Field Report:

Charlotte Country Club

By Michael J. Fay

Charlotte Country Club has a long and storied history. Originally designed by Donald Ross in 1906 on a large rolling piece of property with gradual elevation changes that are so very useful in golf course design the course was later revised and enlarged by Mr. Ross in the 1920’s. Charlotte Country Club was the site for many a North Carolina Open and Amateur as well as a number of events of the Carolinas Golf Association. It was very highly regarded by both local and national golfers.

In the 1960’s the Club hired Robert Trent Jones to reroute the last three holes of the course to accommodate an expansion of the Clubhouse. Jones also redesigned a number of the holes on the course and changed both the bunkering scheme and some of the green surfaces. In the early 1970’s Charlotte Country Club was the site for the US Amateur. Though the course acquitted itself well the competition in North Carolina began to heat up. Many new courses were built in the 1980’s and 90’s, bigger and more challenging. Charlotte CC searched for an answer to regaining its former glory. A redesign in 1996 did not accomplish the goal so in 2005 a group of members led by Doug Buchanan began a program to restore the golf course to the original Ross flavor and feel.

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Buchanan and his fellow members sought advice from Donald Ross Society Executive Director Michael Fay. Fay directed the group to the “Restoration Guidelines” printed on the Donald Ross Society web site. Buchanan and his fellow members followed them religiously. A number of aerial photographs were uncovered. The group decided that they would model the course after the 1935 photograph which clearly showed the bunker positions. Then they went about searching for an Architect. They interviewed a half dozen recognized restoration Architects and narrowed their search to three. After interviews with these three they set about to see the results of the restoration work done by the candidates.

After all was said and done they decided on Ron Prichard mainly because they liked what they saw at Aronimink and Mountain Lakes. Prichard has been the Architect on many restoration efforts of Ross courses throughout the country. Ron has been restoring Ross courses even before the founding of the Donald Ross Society and is held by many observers as the Dean of Restoration. Ron Prichard had an enormous task on his hands. He had to rebuild every bunker on the course, remove those not shown in 1935 and return some that had been removed. In addition he had to resurface every green at the complex, restoring the Ross style and feel. Ron also had to find a way in which to replace the 16th, 17th and 18th holes which were frankly, not very good. To compound his effort there was a strong sentiment to add substantial yardage to the layout. Another facet of the job was to find a means to display the stream that ran through the course. He was faced with a stream that was rather unsightly. The banks were covered with rock similar to the type of rocks seen on the banks of a freeway on-ramp. Ron engaged Medalist Golf Construction to do the work. This outfit is well known for its efforts on new designs for Greg Norman, Tom Fazio and others. Work began in March of 2007.

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The results are, to say the least, stunning. Let us take a walk around the course. The first three holes were landlocked. Number 1 is a short par four (330 yards) that Prichard rebunkered by adding two fairway bunkers to the right side in the driving area. The green was resurfaced and flows well from back to front. Number 2 is another short par four of 370 yards and plays to the western edge of the course. Again Ron repositioned the bunkers to match the ’35 aerial and rebuilt the green to match the length and difficulty of the hole. Number 3 is a 185 yards par three hole where Ron reinstated a crucial cross-bunker and tightened up the area.

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Sounds pretty tame, doesn’t it. Well starting on the fourth tee there is no more Mr. Nice Guy. The yardage on the first three holes is under 900 yards. The finished course will play at 7,356 from the back tees. The next 15 holes are 6,456 yards long and transverse a wonderfully rolling terrain. Four plays 498 yards (par 4) from the new back tee with a mildly uphill second shot. Five gives us the first glimpse of the stream where the rock has been removed, the banks graded and a stone wall built toward the top. This stream continues for about six more holes on the course. The rock wall is by far the most startling aesthetic improvement on the property.

Ron opened up a stream that had long ago been put underground on the sixth hole. This together with a new bunker scheme and a new green has taken a dull hole to picture postcard status. One of the most striking improvements at Charlotte Country Club is hole number 9. Prichard found a spot for a tee some 95 yards behind the previous back block and put some real teeth into the finish of the front side. Twelve is a par five of 600 yards that plays uphill. Ron put back a “Principal’s Nose” bunker in the center of the fairway at about the 150 yard marker. Thirteen is a 528 yard par four that plays down the hill. The second shot must carry the stream about 20 yards short of the green. As he has done on many of the holes the run-up area on thirteen allows the player to play close to the ground on the approach.

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Sixteen is the most improved hole on the course. The previous hole forced the player to hit a slash fade off the tee to find the fairway past the corner. Ron softened the corner on the right, expanded the fairway on the left and moved the green back and to the left. This opened up the driving area for this brutish 450 yard uphill par four. Seventeen is a brand new par three with plenty of punch. Eighteen was improved dramatically by widening the fairway and moving the green to the right to play away from a huge spreading oak that made the previous hole nearly unplayable.

In the restoration of the Charlotte Country Club both the Committee and Ron Prichard paid serious attention to the trees on the property. Over the years hundreds of oaks matured and began to cause some serious problems for both the players and the general agronomics. Early on it was realized that a number of these arboreal giants would have to go. Great care was taken in choosing those trees that were slated to fall, as well as, those that were to stay. The end result is that the course is a perfect parkland effect. There are no greens or tees that are adversely affected for sunlight, yet the course is comfortably arrayed with magnificent oaks.

So, there is a new big, brawny and beautiful course at the Charlotte Country Club. It is a great tribute to its original creator, Donald Ross.

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