Pinehurst-area golf course 'resurrection' will make a great destination even better

Golf course news & notes: August, 2022.
When the dam that services the surrounding 1,200-acre lake is back in service, Woodlake's par-5 second hole will take on a whole new look.

VASS, N.C. - It's hard to believe that this stretch of savannah-looking grasses and small trees was once a gleaming, majestic 1,200-acre lake. Even harder to believe that it soon will be again.

But superior golf course architects are able to look at land most would consider derelict and imagine something exciting. Kris Spence has been tackling exactly that challenge at Woodlake, a once-and-future golf community less than half an hour from the Village of Pinehurst and its surrounding sprawl of golf courses.

Woodlake used to have two courses: an Ellis Maples design that opened in 1971 and an Arnold Palmer layout that debuted in 1995. Both courses closed in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

Maples was a protege of Donald Ross, and his is the course being revived. Spence, who is known in golf architecture circles as a leading expert in Ross' work, has restored several of the great Scot's courses, including PGA Tour host Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C.; Memphis (Tenn.) Country Club and Jefferson Lakeside Country Club in Richmond, Va.

Spence is a student of Ellis Maples' work as well, with a great respect for how cleverly Maples routed his own designs, having learned that crucial skill from his mentor. Woodlake's out-and-back routing starts out with a run of four spectacular lakeside holes before heading up into the forest, climbing to a high point at the gorgeous drop-shot par-3 8th hole, which tacks north and begins a winding march back toward the flatter terrain where the course began. Walkable and varied, Woodlake promises to be one of the better midcentury golf courses in the South, thanks to Spence's refinements.

Woodlake is the first golf course revival project of Spence's career, or, as he calls it, "a golf course resurrection." When he first laid eyes on it, the course resembled more of a jungle than a playing field, and it took weeks just to bush hog the corridors to the point where something recognizable as golf land could be discerned. But once the thickest layers had been peeled back, Spence and his team found Maples' green bases and contours nearly totally intact beneath the weeds. In addition to the usual irrigation and drainage updates, tees, bunkering and overall turf have been the top priorities; Spence likes the original greens, even though they have have broader and more sweeping slopes than one might find at Ross courses. He's made only subtle changes.

Once overgrown beyond recognition, the downhill par-3 8th at Woodlake is starting to look like a golf hole again.

There will be one Spence-original hole at Woodlake when all's said and done: the par-5 18th, which Spence fashioned out of the corridor from the Palmer course's first hole. The land for the old Maples 18th will become lakefront homesites, which new community owner Atlantic National Capital will be able to monetize in a significant way.

Beyond the golf course (in addition to a lakefront par-3 loop to be built soon), there is a great deal to like at Woodlake. Its modest remove from the Pinehurst area puts it well within reach from Raleigh and Fayetteville. Located just outside the border of the Sandhills region, it has a more farmland and parkland feel, which will make it an excellent compliment to some of the more ruggedly sandy courses closer to Pinehurst. And if it can be salvaged, the manor-style clubhouse, which dates to the 1800s and sits at the edge of the lake beside the first tee, will be a charming hub of activity.

Some preview play at Woodlake is expected this fall, with a more full opening of the semi-private course in the spring of 2023. For updates, visit woodlaketoday.com.

More golf course news and notes

RAE HIRED AT WAKONDA - One of the great classic courses of the Heartland, Wakonda Club in Des Moines, Iowa, will be receiving a long-anticipated renovation starting in the fall of 2023. The club has hired architect Tyler Rae to recapture the drama of its original William Langford/Theodore Moreau design, which dates back to 1923. Avid traveling golfers know Langford & Moreau as the architects of the great Links Course at Lawsonia in Wisconsin. [LINK: Twitter]

GOLF COURSE STORMWATER DETENTION PUT TO THE TEST - A recent storm that dumped nearly two inches of rain on Denver in less than half an hour put its recently-revamped municipal golf course through a stress test as a way to limit flooding nearby. [LINK: Denverite]

ABBEY SPRINGS REOPENS - Lake Geneva in southern Wisconsin is a beloved summertime destination for Midwesterners, and its golf complement just got better. The firm of Lohmann/Quitno just finished a comprehensive renovation project at the semi-private Abbey Springs, which was originally laid out by Ken Killian and Dick Nugent in Fontana. Summertime green fees at the parkland-style layout peak at $135. [LINK: Course site]

ANOTHER HALL OF FAME RELOCATED - On the heels of last month's announcement that the World Golf Hall of Fame will shift from St. Augustine, Fla. to Pinehurst, N.C., Golf Canada is making a similar move, relocating its home offices and hall of fame away from Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ont., to its 54-hole TPC Toronto at Osprey Valley facility in Caledon. It's all part of turning that area into a new "home for Canadian golf." [LINK: The Toronto Star]

GOLF-ADJACENT - Your buddy Larry makes sense as a golf companion, but the Larry O'Brien trophy? When you're 2022 NBA Finals MVP Steph Curry, they don't even charge you for an extra golf cart seat to hold your hardware. [LINK: NBC Sports]

July 27, 2018
Stay informed about all the latest new course announcements and happenings across the world of golf.

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for GolfPass. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
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Pinehurst-area golf course 'resurrection' will make a great destination even better