Forsyth Country Club is a 1920’s Donald Ross design that had seen numerous substantial changes over the years. The course had been partially rerouted to accommodate a very nice Clubhouse decades ago, numerous rebunkering programs took place. It had become overgrown with trees and had numerous holes being directed by arboreal hazards. Most of the green surfaces had been changed. Perennially in the top 50 in North Carolina, it had slipped to number 66. In all, when I visited and played the course a few years ago it had lost its continuity and élan as a Ross course.
A few years back some prominent members of the Forsyth Club decided it was time to regain its position in the golfing community. They conferred with Donald Ross Society Director, Dunlop White III, about the restoration of the course. Dunlop is an accomplished player who grew up at Forsyth and literally played thousands of rounds on the course. Dunlop advised them to follow the Restoration Guidelines which are posted on our web site. Dunlop helped obtain Brad Klein and Kris Spence to give presentations of Ross to their Board and membership. He acquired historical aerial photos from the city government. Plus, a Victor Dallin Aerial from the Hagley Museum in Wilmington, Delaware was readily available.
After a search, the Committee hired Golf Course Architect Kris Spence on the strength of the work he had done at Mimosa Hills and The Grove Park Inn. Kris was faced with many challenges. The first hole needed to be rerouted due to an expansion of the parking lot. The then-existing first was not part of the original routing. The tees, bunkers and greens all had to be rebuilt.
Bunker positioning was one of the real quandaries. The aerial gave very good historical perspective as to where the bunkers were originally and what the intent of Mr. Ross was in putting them there. On a few holes the short bunkers were lost to the expansion of tees and loss of visibility. In a few places the fairway bunkers were moved further from the tee to respond to the equipment of today’s game.
The greenside bunkers had grown shallow and ineffective over the years. Mr. Spence deepened all of these hazards and artfully reshaped them to fit the Ross style. He also did a masterful job of tying the greenside bunkering to his new green surfaces. All of a sudden greenside bunker shots became a much more serious hazard. The green surfaces were very well crafted approximating the size and shape from the Dallin aerial. Using the shading as a guide Mr. Spence recreated the original surfaces as best possible. In excavating a number of the greens Kris found evidence of original contouring. Sand and cinder layers, often 5-6 feet below the surface, showed what was there at one time.
The result of this detective work is eighteen very well crafted greens. There is great movement in these surfaces with some perilous roll off areas. All in all, the greens are imaginative and challenging. The most important aspect of the finished product is the return of the continuity of the course. Whereas the old course had starts and fits, this course keeps the same theme from the first tee to the eighteenth green. It is a return to the old Ross feel and golf played nearer the ground.
The grow-in is being supervised by Course Superintendent Ron Ritchie. Ron worked with Kris Spence (himself a one-time Superintendent) during the work on the course and between the two of them this course has come a long way in a short period of time. This is remarkable given the lack of rain since the work was finished. Of course, the brand new irrigation system has been of great assistance.
Congratulations are due to Dunlop White, Rob Fowler, Green Chairman at Forsyth, Joe Dillon of the Green Committee, Forsyth President, Bob Moser as well as the Committee Members and the Members of the Forsyth Country Club. Kris Spence, his crew and shapers and Ron Ritchie, his first assistant Chris Devane and the greens staff also deserve strong kudos for their work. The future of Forsyth has been greatly enhanced by this restoration effort. They can go forward assured that their position in the local golfing community has been elevated substantially. Their position in North Carolina rating will surely follow. The product that Forsyth has to offer to potential members is a good deal better than before.