past. I think we've succeeded."

Earlier this year, Jacobson was named Golf Course Architect of the Year by the national Association of Private Clubs & Directors, which cited his renovation work.

Jacobson's master plan renovation strategy resulted in a golf course that looks and feels like a Ross original, but can provide a competitive challenge for today's most skilled and well-equipped players while still being fun for the average golfer. "Our goal at Oak Park was to maintain the parkland character of the golf course while reestablishing the original strategy of the course as Ross laid it out more than 90 years ago," Jacobson said.

Jacobson praised the construction team of TDI International and golf course superintendent Al Fierst. "They were a great team to work with and they executed the design exceptionally well," Jacobson said.

Jacobson was able to review Ross' original design plans along with notes Ross made on a visit to the course after it first opened. He also was able to view an aerial photograph of the course taken in the 1930s.

Jacobson decided to eliminate the saucer-shaped bunkers that had evolved at Oak Park during various renovation efforts and replace them with traditional sod-faced, Ross-style bunkers reminiscent of Pinehurst No. 2 and other Ross designs. The bunker restoration improved the aesthetics of the course and restored its "classic" style.

Jacobson then positioned strategic bunkers in landing areas where they would be most challenging for today's low-handicap players while "framing" the golf hole for golfers of all levels. "There's no point to putting the bunkers back in the same place Donald Ross had them in his original drawings 90 years ago," Jacobson said. "Today's golfers, with the equipment they have and the way the ball is flying, would just hit it over those bunker locations. So we decided to put old-fashioned sod-face bunkers in locations relevant to today's game."

Jacobson also implemented a tree management program aimed at improving agronomic growing conditions; all existing tee complexes were rebuilt and forward tees were added to accommodate beginners, juniors, and senior players; two greens (the eighth and the 18th) were moved and rebuilt; all other greens were reseeded and enlarged to their original dimensions in order to recapture pin placement areas; additional irrigation was installed; cart paths were renovated; fairways were reseeded and the subsurface drainage system was upgraded.

The par-72 course now measures just under 6,900 yards from the tips after more than 100 yards were added to the course.

Oak Park CC was renovated twice before. Edward Dearie, who worked for Ross as a construction crew chief, fine-tuned Oak Park in its early days. He also worked there as golf course superintendent from 1931-51. In 1955, William Diddel, who designed 75 courses over his 50-year career, also performed some renovation work on Oak Park.

Oak Park CC is the third Ross renovation for Jacobson. He previously worked on Bob 'O Link and Northmoor country clubs, both located in Highland Park, Ill.

A protégé of Jack Nicklaus, Jacobson founded Jacobson Golf Course Design, Inc. in 1991 as a full-service golf design firm specializing in new course designs as well as master plan renovations and additions to existing facilities. Earlier this year, both Golf Digest and Golfweek magazines cited Bayside Golf Resort in Delaware, a collaboration involving Jacobson and Nicklaus, as one of the nation's top new golf courses.

Jacobson has extensive experience in the renovation and restoration of several of the Midwest's classic golf courses. In addition to Bob O'Link and Northmoor, Jacobson has renovated North Shore CC in Glenview, Ill. (Colt, Alison) and Glen Oak CC in Glen Ellyn, Ill. (Tom Bendelow). Jacobson renovated Pete Dye's Des Moines G&CC in preparation for the 1999 U.S. Senior Open. He also did a dramatic makeover on the Blackhawk Trace course at Indian Lakes Resort in Bloomingdale, Ill.