ROCK HILL, S.C. -- Golf course architect Kris Spence has completed a major renovation to the layout at Rock Hill Country Club.
Spence was tasked with restoring the features and flair of a front nine designed by legendary A.W. Tillinghast in 1934, while re-working a back nine, added in 1974, to create a true Tillinghast experience throughout the design.
Spence located a high-quality aerial photo from 1941 to guide his work on the Tillinghast nine. For the back nine, he relied upon his design acumen shaped by years of restoring classic golf courses crafted by legends like Tillinghast, Donald Ross and Ellis Maples.
"When I first toured the property, it was obvious there were really strong bones to the Tillinghast side, so we restored that nine," Spence said. "On the back nine, we remodeled the bunkers and adjusted the green contours in the spirit of Tillinghast's work on the front nine. This greatly improved the continuity and cohesiveness of the entire golf course."
The end result is a dramatic improvement to the only Tillinghast-designed golf course in the state of South Carolina. The seven-month project wrapped up in August, with the course reopening in early September.
"The comments we're getting are very positive. Members find the greens much more interesting," said Spence. "We reclaimed about 30 percent of putting surface area. Many of the great pin locations Mr. Tillinghast built into the greens had been lost. I'm extremely excited about how it's turned out."
In addition to extensive work on the green complexes, a total of 74 bunkers were created throughout the course. Some were reinstated on the front nine based on the aerial photo, while others were added to the back nine for strategic purposes.
A particular point of emphasis was reclaiming Tillinghast's "great hazard" on the seventh hole, a straightaway par-5. The original design featured an area of mounds, bunkers and native grasses which terminated the fairway just past the halfway mark. This was likely influenced by the famed "Hell's Half Acre" at Pine Valley in New Jersey.
Spence brought that feature back to life with nine bunkers set amidst distinct mounding.
"It's a half-acre expanse of hazard that requires the modern player to challenge its leading edge to have a go at the green in two," Spence explained.
The demands of this project also highlighted the ability of Spence Golf Inc. to handle all phases of the design-build process in an economically efficient manner.
Spence's master plan for Rock Hill Country Club was created in 2007. However, the economic downturn delayed the project until February of this year, when the decision was made to push forward with a modified version of the plan.
At that point, Spence took bent grass out of the equation for the greens and opted for an ultra-dwarf Bermuda grass. That allowed the company's construction arm to rebuild the greens more efficiently by reclaiming and utilizing existing soil, an option not available with bent grass.
"We devised a solution to soften the slopes and re-grass the greens without rebuilding them," Spence said. "We peeled off 8-10 inches of soil, reshaped underneath and added drainage in key spots, then pushed that material back over the green and amended it with sand."
That strategy resulted in a $300,000 reduction to the project's cost, without impacting the quality of the finished product.
"What I like most about this project is that Mr. Tillinghast gave us a lot to go back to and work with, while also providing us a lot of information we could use on the other nine to put cohesiveness into it," said Spence. "Now you don't feel like you're playing nine holes designed by one man and nine holes designed by Tillinghast. It has the same architectural style throughout."
For more info on Spence's work, visit: www.KrisSpence.com.