At its outset, 2020 held considerable promise for those of us who love to experience the world through the lens of golf, with a smallish but strong group of varied new courses coming online and a strong cadre of others receiving new life through much-anticipated renovations and restorations.
And while some openings or reopenings have been delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, by and large the state of golf's major new-development and reclamation projects is strong. As I do every year, just after the first of the year I published lists of noteworthy new golf courses and renovations/restorations. Before we delve into what 2021 should have in store (quite a bit, it seems), let's see how the courses that were projected to open this year are doing:
New golf courses in 2020
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (Sheep Ranch) - Bandon, Ore.
Mike Keiser's sublime seaside ode to Old-Country golf grew by one big course this year, with the Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw-designed Sheep Ranch coming online June 1, right on time. What the course, reconfigured from Tom Doak's free-form, 13-greensite original, intentionally lacks in formal sand bunkers, it more than makes up for with arguably the property's best views. Seems like a pretty good trade to me.
Review quote: "The front nine intertwines with the back throughout the routing sending you back and forth across the property... I loved it." - sorenj
Big Cedar Lodge (Payne's Valley) - Hollister, Mo.
The opening of Tiger Woods' first publicly accessible golf course was delayed a few months, but it came online in September with fanfare befitting both its architect and its owner, Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris. Morris promotes his golf courses the way Don King promoted boxing matches, but one could argue that Morris' product delivers even more reliable drama. Morris unveiled Payne's Valley to the world with a heavyweight bout: an entertaining televised exhibition match pitting Woods and Justin Thomas against Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose.
Review quote: "This is an experience, not just a round of golf." - Senior Writer Jason Scott Deegan
Dumbarnie Links - Fife, Scotland, U.K.
After limited play at the end of 2019, Dumbarnie made its full debut in May of 2020, albeit delayed somewhat by lockdowns in the United Kingdom. The course wound down its season on November 15 and looks forward to its second full year of operations in 2021.
Lakewood National Golf Club (Piper) - Lakewood Ranch, Fla.
Brandon Johnson and Thad Layton currently run the Arnold Palmer Design Company, which continues to do its late namesake's memory proud with fun, interesting golf course design and renovation projects around the world. As with the original Commander Course, Johnson took the lead on designing the Piper, which has a fabulous set of greens that maintain the golfer's interest throughout the round. Having opened just before the calendar turned to 2020, it is maturing nicely and has enjoyed a slew of positive reviews this year.
Review quote: "Although the course is wide open it is still challenging, especially the greens. Lots of undulations on greens and challenging approaches." - Djbates1
Esplanade at Azario Lakewood Ranch - Lakewood Ranch, Fla.
Just a few miles from Lakewood National, architect Chris Wilczynski fashioned an austerely bunkered homage to Golden Age golf at the center of a new Taylor Morrison-developed housing community. Ample corridors keep the housing well off the line of play, and the course culminates in an attractive paddock that houses both the 9th and 18th greens. It opened for play in June and has enjoyed several months of strong reviews ever since, with golfers especially impressed by its playability.
Review quote: "For a new course, this is everything you could want. Challenging course in outstanding condition. When the greens mature and are brought to competition speeds they will be a real challenge." - golfer-submitted review
Seminole Legacy Golf Club - Tallahassee, Fla.
Though Florida State University's old Don Veller Golf Course occupied this property for decades, Jack Nicklaus' design group's project here, led by Jack Nicklaus II, amounted to a near-total course rebuild, which opened in March. It can stretch as long as 7,800 yards, which is appropriate for a 21st-century college team's home course. The club is nominally private but a handful of reviews have noted non-member green fees of $125, with conditions described as near-immaculate and putting surfaces described as "turbo-charged."
Birdwood Golf Course at Boar's Head Resort - Charlottesville, Va.
The Seminoles aren't the only big-time golf program to get a new home course this year, as Davis Love III and his design group completed their near total tear-down and rebuild of the University of Virginia's home course, which reopened this summer. Early returns indicate that the finishing stretch on the course is particularly strong.
Review quote: "I was blown away by how different the course looks from before. To go from a design suited for a small city resort to one that could host top-level tournaments, the transformation is significant." - Local Golf Advisor Back9Ben
Pfau Golf Course at Indiana University - Bloomington, Ind.
Completing the trip of new major-conference golf courses to open in 2020, Pfau was laid out by Steve Smyers, who fashioned a big, brawny layout capable of hosting future Big Ten tournaments. Sweeping undulations, lots of bunkers and fescue and tees that top out at 7,700 yards have early reviewers wondering if the course is too tough for all but accomplished players, but the course should mellow as it matures.
Review quote: "What was also neat about several of the greens is that many were not round – a couple were squares and a few were triangles, and a few were all over the place in design. All were firm, which led to some shots bounding through, even with a wedge." - DrOldSchool
American Dunes Golf Club - Grand Haven, Mich.
Though it was expected to open around Memorial Day 2020, the grand opening of this Jack Nicklaus design for the Folds of Honor Foundation should finally take place in spring 2021.
The Club at Lac La Belle - Oconomowoc, Wisc.
Craig Haltom continues to build a name for himself in the Midwest. Lac La Belle has had a golf course on the property since the 1800s, but Haltom's reimagination of it included the building of several new holes and a significant redesign of the others. Reviewers since the course's reopening this past June have seen its potential for greatness and look forward to seeing it mature.
Review quote: "This course will take another two years to mature. But when it does it should be a course any golfer would love to play" - Tom8296690
Forest Dunes Resort (Short Course) - Roscommon, Mich.
Riding a wave of appreciation for their redesign of the Winter Park 9 in Orlando, Riley Johns and Keith Rhebb were tapped to design a new par-3 layout at one of Northern Michigan's top resorts. With holes ranging from 65 to 150 yards in length, the course opened mid-summer 2020.
