Silva to Restore Donald Ross’ Augusta Country Club

Architect Brian Silva broke ground this July on a thorough restoration of Augusta Country Club, a Donald Ross design whose rich golf history actually predates Ross and stretches back to the 19th century.

Augusta Country Club will be closed for the summer/fall and reopen for play in January 2002, according to General Manager Henry Marburger. When the restoration is complete, Augusta CC will feature a layout as true to its Ross plans as any course in the Southeast.

Silva first visited the club two years ago. “At that time, the discussions centered mostly around restoring the bunkers,” recalled the architect, whose extensive Ross-restoration portfolio includes Seminole Golf Club in North Palm Beach, Florida, Biltmore Forest Country Club in Asheville, N.C. (site of the 1999 Women’s Amateur), Old Elm Golf Club in Chicago, and Charlotte (N.C.) Country Club, host of last year’s USGA Senior Amateur.

”After that initial visit, the club got a hold of Ross’ original, working drawings from the Tufts Archive in Pinehurst,” Silva continued. “And I mean drawings straight from the source: Ross’ hand-written notes are right there on each individual hole plan. It’s not just a route plan – these are the original, ‘working’ drawings used during construction. The club also has some very good vintage photography, too, so we know quite well what Ross intended for this course to look like.

”Bit by bit, the scope of the work changed and eventually the club decided to go the full-restoration route.”

Working with superintendent Greg Burleson and Gainesville, Georgia-based contractor Course Crafters, Silva will thoroughly restore the Augusta CC layout. All 18 putting surfaces will be refurbished in accordance with the Ross drawings; existing bunkers will be restored in the vintage style; lost bunkers will be reinstated to their original positions/configurations; and all 18 tee complexes will be re-built in the classic, rectangular style Silva employed to such great effect at Biltmore Forest.

”We won’t be moving fairway bunkers further down the fairways to accommodate modern play lengths,” explained Silva, Golf World’s “Architect of the Year” for 1999, “and here’s why: Ross used his trademark, random-bunker approach at Augusta. He sprinkled bunkers about the fairways in such a way that they would come into play for everyone, no matter how far you hit it.

”Also, and just as important, the original bunkers were cleverly cut into slight upslopes. Moving them for distance’s sake would not allow the bunkers to be placed in such wonderfully natural positions.”

Formal golf has been played here by Rae’s Creek since 1897; that’s when the nine-hole Bon Air Golf Club began accommodating local members and guests of The Bon Air Hotel, which owned the course. By 1900, when Harry Vardon played an exhibition at Bon Air, the facility had expanded to 18 holes; later that year the hotel renamed it the Country Club of Augusta.

To ease crowding on the 18 original holes (known as the Lake Course), club members built another 18 strictly for their use. Designed by club president Dr. William Henry Harrison Jr. and longtime pro David Ogilvie, the Hill Course debuted in 1909. Soon thereafter, president-elect William Howard Taft played the course, as did summer guests like John D. Rockefeller and future president Warren G. Harding.

In 1921, the club officially settled on its current moniker, Augusta Country Club. Five years later, Seth Raynor would convert the sand greens on the Lake Course to bermudagrass.

In 1927, Donald Ross – in town to design the Forest Hills Golf Course – was retained to convert the sand putting surfaces on the Hill Course to bermuda. Ross also substantially rerouted the front nine and completely rebunkered the layout, as detailed on his working drawings.

While the Lake Course would not survive the Depression (it was sold off by the hotel in 1937) the Hill Course endures to this day and, along the way, compiled a luminous tournament history of its own.

Bobby Jones kicked off his Grand Slam year at Augusta CC with a 13-shot victory over Horton Smith in the inaugural Southeastern Open. That was 1930, several years before he would found the adjoining Augusta National Golf Club on the other side of Rae’s Creek.

The Women’s Titleholders Championship was held at Augusta Country Club from 1937 to 1966. The list of winners is a Who’s Who of women’s golf: Patty Berg, Louise Suggs, Babe Didrickson Zaharias, Peggy Kirk, Mickey Wright and Kathy Whitworth. The women’s tradition didn’t end there: In 1971, Hollis Stacey beat Amy Alcott to win the USGA Girls’ Junior Championship at Augusta CC.

“Like Biltmore Forest, Seminole and others, Augusta Country Club is a great example of Ross’ ability to use the terrain to its absolute best advantage,” said Silva, a partner with Uxbridge, Massachusetts-based Cornish, Silva and Mungeam, Inc. “The routing here is superb, but the Ross details need reviving. His working diagrams show putting surfaces that had more undulation than they do today. The work we do this summer will seek to re-instill some of this flavor – within reason, considering today’s faster putting speeds.

”The original course was sprinkled with random bunkers throughout the fairways, including a really great set of diagonal cross-bunkers on the uphill 3rd hole. There was a wonderful flow to the layout, as the fairways sinewed their way around bunkers from tee to green. The working diagrams even show the 16th as a punchbowl green.

”The club is determined to bring all this back.”

Having christened four original layouts last year (including Silva’s much-praised Black Creek Club in Chattanooga, Tenn.), Cornish, Silva and Mungeam (CSM) will open four more original designs in 2001, including partner Mark Mungeam’s LeBaron Hills CC, a private club in Lakeville, Massachusetts.

Partners Geoffrey Cornish, Mungeam and Silva currently have projects under construction in Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, all six New England states, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Illinois, where Mungeam is now preparing the North Course at Olympia Fields Country Club for the 2003 U.S. Open.