A 27-hole renovation of White Eagle Golf Club, Naperville, Illinois, has been completed by Todd Qutino, ASGCA, of Lohmann Quitno Golf Course Architects. New tees, greens expansion and bunker updates were part of the project.

Golf Course Architecture reports:

“I am very pleased with how the entire project has turned out, as one would expect to be, but this project was different for me from the start,” said Todd Quitno. “The club really dictated the style that we implemented, and it was a bit of a departure from the style of work I’ve done in the past. I believe they were inspired a few years back while watching Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth go at it in the FedEx playoffs at the Glen Oaks Club in New York. They were enamoured with the clean-edged, high-flash look of the bunkering and the way the bunkers were cut in immediately off the edge of the green collars and fairway edges. So, they brought that idea to the table and we went with it.

“My initial scepticism was with the maintenance, trying to keep the bentgrass edges clean and maintainable with the equipment available to the course superintendent, Jim Canning. What I think ultimately made it work is that we made a huge reduction in the bunker square footage, from around 160,000 to less than 80,000 over 27 holes, plus equipped them with Billy Bunker and premium sand. So, right there we allocated a lot of maintenance labour that was previously used on bunkers to attend to the extended bentgrass areas that were developed around greens and along bunker edges. We also ended up with a zero-sum in total bentgrass square footage by borrowing sod from the fronts and edges of existing fairways. I think overall, we moved about five acres of bentgrass sod around on site.

“To spice things up a bit we added rolling contours within the bunker bottoms and faces to give them a little character and to provide some distinct shadowing when sun angles are right,” continued Quitno. “I love the final look of what we did, it is unique to the Chicagoland area, which I think gives the club a competitive advantage when it comes to member recruitment, which is already seeing some fruits of this. I also think the maintenance efficiencies will continue to evolve as the crew gets used to the new features, there has definitely been a learning curve for them. But overall the membership has been ecstatic about the results.”

The main challenge for the project was the bad weather that occurred during the first two months of construction, which caused delays to work on the first nine.

“The other challenge was the transition from one nine to the next,” said Quitno. “With construction you basically work in a train, with the lead engine being the shaper and the rest of the finishing team following behind. To keep fuelling that train, you have to stay out ahead of it. So, when we got to completing the final holes of the initial nine, we had to jump into the next nine while it was still being played — 18 holes were open at all times. This transition period was tough as we wanted to give the nine we were working on enough time to heal in before opening it, but didn’t want to overburden or interfere with the members.”

The project team included Kevin Stieneke and a crew from Leibold Irrigation, director of golf Curtis Malm, club vice president and project manager Andy Hill, superintendent Jim Canning, and shaper Eric Graudszus.

“One surprise that occurred — the possibility of this was brought up during construction — was that golfers had actually been putting out of some of the bunkers,” said Quitno. “With the firm sand conditions, the sand pushed up along the grass edge and the bunkers cut so close to the greens, it was possible to putt on them. I personally think it is creative shotmaking, but the club management doesn’t necessarily agree. So, we are talking about exposing a bit of an edge next year, maybe one inch or so, to deter that. We’ll see, always a work in progress!”

Quitno eliminated bunkers on the final nine to help the club find some savings in order to fund cart path improvements. “There was a little concern with that initially as this particular layout — the Blue nine — had always been less popular with the general membership, and we wanted to elevate its status and appeal, so eliminating work seemed counter to this goal,” said Quitno.

“In my opinion, being more conservative on the Blue nine actually made it more appealing by virtue of simplifying things. I wasn’t expecting this outcome, but the final nine holes are probably my favourites because we had to dial them back a bit. An interesting lesson. And we came in considerably under budget, so the club got its cart paths. A win-win situation!”