Riverside Turf Grasses Renovation at Naval Academy Golf Club in Annapolis, MD

There were a lot of factors to consider when undertaking a major upgrade of the Naval Academy Golf Club.

Up-and-coming designer Andrew Green, working closely with course superintendent Eric David and head professional Pat Owen, was charged with achieving the following goals:

  • Perform a complete face-lift of an 18-hole course that had not undergone any significant improvements since 1954.
  • Lengthen the course to make it more challenging for collegiate golfers, whose length off the tee had rendered numerous holes too easy.
  • Maintain the overall yardage from other tee boxes so it remained fair for club members, particularly ladies and seniors.
  • Transform a course established in 1944 into one that fit the modern era of golf, which has changed due to various developments in equipment manufacturing.
  • Stay true to the original design concept created by renowned golf course architect William Flynn, whose drawings guided the project.

Consider it mission accomplished on all fronts. Green checked all the necessary boxes while implementing numerous improvements that should please and impress the approximately 500 members of the Naval Academy Golf Club.

“I would say it has been an extraordinarily successful project. I think we pretty much nailed everything,” said David, who was hired as course superintendent in 2017. “There’s no doubt this is now an elite golf course in the Mid-Atlantic region.”

Green started the master plan for the redesign almost 15 years ago while working for the Jessup-based general contracting firm McDonald & Sons. The 43-year-old Harford County resident, who went out on his own in 2014, was determined to preserve the vision of one of the greatest architects of all time.

Flynn, perhaps the most famous product of the fabled Philadelphia School of Architecture, was hired in 1942 to undertake a redesign of the Naval Academy Golf Club. When the reconfigured course reopened in May 1944, it included many unique features and innovations conceived by Flynn.

It proved the last project for Flynn, who died of kidney disease the following year at the age of 53. Flynn was instrumental in the design of such famous courses as Merion (Ardmore, PA), Shinnecock Hills (Southampton, NY) and Cherry Hills (Colorado).

“I feel William Flynn was way before his time and did some incredible work, so he provided my real sense of inspiration,” said Green, who relied on old photos to return the Naval Academy Golf Club to its original setup.

“Obviously, this was a passion project for me. Overhauling the internal infrastructure of an entire course is quite an undertaking,” Green said. “I’m extremely pleased with the final product. I’m thrilled for the academy, the club members and the Navy golf team. I hope it serves everyone well for decades to come.”

After being closed for a year to accommodate construction, the Naval Academy Golf Club reopened Aug. 6 amid much excitement among the membership. Owen, who has been the head professional since 1991, said the course has been booked solid ever since.

“I would say the response from the membership has been overwhelmingly positive. They love the entire presentation and all the enhancements,” Owen said. “I’ve not heard one negative comment. It’s been a total thumbs up.”

Semantics mean something

David has termed the approximately $7 million Naval Academy Golf Club project a “restoration” instead of a renovation. His characterization dovetails with Green’s goal of mimicking Flynn’s original design.

“It is very important to understand we did not change any of the basic characteristics of the golf course. If anything, we restored them to Flynn’s initial intent,” David said.

All involved agreed to not cut corners for cost purposes. Naval Academy athletic director Chet Gladchuk told David and Green to do the project properly the first time, so no piecemeal fixes were required after reopening.

Phase 1 involved installing a new irrigation system, which provided a foundation for all the other improvements. Phase 2 began last August and included rebuilding all 18 greens, fixing or adding bunkers, enlarging and realigning tee boxes.

David personally oversaw changes to the surfaces, a process that began with removing unwanted strains of grass. Originally, the course featured Poa annua bent grass greens and Baymont Bermuda grass fairways. Much of the rough was ryegrass, fescue and bluegrass, while the bunker banks were Zoysia grass.

Over time, many of these various grasses invaded the fairways and greens where they were unwanted.

David chose a bentgrass known as 007 for the greens because of its ability to withstand drought and traffic. 

A Bermuda grass known as Tahoma 31 was planted in the fairways and the difference was immediately noticeable to members. David said Tahoma 31 has a high tolerance to cold and drought along with a high density that holds up to high traffic.

David, who earned a two-year turf degree from Michigan State, explained that eliminating large, overhanging trees was crucial to growing healthy grass throughout the course. Therefore, large trees that were casting massive shadows were removed. David said they went hole-by-hole and took out trees that had grown too big.

