The highly acclaimed Winston-Salem course closed April 16 to make several structural improvements, including the change of the surfaces of the undulating greens from bentgrass to bermudagrass Tif-Eagle.
The club will also complete installation of the Better Billy Bunker system in its 80 sand bunkers, improve cart paths and complete other updates around the course and club, including the patio, swimming pool and tennis courts.
Golf chairman Dunlop White III did not provide an estimate of the costs.
White said the club hopes to have the golf course open by Sept. 1. During the project, White said the club has arranged for its members to play at other clubs, including nearby Forsyth Country Club and Maple Chase Golf and Country Club.
Designed by Perry Maxwell in 1939, Old Town is the only Triad course to make the latest lists of top 100 U.S. courses by Golf Magazine and Golf Digest now ranked at No. 54.
Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, who made renovations to the course in 2013, are handling the current project. Dave Axland, returns as the project manager.
“We feel that our Perry Maxwell contours are iconic and famous, and we want to protect those at all cost,” White told TBJ. “This is not a design renovation. “This is mostly an infrastructure renovation.”
Old Town is ranked No. 38 on Golf Magazine’s latest (2022) list of Top 100 Courses in the U.S.
“With sweeping, cross-course vistas punctuated by tawny native grasses and an exemplary routing that twists around miles of creek beds, side-slopes and artistic bunkering, Old Town’s restoration portrays the enduring spirit of classic golf architecture,” the magazine wrote.
While new courses generally bump older courses down (Pinehurst No. 2 dropped from No. 6 to No. 12 in Golf Digest and from No. 11 in Golf Magazine to No. 29) the biennial rankings, Old Town rose from No. 41 in the previous Golf Digest list and No. 98 on the previous Golf Digest list.
Maxwell is one of the most revered names in classic course design. His portfolio includes renewed courses such as Southern Hills, Prairie Dunes and Colonial Country Club (Texas).
In the past two decades, Coore and Crenshaw, known for creating classic and natural designs, have produced heralded designs including Sand Hills, Bandon Trails. In North Carolina, the duo has designed Dormie Club in the Pinehurst market and completed renovations on Pinehurst No. 2.
“The Coore and Crenshaw renovation really propelled (Old Town) into a household name,” White gave as a possible explanation.
The club has a longtime affiliation with Wake Forest University and is the home course of men’s and women’s golf teams.
The course is also known for its undulating fairways, which force players to play from a variety of stances.
Though White said 74 bunkers have been converted to Billy Bunker since January and dozens of trees have already been removed while the course remained open.
White said the current small tee box areas will be removed. Instead, a large non-elevated area will be cut, allowing for a variety of tee placements that will help prevent wear and tear on small areas and reduce mowing time.
Though the greens will be expanded, White said no changes to the putting surface’s contours would be made.
White said the Tif-Eagle surfaces will be much easier to maintain during hot, humid summer months.
With the bentgrass greens, Old Town used elevated fans around the green to circulate air flow, and often had to syringe the putting surfaces.
“Our greens were old and soft, and were not performing or draining well,” Dunlop said. “Bermudagrass would provide the membership with better surfaces for more months per year. They should thrive during the period our members enjoy playing the most.”
The change from the popular bentgrass to bermudagrass mini-dwarfs — easier to maintain and much-improved over the years — has been a trend at Carolinas courses for more than two decades. Pinehurst No. 2, a regular U.S. Open venue, made the switch in 2010. Recent renovations at Alamance Country Club and Raleigh Country Club kept their bentgrass greens going with a new Pure Eclipse creeping bentgrass.
The expansion of the greens may be needed to help players keep their approach shots from bouncing or rolling off the putting surfaces because bermudagrass greens are typically harder than bentgrass greens.
White said the new putting surfaces probably will make ball position in the fairway more important to stopping approach shots near the pins.
The Better Billy Bunker systems combines a 2-inch gravel layer with a specialized polymer to create a durable, liner-less system, allowing for better and easier drainage and consistent playing conditions in sand traps.
“We were experiencing washouts and contamination after rain events,” White said.
As part of Old Town’s natural look, White said the new sand in the bunkers will remain Yadkin River sand, rather than the brilliant white “Spruce Pine Sand” favored by Augusta National and many other high-profile courses.
White said that only about 20% of the club’s cart paths are asphalt, and some of those will be rebuilt or rerouted with the intent to provide good access while limiting their visibility.