Mike Strantz unfortunately isn't around anymore to create any of his quirky, wonderful designs. But for those of us who appreciate the late architect's artistry, it looks like we're getting one back.
Strantz's Maverick Golf Design only completed nine jobs before he passed away from cancer at the age of 50. Two of these courses have closed, but one of his most imaginative works is getting new life. Royal New Kent will be restored by its new ownership group, led by Wingfield Golf Management Services. (Strantz had seven original designs, but had a hand in many other well-known courses as well.)
Located midway between Richmond and Williamsburg in Providence Forge, Va., what used to be known as The Tradition at Royal New Kent was designed as a tribute to the fabled seaside links of the Emerald Isle. It placed an emphasis on the character and feel of two of his favorites — Ireland's Royal County Down and Ballybunion. For those who love Strantz's work, this is a great news. For those who have never played a Strantz course, this will serve as a great way to experience his genius.
Royal New Kent was actually the third Strantz design I played after True Blue and Caledonia Golf & Fish Club in the Myrtle Beach, S.C. area. True Blue and Caledonia were already two of my favorites before I really knew much about Strantz's style. Those two courses are certainly beyond the bounds of traditional architecture, but they're not as dramatic as Royal New Kent and perhaps Strantz's most lauded design, Tobacco Road, located in the Sandhills region of North Carolina. For me, Royal New Kent was actually a great warm-up for Tobacco Road, which I finally played last year (See my review on Royal New Kent here).
The day I played Royal New Kent, one of the players in our group, a long-hitting assistant pro, shot 29 on the front, so it was definitely getable. Having the guidance of head pro Lester Poole was invaluable for me, since the holes aren't exactly obvious off the tee. And while I didn't shoot 66 like the young pro did, I did come in below my 6.9 handicap index, which I rarely do on courses I've played for the first time.
On Strantz's courses, the holes not being obvious is part of the charm. It's an enjoyable riddle he put there for you to solve. There's usually more room to hit it than it appears, and how you shape your shots and the direction from where you approach greens and pin placements take on more importance than they do on traditional courses.
My round at Royal New Kent was three years ago, and while the course wasn't in terrible shape, it had seen better days apparently. By this January, the course as well as its sister course, Stonehouse in Toano, were shut down by its then owner, Traditional Golf Properties and put up for sale. Only Royal New Kent sold the sale was finalized in June), so it doesn't appear that Stonehouse, which is more of a parkland design, has a future at this time.
But Royal New Kent has a bright future indeed. Wingfield Golf Chairman Barton Tuck and President Noel Tuck have partnered with local resident and golf enthusiast Willie Downs to restore Royal New Kent to its original condition. Barton Tuck spent some time with Strantz's widow Heidi, who provided him with many of her late husband's original drawings. In addition, fans of Royal New Kent have sent in old photographs of the course that will also assist in the renovation. Wingfield, which is based in Greenville, S.C., has even brought back two of Strantz's original shapers who constructed the course initially to perform the restoration work.
"We had a lot of help from people giving us information that will get us back to where (Strantz) started," Tuck said. "We’re getting back as close as we can to what he designed."
Wingfield Golf is trucking in 2,300 tons of new sand to redo the Royal New Kent bunkers. The greens have been converted from bentgrass to Champion Bermuda grass, while substantial upgrades are also being made to the clubhouse. The irrigation system includes a new pump station, and all 120 inlets will be rebuilt for better drainage.
The golf course is expected to reopen in April 2019.
Wingfield also owns the nearby Club at Viniterra, which opened in late 2009, and is one of Rees Jones' finest designs. The company also manages The Golf Club at Brickshire, where two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange, working with Ault, Clark and Associates, designed a course that emulates holes from some of Strange’s favorite courses -- Augusta National, Pinehurst No. 2, Riviera and The Old Course at St. Andrews. Adding Royal New Kent back into the mix makes for a really nice trio of destination golf courses.
"This area is very accessible from most of the east coast," said Tuck, whose company also manages six other golf courses in Florida, Northern Virginia and Mississippi. "We believe there will be both local membership appeal and a lot of packaging business for golfers coming off the interstate."
But for now the focus is on Royal New Kent and reinvigorating the legacy of one of golf course architecture's most legendary figures.
"Mike Strantz was a tremendously talented and gifted architect whose career was, unfortunately, cut short," Tuck said. "It is an honor to have the opportunity to take one of his best back to what he originally designed and get it back in tip-top shape, and to play a part in preserving Strantz’s legacy for golfers to enjoy for many years to come."