I listened to Ryan Walker’s G&E podcast yesterday with famed golf course architect, Riley Johns. Known for working with the likes of Tom Doak, Jim Core and Ben Crenshaw, he also owns his own course architecture firm called Integrative Golf Designs. Some of his solo projects most recently include the Winter Park Golf Course and the renovation at Elmhurst Golf and Country Club. It was during his discussion with Ryan about Winter Park that really struck home with me.
Growing up playing golf at Colonial here in Memphis, I didn’t play a lot of public courses unless I was traveling, visiting my grandparents or playing TJGA tourneys. As a young professional, private club membership isn’t quite an option yet. Therefore, myself and my friends play any public/municipal course around. Between junior tournaments, after work rounds, and Saturday games, I think I have teed it up on every public course in the greater Memphis area. For the most part, none of these courses are unique or that challenging. There are 5, 18 Hole City of Memphis Courses, all of which are pretty generic, poor turf conditions, limited bunkering, etc. There are also 3, 9-hole tracks that could be described very similarly. Of these, I would say the Links of Galloway is the best overall golf course. It was last renovated in 2002 and is located in one of the nicest zip codes in the city. Most days they have a full tee sheet and charge an extremely cheap 9 dollars to walk nine holes. They incentivize walking because they will let you play until there is not day light. For a course that get’s as much play as it does, why would they not follow the Winter Park model and create a truly unique, quality track, for the public to play on?
Riley Johns and Keith Rhebb were enlisted to tackle the $1.2 Million renovation in 2015. The course, founded in 1914, had spotty turf conditions that remind me of most of our city courses, hard ground, poor drainage, a relatively flat landscape, too many tress, and no real logic to the lay out. Another shared trait was the fact it was surrounded by a residential neighborhood. Obviously, this puts constraints during the construction process, even more so than completing the project with a D3 Dozer, Skid Steer and mini excavator. As a contractor the goal of every project is to finish on time and under budget, which is much easier said than done. They succeeded in that department but most importantly delivered an incredible renovation, molding the course into a challenging 2500-yard links style 9-hole track. With undulating greens, large bunkers, tight Bermuda turf that creates hard, fast track, a truly unique course with touches of Doak and Core Crenshaw was formed. Another awesome result of this renovation is the green fees did not increase much. Due to the money saved on the project the were able to keep the fees at a similar cost ($14 to walk in peak season) and add an 18-hole putting course. Riley mentioned on the podcast that they are coming back in 2019 to do some additional tree work that they couldn’t get approved during the first renovation. It is awesome to see a course like this get such a great response from the local golf community as well as national media attention.
My question, is why not Memphis? Memphis has an extremely strong golf community, and limited competition for public courses with-in the city limits. Why not invest money into Galloway, your already most successful course, or Overton Park, a nine-hole track in the revitalized Overton Square area? Overton reminds me a lot of Winter Park in the fact that it is a relatively benign, “links’ course, founded in 1912, and would be a completely blank canvas for any course architect. Fun fact a cousin of my grandmothers, Jake Fondren, became the youngest pro in the city when he took over at Overton park in 1929. Both of these courses have great deal of traffic, and a large pool of golfers that don’t belong to country clubs. Galloway is a stone throw away from the University of Memphis and Overton is around the corner from Rhodes College. Renovating these courses in that manner would be great for introducing people to the game. If someone like Johns were to put his Irish and Scottish influences on them, it would teach people a completely different approach to the game. Having a unique, challenging yet affordable public course nearby would be a huge success. Seeing the images of what was done at Winter Park, knowing the budget, gives me serious hope for these courses. At the end of the day, strengthening the roster of public and municipal courses would have a huge impact on the golf community at large in this city.
For information on Winter Park Golf Course and the Renovation by Riley Johns visit the link below:
Hit’em straight and watch out for Tight Lies,