SUMTER, S.C. - A strong reputation can be a blessing and a curse. Kris Spence knows this fact well.
A blessing: whenever a club with a Donald Ross-designed course has been looking to restore said course in the last 20-plus years, Spence has been at the top of the list of candidates. In 1997, his restoration of the Grove Park Inn's Ross jewel put him on the map. In 2007, his restoration of Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro set the table for the PGA Tour's longtime recent residence there. The membership of the quietly brilliant Roaring Gap Club entrusted Spence to guide them through a decade-long Ross restoration of their own. Spence has also proven himself capable of renovating existing courses like the Country Club of North Carolina in Pinehurst and Providence Country Club in Charlotte.
A curse: when you're known as a restoration and renovation expert, you tend to get overlooked for original design work. Like all artists, Spence has yearned for years to be turned loose to create something totally his own.
In 2020, he got his chance in the form of the Quixote Club in South Carolina's midlands.
Quixote sits on the land formerly occupied by Sunset Country Club, a solid but unspectacular layout whose front nine, thought to have been routed by Donald Ross, dated to 1921, followed by a back nine from the less auspicious 1980s. Local construction company owners Greg and Lewis Thompson bought Sunset in 2019 and hired Spence, who convinced them that more than a mere restoration or renovation was needed.
Spence disrupted his normal annual schedule of shepherding multiple projects in order to devote his full attention to this rare opportunity.
"I cleared my schedule for this," he said.
Tim Gavrich/Golf Advisor
Tim Gavrich/Golf Advisor
Tim Gavrich/Golf Advisor
Tim Gavrich/Golf Advisor
Tim Gavrich/Golf Advisor
It was a shrewd move. Spence's work at Quixote is first-rate. He kept the routing of the front nine, which occupies higher, gently rolling ground. Spence took a pleasing dogleg-right short par 4 at the 3rd and turned it into one of the state's most thrilling two-shotters, where a huge pine forces a decision off the tee between the passive leftward route and a daring swat at the green, which must challenge both the tree and a glassy pond. Two holes later, a wood-and-wedge par 4 with a tiny pushed-up green surrounded by bunkers provides another highlight.
The back nine, which ambles up and then down around a lake, is entirely new, as Spence discarded its clumsy original routing entirely. The par-4 11th marches to the high point on the course, from which every other green can be glimpsed. It's an achievement in sociable course routing that is almost unheard of in modern golf design. On a busy day, golfers reaching that point will be able to appreciate their connection to others enjoying the course. The course's final two holes - a long downhill par 3 and a swooping uphill par 4 - involve the aforementioned lake and bring the round to a dramatic conclusion.
Quixote will have a private membership - a mix of locals and national members - but it aims at a deeper connection to the local community than most clubs have. Inspired by the education-focused philanthropy of South Carolina's Congaree Golf Club near Beaufort, the Thompson brothers are devoting a portion of all membership proceeds to the establishment of a nearby charter school, starting with kindergarten and first grade. This effort is part of a larger mission to open the world's eyes to the charms of Sumter, which is in the midst of re-imagining itself after the loss of textile and other manufacturing jobs in recent decades. Located less than an hour from Columbia, it is the type of quieter, low-cost-of-living community that may appeal more than ever to remote workers in a post-COVID world.
The Quixote Club will officially open around mid-year when its clubhouse is finished. While the Thompson brothers put the finishing touches on their new club, here are some other new golf courses to be aware of in 2021.
Callahan Ridge Golf Club
Architect Dan Hixson is making a name for himself in his home state of Oregon, where he has done everything from small but transformative renovation projects to brand-new golf courses, like Bandon Crossings and Silvies Valley Ranch, that carry cult followings. His latest creation sits in and around an old sand quarry along the Umpqua River in the Beaver State's southern reaches and is expected to enjoy at least a partial opening in the latter half of 2021.
Gil Hanse continues to get high-profile commissions like PGA Frisco (finished, but opening in 2022) and renovation commissions for the likes of Southern Hills Country Club, so this new course at a private club in the golf-heaven-like Nebraska sand hills has seemed to fly under the radar. Once it opens this year, with several holes along a canyon rim, that figures to change.
"The Back Nine"
Speaking of cult followings, there may be no more rabid one in golf's social media circles than that belonging to Tad King and Rob Collins, who have been lionized for their visionary nine-holer Sweetens Cove near Chattanooga, Tenn. Word of their artistry reached upstate New York, so their second nine-hole original will open sometime this year. Knowing their penchant for bold features, it's safe to assume this course will look nothing like the pedestrian mom-and-pop that previously occupied the land. (Note: King-Collins are also working on a brand-new 18-holer in eastern Nebraska called Landmand Golf Club, but this course is expected to open in 2022, as is their 12-hole project, BrazenHead, in Jackson, Miss.)
Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw are the deans of contemporary golf course design, with a consistently charming portfolio of courses that continues to take them across the world to ply their trade. This course in a quiet corner of California's Wine Country has been planned for a decade and will finally come out of the ground toward the end of 2021. In something of a departure from the typical American golf model, Brambles will have a private membership but will also actively welcome visitor play, much in the style of the British Isles' "private" clubs.
