SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. -- National Golf Club is undergoing a major project to restore its greens to their original Jack Nicklaus design, while softening the more prevalent slopes on the heavily-contoured putting surfaces.
The project reclaims the larger footprints the greens had lost over time from encroaching Bermuda grass. It also opens up areas for pin placements that haven't been available for years.
The course is set to reopen in mid March with completely new greens covered in A1/A4 bent grass, a heat-tolerant strand of bent grass that marks a significant upgrade from the Penncross bent used when the course debuted in 1989.
The club assembled an excellent team to tackle the project. Bob Richard of Newcourse Golf Inc. in nearby Carthage is overseeing the work with course superintendent Dave Bowbliss. Chris Cochran, senior design associate of Nicklaus Golf and the original project manager, has made site visits to monitor the design integrity, while master shaper Jeremy Miller of Nicklaus Design is handling the shaping process.
General manager Ken Crow acknowledges some of the green contours have been an issue when combined with faster speeds of modern-day greens. For example, the course opened with average green speeds of 8.5 on the Stimpmeter. Nowadays, the average is between 10 and 11.
"We're keeping the heart and soul of our green complexes, which is what the course is known for, and using this process to update how they look and play," said Crow. "There is still going to be some grade, but it probably won't be as steep and run away from you as much. The character will remain. It's simply changing the grades of the slope to make it a fairer test of golf."
From an agronomic standpoint, the greens were holding water, thus affecting the quality of the putting surfaces. Bowbliss has worked diligently on the substructure of the greens, coring out aging soil and organic matter and rebuilding the substructure with better drainage.
"We're going to each green and digging out potential future problems," said Bowbliss. "And the A1/A4 bent grass provides better uniformity and a tighter growth habit. This should result in a much better putting surface."
Cochran said both he and Jack Nicklaus are fond of the greens at National. They played it a few years ago when in Pinehurst for a meeting and agreed that only a few tweaks were needed.
"We've made adjustments to make sure the greens will behave properly, and still stay within the strategy and the thoughts Jack had here in 1987 and 1988," said Cochran. "There's going to be so much more variety - you're going to be able to put pins closer to features on the greens, closer to bunkers and closer to elevation changes.
"The membership may say, 'Some of these greens look a lot softer than what they were,' and I'm going to argue they are still going to be every bit as challenging because you have so many more pin areas. It's going to be a lot more fun."
Club owner Kenneth Robinette is amazed at how much bigger the greens will be once restored to their original parameters.
"It really surprised me when I went out and saw where the original greens were and how much the Bermuda grass had encroached, and affected the playability," Robinette said. "This has always been a great course and it was time we redid the greens to get it back to its original state."
The greens restoration began Nov. 21 and was moving along on schedule a month later, thanks to several weeks of mild weather and the diligence of everybody involved.
Director of golf Tom Parsons has monitored the project daily, and is already excited for the members and resort golfers to get back on the layout in March.
"The way Mr. Nicklaus designed the course," said Parsons, "will now be back in play."
For information on National Golf Club, visit www.nationalgolfclub.com, or call (800) 471-4339.