WILMINGTON, N.C. -- While the eyes of the golf world are on North Carolina - where Pinehurst is set to host back-to-back U.S. Open Championships - another USGA champion also will be back in the Tar Heel State, happily toiling away in the historic port city of Wilmington.
John Fought, who was responsible for the widely acclaimed restoration of Pine Needles in Southern Pines, has returned to the state to tackle another Donald Ross original design: Wilmington Municipal Golf Course.
Now a respected course designer, the 1977 U.S. Amateur Champion is responsible for the first total restoration of the Ross course since it first opened in 1926 with five holes. The $1.2 million Wilmington project, which began May 1, includes the restoration of every green - for the first time since their development in the 1920s - as well as all approaches, fairway bunkers, new tee boxes and practice putting green. Irrigation and drainage improvements also are planned.
"We interviewed some really good architects, but with John we just felt he had a sixth sense about what we wanted to accomplish here," said David Donovan, PGA director of golf at the municipal course, home to a robust 60,000 rounds per year. "We knew John would be able to see this course with a 'player's eye' and give it the 'wow' factor we wanted."
Fought says the restoration presents a unique challenge because the greens were not converted from sand to grass until 1953 - five years after Ross' death - when irrigation was finally installed.
"This is a really fascinating project," said Fought, who won the U.S. Amateur title on another Ross course, Aronimink Golf Club near Philadelphia. "With minor adjustments, we're going to build the greens to their original size and stay true to the intentions of Ross and what he envisioned. We'll be fitting all the pieces together in a Ross mode, all while accounting for the modern game."
Fought, who has conducted exhaustive research on Ross over the years at the Tufts Archives in Pinehurst, notes he has access to sketches and notes for nearly all of the Wilmington course's greens to serve as a guide for his plans.
The length of the par-71 layout will climb nearly 250 yards to 6,800 yards.
"This is a really big deal for our community," Donovan said. "It fits right in with all of the other upgrades being made to key amenities in the city."
Wilmington Municipal Golf Course is tentatively scheduled to re-open to the public on Oct. 1.
Fought's previous restoration project in North Carolina has consistently landed Pine Needles in the Top 20 of Golfweek's annual ranking of "America's Best 100 Resort Golf Courses." Shortly after Fought finished the restoration project, Pine Needles hosted the 2007 U.S. Women's Open.
For more information on John Fought Design, visit www.johnfoughtdesign.com or call (480) 991-9858. For more information on Wilmington Municipal Golf Course, visit www.wilmingtonnc.gov/community_services/recreation/golf_course.
Hunter Public Relations