Smyers to Update Butterfield CC

Butterfield Country Club (CC) in Oakbrook, Ill., has engaged golf course architect Steve Smyers in what may be an historic move to both prevent future flooding and restore a classic golf course design.

"We have problems that are very evident," said Jay Walsh, chairman of the Greens Committee at Butterfield CC, which was designed in 1922 by William Langford. "The golf course is soggy all the time. Sand traps have no drainage in them. Ginger Creek is eroding to beat the band. So there are a lot of infrastructure problems throughout the course, including 27 to 30 bridges that have deteriorated and must be replaced."

Smyers, his lead architect Patrick Andrews and engineer Don Dressel of Christopher B. Burke Engineering Ltd. in Rosemont have been working together, and with DuPage County officials, to improve the Ginger Creek watershed which affects a wide area. They expect Leibold Construction of Ames, Iowa, to begin work August 11.

Ginger Cream was a small stream running through the property when Butterfield was built. Since then, runoff has greatly eroded Ginger Creek as well as Midwest Club Tributary which runs into it and has caused major drainage issues. "Those creeks are falling apart," said Dressel, "eating away into the fairways and other golf course features by erosion. It has become a continuing problem."

"You used to be able to step over the creek," said Walsh. "Now in some places it is 10, 12, 14 feet wide. Also," he added, "there is so much water throughout the entire property that we need to detain it according to government regulations and let it out at a certain rate of flow. That requires us to build five detention ponds totaling 3.4 acres across the property, compared to the existing three ponds that total 1.5 acres."

Smyers has built a reputation for dealing with difficult wetland issues, including the recent total reconstruction of the former International Country Club in Orlando, Fla., whose wetlands had devolved into an ecological nightmare. Smyers turned the renamed Grande Pines into an environmental and ecological model for wetlands restoration. In another recent new project, The Villages at BridgeWater in Lakeland, Fla., Smyers transformed low-grade wetlands from a former mining operation into a healthy ecosystem.

At Butterfield CC, Smyers said, "the stream has become very unstable and erosive, with little structural function.

Smyers, Andrews and Dressel, who teamed up in a major renovation of the South Course at Olympia Fields (Ill.) CC over the last year, have developed a plan to stabilize the creek bank and retain storm water in an aesthetic pond system that will wind through the golf course.

Smyers said that while three existing ponds total 1.5 acres in size, two more will be dug, more than doubling water storage, and wetlands plantings done to create an effective ecological system. The project also entails stabilizing the toe of the slopes with boulders to check stream-bank erosion and using emergent shelving to stabilize pond areas," said Dressel.

On the existing ponds, Dressel said, "Where there is no outlet, or an inadequate outlet, we're putting in new pipes to get the ponds to drain out to the creek."

Because the existing fairways are dead-flat and do not drain, Smyers will use dirt from the ponds to create contours and make drainage possible, with a new drainage system installed throughout the property. "Water will move through the property much easier," Smyers said.

The Golf Course Itself

Meanwhile, Smyers will restore the Langford philosophy to the golf course design in the $6-million project.

Langford was famed for bold contours, shapes and patterns - signature features reminiscent of another legendary colleague, Seth Raynor. At Butterfield, he designed 27 holes, all of which Smyers will restore in a unique way while reconfiguring troublesome Ginger Creek which has greatly eroded, and flooded, over the years.

"We are going back to the style but not the size," said Smyers. "Langford used the ridges, hillsides, valleys and streams as integral parts of the course. But the game has changed, golfers are hitting the ball much further, and we need to reinstitute those key features of the property with the modern game in mind. It's basically going to be a new golf course, but we will retain a lot of the character of what exists there now."

To do so, Smyers will realign Ginger Creek and Midwest Club Tributary as well as shift around the tees and greens to restore the historical landing areas. This will all be done in concert with DuPage County officials, who wanted Ginger Creek straightened both where it enters Butterfield CC at the northwest corner and exits it at Midwest Road, a major highway to the east.

"Bringing back Langford's traditional landing areas is the most important factor," Smyers said. "We have the original routing and aerial photos from the 1930s, '50s and '60s, and you can easily see the landing areas he meant to have on the ridges, hillsides and little plateaus."

Smyers will also restore the original bunker patterns and greens contours, while increasing the 18-hole course's current 6,600-yard distance from the back tees to 7,200 yards. The property sits on 195 acres, so finding the extra distance caused no problems.