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.
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
Wakonda Club 🤝 @TylerRaeDesign— Wakonda Club (@WakondaClub) August 8, 2022
Wakonda Club is proud to embark on its Golf Course Master Plan, set to break ground in June of 2023 and be completed by the end of spring of 2024.
Project details ⤵️
⛳️https://t.co/Hgf4wR5vbb#wakondaclub | #wakondaclubgolf pic.twitter.com/TBsb0A8fzG
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