By David Droschak
It was probably a no-brainer that Pine Needles CEO Kelly Miller would tap Kyle Franz to tackle the resort’s latest acquisition – historic Southern Pines Golf Club – as the architect of choice for a renovation project that is scheduled to begin this winter.
The work by Franz at sister resorts Mid Pines and Pine Needles was striking, award-winning and something that would have likely made legendary architect Donald Ross proud. In fact, Franz is finishing up a stunning $5 million project at Raleigh Country Club – the last design of Ross – and will immediately pivot to the 1906 layout in Southern Pines.
Franz believes Ross had three or four different design styles during his career, which he has tried to tap into as he’s gone from restoration to restoration to restoration.
“For me, it kind of goes without saying but Kelly (Miller) is an ideal client, especially an ideal client for a young architect because he has such great taste and instincts for architecture and understands the material so well,” the 39-year-old Franz said. “And Kelly also has such a great appreciation for the history and the nuisances of design work, so we’re constantly picking away at things.
“I couldn’t be any luckier because Kelly and his team are committed to doing things right, and having the freedom to do it is great,” added Franz. “It’s a lot of fun working with them because they appreciate that we try to make each project a little different and make them something that golfers feel like if they miss one of them on one of these trips to the Sandhills that they missed something really worth seeing and they’ll come back.”
The “Elks Club” golf course sits on a fabulous piece of rolling terrain less than a minute from downtown Southern Pines, filled with towering pines and a centerpiece lake.
“The golf course is really, really strong and the routing is incredible, and the land is great,” Franz said. “We don’t want to change the world over there. But we do want the greens to reflect what Ross intended and some of them, need work. And we’ll create a style of bunkers to give it that Ross touch and add some Old World charm to it.”
Miller notes that the sloping topography at Southern Pines Golf Club won’t support sweeping sandscapes that Franz has utilized in his previous renovation projects at Mid Pines and Pine Needles, saying they would “wash away.” Franz has an idea of his style of sand bunkers there, but is keeping it under wraps for now.
“I don’t want to tell anybody yet,” Franz said. “Yes, I do have a concept for it and yes it’s very unique and yes it is reflective of the Ross style.”
Early plans also call for the removal of hundreds of trees to creating “sweeping views” of the property as golfers make their way around the 114-year-old design.
“We would like to show off how impressive the landscape it out there,” Franz said. “The trees are very, very overpopulated. It has never been managed from a tree standpoint so removing trees will also help the turfgrass to allow more sunlight, and we’ll open up some areas where people can golf their ball around a little bit more and not be in jail every time they reach the tree line.”
Once completed by early October 2021, Miller and his ownership group will have three original Ross courses to offer resort guests and members.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for us,” Miller said. “We’re excited and thrilled with a unique opportunity for our guests and members to have that 54-hole variety. They are all Ross courses but they are all different with three different genres.”
In addition to his work at Southern Pines Golf Club, Franz will also be spending some time tweaking Pine Needles for the upcoming 2022 U.S. Women’s Open.
“This winter is really the last winter for us to do anything because next winter we just have to keep the course in good shape,” Miller said. “We’ll mostly be narrowing some fairways and landing areas. We wanted to take a look at it working with the USGA and agree with most of what we’re outlining, that some of these sandscapes we’re proposing will be long term and ones we think we wouldn’t take out.”
Franz will also be doing some tee work at Pine Needles.
“We’ll be expanding a few tees – some backward and some forward — to provide the USGA the flexibility on holes like 6 and 7, to provide a little bit of variety on the golf course and give players the clubs in their hands that Ross wanted them to be hitting into the greens from the tops of the crests,” Miller said. “None of these charges are dramatic because we believe the golf course is pretty challenging out there already.”