McDonald & Sons, which was hired to handle all construction, scanned every green to ensure each could be rebuilt roughly the same way after being dug up. It was important to recapture greens that had lost mass due to the encroachment of Bermuda grass from the fairways.

David and Green settled on sand-based greens that drain well to replace the push-up greens that stayed wet long after heavy rains.

“Thunderstorms are commonplace in the Mid-Atlantic and these new greens will be playable very quickly even after absorbing a couple inches of water,” David said.

Many green-side bunkers no longer fit that description because the putting surface had shrunk over time. Green’s redesign incorporated many fairway bunkers that were found in Flynn’s drawings but never built.

In total, 21 bunkers were added to the course. On several holes, fairway bunkers now exist in locations that many golfers reach off the tee. David said every bunker was removed and relined using a capillary concrete mold that drains well.

Lastly, all 18 fairways were widened by a considerable amount. David estimates three acres of fairway have been added to the course.

Grasses Renovation
Director of Golf Pat Owen stand on the fringe of the 14th green as he points out new features at the Naval Academy Golf Course on Wednesday, August 5. (Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Back nine alteration

The only significant changes to the Naval Academy Golf Club layout come on the back nine.

No. 12 was switched from a short par 4 to a long par 3 that plays about 220 yards from the white tees. No. 13 was lengthened into a par 5 that measures 560 yards from the championship tees. No. 14, which was too short to be a proper par 5 by United States Golf Association standards, is now a par 4.

“We reworked 12 through 14 to provide more variety and a more logical sequence of holes, thereby creating a better golf experience,” said Green, who is also overseeing the renovations of Eisenhower Golf Course and Congressional Country Club. “By adding a par 3 and developing a longer par 5, we broke up a series of similar par 4s.”

Collegiate golfers will find the revamped course much longer as it now plays as a par 70 with a total length of 7,025 yards from the championship tees. Previously, the Naval Academy Golf Club was a 6,600-yard par 71 from the tips.

Owen, entering his 31st season as coach of the Navy men’s golf team, said the restoration comes just in time as the course is hosting the Patriot League Championship in May 2021. Billy Hurley, Navy’s most famous former golfer and a PGA Tour veteran, consulted with Green with regard to the collegiate setup.

“It’s a much more difficult course for the college golfers. With the added length and new layout, they will need to be able to hit every club in their bag well,” Owen said.

Green was mindful of maintaining a fair tract for the membership. Many innovations were incorporated, such as keeping No. 14 as a par 5 for the gold and forward tees that are primarily used by seniors and ladies. As part of the redesign, tee boxes were placed in the fairways of certain holes.

Green said the course length from the white tees changed by just six yards. It has been shortened by 500 yards from the forward tees. There are now eight different tee boxes (three specifically for men’s and women’s collegiate golfers), providing management with plenty of options.

“We have unlimited flexibility with what we can do to the golf course in terms of setup. Regardless of age, gender or skill level, there is a comfortable distance for everyone,” David said.

Owen has played the new course numerous times already and loves how the greens don’t absorb ball indentations, how soft the fairways are and how the bunkers now perfectly frame the putting surfaces.

“It’s difficult to draw a bad lie with the new grass fairways and the ball generally feeds to the bottom of the bunkers,” he said. “I still think the course is a tremendous challenge, just in a different way.”

Gladchuk, who is president of the Naval Academy Golf Association, came up with the idea of selling sponsor plaques for $100,000. He had no problem finding donors interested in having their family names commemorated on tee boxes, raising $1.8 million for the renovation.

Admiral Hank Mauz (Class of 1959) and Rear Admiral Bill Cobb (Class of 1968) founded the Friends of Navy Golf that spearheaded additional fundraising efforts. Among those donating to the cause were former Navy golfers, academy alumni, retired officers and current members.

“This was a vision that over time became a reality and reflects the tireless efforts of so many who have been incredibly patient and supportive,” Gladchuk said. “Today, we have a tract that highlights many of golf’s great challenges while reinforcing the first-class competitive facilities that are synonymous with the Naval Academy.”

SOURCE: https://www.capitalgazette.com/sports/navy/ac-cs-naval-academy-golf-course-restoration-20200812-vt3i4vj7nvcxteepvg64k6dsie-story.html