At Rolling Hills CC, “Harder Is Not Better. Fun Is Better.”

By | February 23rd, 2018

The golf course in Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., was unveiled on January 14, with designer David McLay Kidd on hand. McLay Kidd offered insight on the layout’s design, noting that “We’ve been taught that golf is all about intimidation and playing defense. I’m turning that on its head. I want my courses to breed confidence. Then golf becomes fun.”

With the opening of the new Rolling Hills Country Club golf course in Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., on January 14, designed by David McLay Kidd, Torrance (Calif.) Airport anticipates more fly-in golfers, the Hermosa Beach, Calif., Easy Reader reported.

Though fly-ins will not reach the numbers at the small airport near Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, which the new Rolling Hills course is being compared to, Easy Reader reported.

Since Bandon Dunes opened in 1999, its nearby airport has become one of the the busiest in Oregon. Like Bandon Dunes, Rolling Hills was designed by McLay Kidd and is a links course, in the untamed style of Scotland’s St. Andrews and Gleneagles, where McLay Kidd’s father was the course superintendent, Easy Reader reported.

Unlike Bandon Dunes, Rolling Hills’ tee times are restricted to the club’s roughly 400 equity members and their guests. Bandon Dunes, though privately owned, is open to the public, Easy Reader reported.

The most significant similarity between Bandon Dunes and Rolling Hills is their underlying design philosophy. “It took me until I was 45,” the 49-year-old McLay Kidd said, “to rediscover what I knew instinctively when I was 25, when I designed Bandon Dunes.”

McLay Kidd described his mid life epiphany, during an interview in the Greenside Grill, one of Rolling Hills Country Club’s four new restaurants, overlooking the course, the Los Angeles Basin and the San Gabriel Mountains. On a clear day, the Hollywood sign is visible, Easy Reader reported.

“Harder is not better. Fun is better. Why did people love the early courses I designed, when I knew so little? And why weren’t they returning to play the courses I did 10 years later when I knew so much more?” he said.

Following his success at Bandon Dunes, McLay Kidd explained, he succumbed to the prevailing wisdom that a golf designer’s job was to “defend par,” Easy Reader reported.

C&RB reported last year that McLay Kidd is also designing the new Mammoth Dunes course that will open later this year at Mike Keiser’s Sand Valley Golf Resort in Wisconsin.

“The locals call Tetherow in Bend ‘Deatherow.’ And that’s my home course,” he said of the course he designed in 2008. “Ego reigned. Harder was better. Every golf designer wanted to brag about how hard their courses were, making them 8,000 yards long with 24 yard wide fairways and a slope ratings of 148. (Slope rating is a measure of a course’ difficulty, with 155 being the maximum difficulty.)

“We were doing what clients wanted and that was generate a maximum amount of media attention because most were selling houses,” McLay Kidd said. “Designers talked about ‘Tiger proofing’ courses because Tiger made the game look too easy. But golf is already one of the hardest sports there is, and you want me to make it harder? Imagine if tennis had to be played with wooden rackets and skiers had to use straight skis.

“We’ve been taught that golf is all about intimidation and playing defense,” McLay Kidd said. “I’m turning that on its head. I want my courses to breed confidence. Then golf becomes fun. If you hit a rank shot, out of bounds, I can’t help you. But keep it in bounds and I’ll do my best to keep you playing golf with one ball.”

The new Rolling Hills course is 7,150 yards long from the back tees and just over 5,000 yards from the front tees. The course’s biggest challenges are on the large, contoured greens. The 18th green is 60 yards across, with a bunker, Easy Reader reported.

The roughs are fescue, the tall golden grass that gives color to coastal courses like St. Andrews. California Pepper, Eucalyptus, Stone Pine and Brisbane Box trees, all common to Palos Verdes, are widely spaced down the fairways, allowing for open vistas across the 160 acre course, nearly double the size of the old Rolling Hills course. Even at maturity, the trees will not block views of the LA basin, the San Gabriels and South Bay beaches, which are visible from the 17th Green, “if you crank your neck,” McLay Kidd conceded, Easy Reader reported.

“I want it to look like it’s been here 100 years,” he said.

The indoor practice facility opens on to the 400-yard deep driving range and includes a video system that analyzes a golfer’s clubhead speed, body and head movement and changes in heel and toe pressure. The putting greens have soil sensors that measure moisture and salinity and control watering. For membership play, moisture is maintained at between 14 and 20 percent. For tournaments, the moisture level will be reduced to a firmer, 12 percent to make the balls bounce more when they land, Easy Reader reported.

The moisture sensors are linked to the course’s 2,100, individually programmed sprinkler heads. Despite  being 1,000 yards longer than the old Rolling Hills course, the new course uses 30% less water, superintendent Bob Vaughey said.

Rolling Hills uses its own well water and captured runoff that washes down two canyons, west of the golf course. The runoff  used to flow through barrancas that crossed the old course and emptied into a cavernous, 150-foot deep, 1,000 yard wide sand quarry east of the course. There, the water was trapped by a faultline until it could percolate down to the water table. Kidd’s design called for caping the course with sand from the quarry and then scraping 6.5 million cubic yards of dirt (the equivalent of 6.5 Rose Bowls) from the course’s namesake hills into the quarry. The hills became fill for eight new holes, Easy Reader reported.

Because there would no longer be a quarry to capture the runoff, Vaughey supervised the installation of nine, 5-foot in diameter, 240 foot deep pipes to carry the water down to the water table.  To irrigate the course, the water is pumped back to the surface, and into a pond between the 16th and 17th holes, at the rate of 600 gallons a minute.The water comes up a 640-foot deep shaft with a propeller at the bottom, driven by a 100 horsepower electric motor. In the pond, six more, 80-foot deep wells pump water to the 2,100, sprinkler heads, Easy Reader reported.

“At the 100,000 foot level, I think anything that makes golf more fun is good,” McLay Kidd said. “Looking at it from ground level, I’d hate it if everyone had to take a cart and use a phone app.”

McLay Kidd’s least favorite technical advance isn’t digital. It’s the golf cart. “I like thinking about the next hole as I walk. I like the exercise. I like talking with members of my foursome. None of that happens in a cart,” he said. “But carts and all this tech stuff are optional. You can still play the game with a hickory stick and gutty ball.”

As the new golf course and new clubhouse neared completion, membership fees skyrocketed from $40,000 when work began, to $175,000, prompting the club to cap the fees to prevent them from becoming commoditized, Easy Reader reported.

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