Lake Anna, Va.
Part of a real estate development that has been planned since the early 2000s, Cutalong is meant to be golf's version of a concept album. Architect Tom Clark fancies it a contemporary companion to the National Golf Links of America, where architect C.B. Macdonald imported his favorite hole designs and features from the British Isles, helping to usher in golf's early 19th-century Golden Age in the process. Similarly, Clark (with some assistance from Golf Digest architecture editor Ron Whitten) used Cutalong to meditate on some of his own favorite golf holes and features without quite replicating them. The course formally opens in July.
In relatively lean times of new course development, total redesigns like Quixote and Sailfish Sands are often radical enough to justify calling them "new golf courses." That's also the case with High Hampton, where Tom Fazio has transformed a fairly rudimentary George Cobb design into a high-end resort layout worthy of the North Carolina Mountains.
He passed away a year ago, but Pete Dye lives on through this new private club outside of Indianapolis, on which he and his late wife Alice had early influence. The course is expected to open this summer.
Park City, Ky.
Colton Craig and Brian Ross are relative newcomers to the golf course design scene as lead architects, but they are putting their stamp on the total transformation of the former Cave Valley Golf Course near Mammoth Cave National Park in south-central Kentucky. While few in number, the new 6,300-yard layout's 25 bunkers exhibit diverse sizes and shapes, lending instant character to the course, which should open this summer.
Belmont Golf Course
It hosted the 1949 PGA Championship, but once Davis Love III's group's new layout opens in May, it will bear little resemblance to the course where Sam Snead hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy. No matter - Belmont will take on new life as a thoroughly contemporary concept: 12 holes of regulation golf, plus a six-hole par-3 course that will benefit Richmond's First Tee chapter and the greater golf community.
Sailfish Sands Golf Course
The former Martin County Golf Course has been renamed, having converted one of its two 18-hole courses into a new nine-hole, reversible layout by architect John Sanford, set to open in the next couple months. This forward-thinking project also includes a revamped clubhouse and the expansion of the course's practice facility to include a "golfertainment" component similar to TopGolf.
The Baths at Blackwolf Run
This new 10-hole par-3 course by longtime Pete Dye collaborator Chris Lutzke should open in time for the rescheduled Ryder Cup at nearby Whistling Straits, marking a very exciting year for Destination Kohler.
The National at Ave Maria
Ave Maria, Fla.
It's not as crazy as it was in the early 2000s (yet), but there is a building boom going on all over Florida, and as a result, new golf courses are sprouting up. Last year saw the opening of the Piper Course at Lakewood National and nearby Esplanade at Azario Lakewood Ranch. About two hours south and east, the master-planned community of Ave Maria is welcoming a second Gordon Lewis-designed course, which just opened. Lewis' first Ave Maria design, Panther Run, opened in 2007. The National is part of a Lennar development within the community east of Naples.
Bobby Weed has gained some notoriety recently as the architect of Michael Jordan's GROVE XXIII course near Jupiter, Fla., but Weed has built a solid portfolio of courses over decades, as well as assisted Pete Dye with some of his most famous courses. Stillwater is a new Lennar "active adult" (i.e. geared toward retirees) community planned with 550 planned homesites, and Weed's course will suit the community by maxing out at between 6,000 and 6,500 yards from the back tees. First rounds should take place toward the end of 2021.
The greater Phoenix/Scottsdale area is a haven for golfers, and Sterling Grove is the latest evidence of its continued westward expansion. This Troon-managed club with a Nicklaus Design course will become private as it builds out, but initially it will offer non-member access once it opens this month.
Superstitious golfers may steer clear of this 13-hole course near Madison, but the rest of us will have a blast confronting a baker's dozen opportunities for an elusive ace, most of them patterned after famous holes or features from the golf world, interpreted by the Midwest-based firm of Lohmann/Quitno. Pioneer Pointe is scheduled to open in the latter half of the year.
What was once a mediocre regulation-length course has been reimagined by archtiect Brian Costello into the Gorge 9-hole par-3 layout and Little Eagle 18-hole putting course, both meant to better suit the relaxed, outdoorsy vibe of this resort 50 miles east of Portland, Ore. Skamania's new golf complement will open this spring.
St. Patrick's Links
Tom Doak is as close to a household name as the current crop of golf course architects can claim. He has produced hit after hit over a more than 30-year career, and his first original design in Ireland should be no exception. Normally, the rugged dunescape in which Doak and his team of shapers is working would be off-limits, but because a golf course existed before the European Union was established, it is fair game, and should instantly rank among the best golf courses along the Emerald Isle's western coastline. Doak is partially backing the project himself, making him a joint owner of the course once it opens.
Les Bordes Golf Club (New Course)
Les Bordes, France
Gil Hanse and his band of "Caveman" golf course shapers continue to receive high-profile commissions, including a course at the PGA of America's new Frisco, Texas headquarters that is essentially finished, but is waiting to open in 2022. In France's Loire Valley near the city of Orleans, Hanse's team has finished adding a second course at this club, as well as a 10-hole "Wild Piglet" par-3 routing.