Plantation Lakes Golf and Country Club (new nine) - Millsboro, Del.
Arthur Hills' firm laid out the original nine holes at this residential community course in 2015, and returned to finish the back nine once the housing was built out a bit. The full 18 opened this summer, and early reviewers have been impressed, especially with the undulating greens throughout the course.
Review quote: "Couldn’t have had a better experience. Extremely challenging course with long par fours even from the front tees. Back nine is fairly new but the whole course is very well-kept." - RandyFalk
Links at St. Anne's - Middletown, Del.
St. Anne's has come together piecemeal over the last few years; it was originally started more than a decade ago but stalled due to the recession. With new ownership taking over in 2019, Alan Liddicoat was finally able to finish the last few holes in 2020. Owners Buddy Reed and Frank Horton opened the course in the spring.
Mickelson National Golf Club - Calgary, Alb., Canada
Located west of Calgary, this course opened 10 holes on a preview basis in 2019 before an 18-hole opening this year. Early reviews note a need for the course to continue maturing, as well as an admiration for the creation of a dramatic golfscape out of former flat farmland.
Cabot Links (The Nest) - Inverness, N.S., Canada
Rod Whitman designed the original course at Cabot Links, and resort owner Ben Cowan-Dewar brought him back to add a short course that opened this past July in the popular Maritimes destination.
Costa Palmas Golf Club - La Ribera, Baja California Sur, Mexico
At the center of a complex with a high-end Four Seasons resort and an extreme-high-end Aman resort under construction, Costa Palmas is tucked away from the rest of the Los Cabos tourist scene. The Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed course completes its first year in operation in a few weeks.
Rancho San Lucas Golf Club - Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico
On the Pacific-facing cost of Baja California, Greg Norman's newest original design debuted in February. It features ocean views throughout the courses as well as Cabo's only island-green par 3.
Review quote: "I played nearly every course in Cabo during a month-long stay, and this is the one I could really see myself playing again and again. Feel lucky to have found it, as it’s so new they weren’t listed on a lot of the ranking sites." - golfer-submitted review
Ballyshear Golf Links at Ban Rakat Club - Bangkok, Thailand
Among golf architecture aficionados, The Lido enjoys a special mystique. A seaside course in Long Island that closed in the Great Depression, it is looked upon as a lost wonder of the golf world. Using historic photos and other documents, architect Gil Hanse has been recreating The Lido in, of all places, Thailand, and it will be the golf course of the upscale Ban Rakat Club outside Bangkok. The name "Ballyshear" comes from the estate of Charles Blair Macdonald, who laid out the original Lido. It had initially been targeted for a 2020 opening date, but will now debut in September 2021.
Hoiana Shores Golf Club - Quang Nam, Vietnam
Robert Trent Jones, II is 81 years old, but he shows no signs of slowing down his globe-trotting design career. Like Costa Palmas, Hoiana Shores is getting ready for its second full year of operations. It won "World's Best New Golf Course 2020" at the World Golf Awards. The greater Hoiana development, which includes a clutch of hotels and a casino (coming in 2021), began welcoming guests in summer 2020.
(Note: In late 2019, we previewed Grand Oaks Reserve, a curious new golf course concept part of a new residential community near Houston in Cleveland, Texas. This design by area architect Mike Nuzzo features a nine-hole short course, nine-hole regulation course and a putting course. While the courses have grown in thoroughly through 2020, ownership has chosen not to open the course to the public until the clubhouse has been completed, which at this time is on schedule for spring of 2021.)
Major golf course renovations in 2020
Renovations and restorations showed little sign of slowing down in 2020, even as the COVID pandemic complicated matters. In certain cases, clubs that had been on the fence about beginning long-debated work jumped in with both feet once state and local shutdowns briefly halted play.
Architect Andrew Green, featured in my beginning-of-year renovations article, saw his restoration of Donald Ross' East Course at Oak Hill Country Club near Rochester, N.Y., unveiled. Expanded greens and refurbished bunkering point to a striking new chapter in the history of the course, which will host the PGA Championship for the fourth time in 2023.
Green has been hard at work in the Mid-Atlantic, too. His dramatic renovation of Congressional Country Club's Blue Course in Bethesda, Md., is another project with major championship implications, and it will be unveiled in spring of 2021. Near Annapolis, Green put the finishing touches on a radical reimagination of the public Eisenhower Golf Course, removing all bunkers and instead leaving the course's terrain, adventurous green complexes and some Golden Age "chocolate drop" mounding to define the challenge while easing the maintenance burden. Bunkerless courses have existed for years, but the concept seems to be an enduring one for the new decade, between Eisenhower, Bandon Dunes' Sheep Ranch and some other upcoming projects.
That's not to say bunkers needn't play a significant role in a course's newfound identity. At the Charleston (S.C.) Municipal Golf Course - better known as simply "Muni" - native son Troy Miller's labor-of-love renovation was unveiled this week. Drawing inspiration from great area private clubs like Yeamans Hall and the Country Club of Charleston, both designed by renowned classic architect Seth Raynor, Miller adapted 12 of Muni's holes to the "template" concepts Raynor employed throughout his career. Deep, flat-bottom bunkers abut greens and fairways in strategically interesting and visually striking ways, adding pops of bright white to the mossy greens and marshy browns of Charleston's Lowcountry palette.
Some 1,700 miles west, Denver's golfers have been enjoying their new-look City Park Golf Course, reworked by architect Todd Schoeder, since it reopened in August. The renovation was part of a larger civic project that includes such comprehensive stormwater management infrastructure that a 100-year flood event can be mitigated by a detention pond on the course and drainage systems beneath it. This golf course is not just a niche recreational amenity but a whole-community asset.