Oklahoma-based architect Tripp Davis and his team added movement to many of the fairways and reshaped bunkers, added some bunkering and eliminated some features like filling in a lake to the left of the seventh green. Newer hybrid grasses like tifdwarf were planted on the course, with mini verde planted on all the putting surfaces.
Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif. recently wrapped up a lengthy renovation project, the Palm Springs Desert Sun reported. The renovations that started in the summer of 2021 officially ended last month with the Nov. 19 re-opening of the course.
While the course was open for play last winter and spring, both nines of the course that opened in 1951 closed in April to allow for extensive work on greens, fairways and trees, the Desert Sun reported. Work on the oldest 18-hole course in the desert was about more than just swapping out older generations of grass for newer grass, though.
“It was maintaining the history of the property, revitalizing the golf course, re-doing bunkers to make them aesthetically appealing,” said Nick DeKock, Director of Golf at Thunderbird. “And it was a tremendous opportunity to change out the grass, to have hybrid wall to wall. Killing two birds with one stone, if you will.”
In the summer of 2021, only the first three holes and the practice areas of the course saw some changes through the work of Oklahoma-based architect Tripp Davis, the Desert Sun reported. DeKock said that while the course is still playing along the same footprint as before, Davis’ work, particularly with bunkers, has revived the course.
The April closing dates allowed Thunderbird officials to eradicate all turf from the golf course, much of which was common Bermuda grass, the Desert Sun reported. Newer hybrid grasses like tifdwarf were planted on the course, with mini verde, a grass growing in popularity because it needs less overseeding in the winter, was planted on all the putting surfaces.
With the grass off the course, Davis and his team went to work adding movement to many of the fairways and reshaping bunkers, adding some bunkering and eliminating some features like filling in a lake to the left of the seventh green, the Desert Sun reported.
“I’m so impressed with the bunkers and the reshaping of the greens,” DeKock said. “I think there is so much more intrigue and interest to play the golf course. Members have been very impressed with how it came out.”
Some of the new bunkering around the greens was designed specifically to mimic the nearby Santa Rosa Mountains, with jagged edges on the bunkers at the top of the mountain range, the Desert Sun reported. Other bunkers were added to give a more layered look of bunkers around greens, DeKock said.
“The bunkers are so much more aesthetically pleasing and visible,” DeKock said.
Keeping the same footprint of the golf course does not mean changes haven’t been made, the Desert Sun reported. The 11th hole has seen its green pushed back 32 yards to 392 yards from the back tees, called the Ryder Cup tees in honor of the course hosting the Ryder Cup in 1955. In turn, tees on the 12th hole were pushed up 30 yards, making for a 295-yard par-4 that can be made drivable depending on the tee setup.
On the 17th hole, the green has also been moved 20 yards, but laterally to the right to bring a lake more into play on the approach shot, the Desert Sun reported. The 17th hole and the 11th hole share a new bridge over that same lake.
Other smaller changes include revamping the tee boxes to have the teeing area blend in with the fairways near the boxes, what DeKock calls a natural, understated look to the tee boxes, the Desert Sun reported. Several holes, like the par-4 13th also saw changes because of the elimination of trees, many of which had stood for decades and become overgrown. The right side of the 13th fairway saw several trees eliminated, opening up a landing area for more players, while a large eucalyptus tree near the green was eliminated to open up views of the mountains to the south of the course.
In the end, DeKock believes Davis has helped preserve the tradition of the desert’s oldest 18-hole golf course while giving the could a solid facelift after 71 years of play, the Desert Sun reported.
“I think the members should be very proud of their golf course, which they are,” DeKock said. “It should stand for decades to come.”