By John Brasier
The sizes of the undulating greens, gradually reduced over the past three decades, have been restored with new TifEagle Bermuda at one of the Triad’s elite golf courses. The bunkers have been rebuilt, with some moved and a few added, to compensate for distance gains due to improved golf equipment.
A few hundred encroaching trees were removed and a few new tees were built, adding distance, improving sight lines and allowing more sunlight to reach the greens.
But it’s still the Old North State Club, the spectacular Tom Fazio design that opened in 1991 on Badin Lake — just inside the Montgomery County line, about 10 miles northeast of New London, on the western edge of the Uwharrie National Forest.
The 5,350-acre lake — the focal point of the course — has an increased impact due to the restoration of several corner pin positions near the water that had been eliminated due to the receding of the greens.
And that was the intent of McConnell Golf’s $3 million project, which began in late March. The greens were ready around Labor Day. The last few fairway bunkers were completed in October. The changes, including the building of three new bridges, were intended as complementary updates of the Fazio design.
The TifEagle greens should roll just as fast and smooth as the former bent grass surfaces and easier to maintain in pristine condition during hot, humid summer months.
“Many members, especially those joining in the past few years, may be very surprised at the size of the ‘new’ greens, which have been restored to their original Fazio shapes and sizes,” said Michael Shoun, McConnell’s vice president of agronomy,
The new bunkers have Capillary Concrete liners, replacing liners that were top of the line when installed but wear out over the years. The new liners, a staple in renovations at other top courses, are designed to control moisture levels and hold the sand in place, eliminating washouts and plugged lies.
Kris Spence, the Greensboro-based course architect and builder who oversaw the renovations, said much of the tree removal involved trees planted during original construction to hide cart paths. Their removal allowed for a few new tees that added 160 yards to the course, pushing it to more than 7,200 yards. The tee changes included Nos. 1, 3, 9 and 14.
Spence said he found the new bunker near the green at 18 on an old sketch — he said, possibly by Fazio — of the hole, and it with McConnell’s approval. With about 15 feet reclaimed on the back-left of the green, Spence was able to put a new pin position perilously close to a slope feeding into the lake. He created similar pin placements on the other greens near the lake.
Another change on 18 (pictured above) was the breakup of two long fairway bunkers into four smaller bunkers stretching along the lake.
Badin Lake comes into play on Nos. 2, 14, 16, 17 and 18, and provides the backdrop for greens at 4, 7 and 9, though rarely reached by shots.
Bermuda sod was installed around all the course’s bunkers.
“This renovation not only enhances playing conditions but also the overall membership experience and draws people back for more fun on Badin Lake,” said John McConnell, whose company now owns more than a dozen courses in the Carolinas, Virginia and Tennessee, including Sedgefield Country Club and The Cardinal by Pete Dye in Greensboro. “It’s exciting to have the course return to its former glory with Tom Fazio’s original plan in mind.”
Rated as one of the state’s top five courses by Golf Digest in the mid-1990s, Old North State Club slipped to No. 29 in the magazine’s 2023-2024 rankings. Courses typically peak in rankings shortly after they open, and 11 of the courses in front of Old North State Club are newer, or like Pinehurst No. 4 and Southern Pines, have been thoroughly redesigned or rerouted.
Spence, known for his expertise in restoration and renovations at courses originally designed by Donald Ross and other classic architects, said he approached his work at the modern Old North State Club in a similar fashion.
“I tried to be very respectful of the original Fazio design,” Spence said. “I was very pleased with the way it turned out.”
McConnell properties include 14 private courses, two semi-private (including The Cardinal) courses and one nine-hole course.
McConnell’s N.C. courses include Raleigh Country Club, Sedgefield and The Cardinal, Wakefield Plantation in Raleigh, Treyburn in Durham, Brook Valley in Greenville, Porters Neck in Wilmington, Country Club of Asheville, Providence in Charlotte, and Wilson. South Carolina courses include The Reserve in Pawleys Island and Musgrove Mill in Clinton. McConnell owns Holston Hills in Knoxville, Tenn., with Virginia properties The Water’s Edge in Penhook, and in Radford, Pete Dye River Course of Virginia Tech.