By Bob Lohmann, ASGCA Past President
Meadowbrook Country Club is an 18-hole private club, owned by the members and located in Racine, Wis. Opened in 1927, the layout at Meadowbrook measures 6,360 yards and plays to a par of 71.
Back in 1993, Lohmann Golf Designs (LGD) was asked to prepare a master plan for Meadowbrook, which had experienced difficulty retaining members in recent years. The golf course itself featured a solid routing, but most of the course features showed all of their 66 years.
The terrain at Meadowbrook is similar to that found at many of the private clubs in Greater Chicago: gently rolling with stands of mature trees, which frame many of the holes. All of the greens were push-ups but the 8th, which was renovated during the 1970’s. Other than the broad contours which existed naturally on the property, there was little to no mounding in the fairways or green surrounds.
Before bringing in Lohmann Golf Designs, Meadowbrook had previously committed to the installation of a new irrigation system; a major portion of LGD’s job was to consider future course improvements that would mesh with design of this new irrigation system. Following numerous site visits and meetings with club members/officials, LGD and the club agreed on a master plan which focused on the creation of strategically placed bunkers, the renovation of existing bunkers (which were scruffy and drained poorly), expanded tees, improvements to the 18th hole, a new 8th green and additional fairway mounding.
The club decided to move forward according to the LGD’s master plan by slowly implementing small chunks of the plan over a number of years.
The first phase, undertaken in 1995, involved improvements to the 18th hole alone. LGD oversaw the creation of larger tee surfaces on #18, new fairway bunkers to define the landing areas on this par-5, and new bunkers and mounds to complement the existing green. LGD also graded the immediate approach area to improve visibility and drainage.
Upon completion, LGD’s work at the 18th hole was well received by the Meadowbrook membership. So well-received, in fact, the club decided to scrap its piecemeal approach and proceed with the remaining course improvements all at once.
Based on the club’s enthusiasm for the new 18th, LGD and the members also chose to amend the existing master plan to include similar improvements to every hole on the golf course.
Phase II work at Meadowbrook began Aug. 11, 1997, and finished by the end of October. During that period of time, LGD and its sister construction division, Golf Creations, were able to create one new green (the 8th); 40 new bunkers, a figure which includes the renovation of existing bunkers; new tees on every hole; fairway and greenside mounding on 16 holes; and one new irrigation pond, strategically placed to enhance the par-3 11th hole. All the disturbed areas were seeded rather than sodded, and play resumed the following spring.
The Meadowbrook project illustrates several factors important to the renovation process, but one stands out. It shows that effective master plans are working documents that are flexible enough to accommodate change when it suits the client.
Good master plans are also strategic documents. In Meadowbrook’s case, had LGD pushed for a master plan that included improvements to every single hole, the clearly cautious membership might never have approved it. However, by including renovations to the 18th in the original, more modest master plan – and tackling that portion of the project first – LGD was able to show members what was possible.
As it turned out, the changes to #18 – enthusiastically received by the members – lead directly to substantial additions to the master plan. For example, LGD’s work at the 11th green, where Golf Creations added a new pond to the front right portion of the putting surface. While this measure drastically improved the golf hole aesthetically and strategically, it was added to the revised master plan only after the members experienced LGD’s work on #18.
Ditto for 14th green, where LGD and Golf Creations performed major grading to the approach area, lowering the fairway some 4 feet to improve sightlines and drainage performance.
Those projects included in the original master plan were also completed. LGD rebuilt the entire green complex at the 8th hole, lowering the putting surface to bring an adjacent water hazard more into play. The green was also regraded to better accept approach shots.
As it had done on #18, LGD also used mounding to frame landing areas and green complexes on all but one hole at Meadowbrook. It also enlarged the small, overburdened tee complexes on every hole.
Because the crews worked on a couple of adjacent holes at any one time, and because it was fall (meaning there wasn’t much play), LGD and Golf Creations were able to complete their work without closing the course to member play. Golfers were able to skip these holes and play around the work.
The membership role at Meadowbrook is no longer declining. In fact, there is a waiting list for the first time in years.