Renovations take Savannah Golf Club back to original design

A lovely old lady got a facelift this summer in Savannah.

The Savannah Golf Club, founded in 1794 and believed to be the oldest golf club on record in the country, renovated its greens and reconstructed portions of its golf course with the dual intention of restoring the original design by famed architect Donald Ross and introducing a new hybrid grass that will stand up better to year-round play from the club’s members.

The Savannah Golf Club is a private club with about 750 resident and non-resident members. But the club is much more than just a gated golf course to Savannah. Not only does the club carry the city’s name, the Savannah Golf Club has hosted the Georgia Amateur Championship eight times and has been the venue for several other Georgia State Golf Association state championships, including this year’s Georgia Mid-Amateur Championship.

In recent years, however, the greens that had been revered as some of the best in the state had begun to lose their shape and require excessive maintenance during the summer months. After the Georgia Mid-Amateur Championship in May, the course was essentially closed as the new greens with Champions Dwarf Bermuda grass were installed and changes were made to enhance the layout.

In addition to replacing all 18 greens, new grass was planted around the greens for better chipping surfaces, and several tee boxes were rebuilt and tee boxes were added that will strengthen the course and provide additional flexibility for tournament play. Most notably, a new tee box was added on the fifth hole that straightens and lengthens the hole, and a tee box was added on the eighth hole to allow the hole to be played as a par-4 or par-5.

“The (Champions Dwarf Bermuda) grass we put down will provide more consistent playing conditions, because it’s a year-round grass,” said Savannah Golf Club president Kevin Halligan. “It eliminates transitions between grasses from winter to summer and means our greens will be consistent throughout the year. At the same time, our master plan called for us to recreate the characteristics of the original Donald Ross design, and we were able to restore the feel of a Donald Ross design throughout the golf course.”

Halligan said 12 bunkers were redone and green shapes were accentuated to emphasize the “table top” greens that Donald Ross intended. The vast majority of the work was done in-house by head superintendent Michael Carn and his staff with the guidance of a golf architect from Charlotte, N.C.

Carn has been with the Savannah Golf Club for seven years and was previously the superintendent at Belfair in Bluffton, S.C., and Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island, S.C. He was also heavily involved with the development of Hilton Head National Golf Club in Bluffton.

“Our membership passed a long-range plan to improve the golf course, and we accomplished a lot of those goals during this process,” said Carn, who said the work took about 13 weeks to complete. “I think what we’ve done has improved the continuity of the golf course, and I think it’s more challenging because greens are firmer and will be much faster.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a Savannah Golf Club member and could not be much more impressed with what Carn and an oversight committee that included Jay Rowe and Lynn Moody were able to do. Not only will the course be in more playable condition throughout the year for its members, it will also provide a much better experience for the hundreds of players who play the course in charity and junior events hosted by the Savannah Golf Club.

“I think we have taken the course back to what it was years ago,” said Toby Browne, who has been the head professional at the Savannah Golf Club for 34 years. “It’s going to play much better for our better players in the summer.”

Original news story

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