Todd Eckenrode, ASGCA, and Origins Golf Design, has completed work on the Orinda Country Club, in the San Francisco Bay area. With sensitivity to the 1920s design on William Watson, Eckenrode was charged with improving the course design and layout.
Eckenrode described the venue as quite hilly in parts yet with a masterful routing—utilizing the slopes, hills, valleys and creeks in varied ways throughout. Lauterwasser Creek and San Pablo Creek both come into play on 11 of the 18 holes, yet integrated differently.
“Watson utilized the hills in a multitude of ways, as turtlebacks, banking side slopes, reversing slopes, and in a fine mix of both uphill and downhill play,” shared Eckenrode. “The aesthetics and strategy of play in this regard is ever-changing and offers wonderful variety. The canvas that we had to work with was inspiring with plenty of memorable holes from the wild reverse-boomerang green of the 5th to the drop-shot 8th, the drivable and funneling effect of No.10, the creekside 15th and the wild roller-coaster uphill No.18 set beneath the grand clubhouse above, these are holes unlike any I have ever come across prior.”
“Todd was the key ingredient we needed to align our needs and wants on this major project, and all with a clear vision and a defined scope of work, budget and plan,” said Orinda Country Club President Joe Fabian. “His research and keen eye helped define the possibilities we had in recapturing our 1924 vintage design, and frankly, the education we needed to go to the next step. Origin’s Master Plan provided us with the road map we needed.”
Eckenrode and his design team poured through the Club’s archives and came across images and data from the original construction, through the 1920’s, ’30’s and ’40’s. They were able to source a multitude of aerials from the early years as well. They also had the support of noted golf historian Tom Naccarato who located a substantial number of other early collections that proved quite valuable.
“One of the striking results of our research was the contrast in bunker styles spanning earlier years. The original design had rather benign, grass-faced bunkers. More distinctive bunkers with flashed sand faces, edgy grass lines, and varied fingers and rolls replaced these soon after. This ultimately was the style we embraced as a nod to the past.”
On this project, Origins Golf Design was fortunate to have two exceptional shapers, Brett Hochstein and George Waters, both Bay Area natives. In addition to their work on bunkers, green surrounds and approaches, green restorations and select new greens, they were assigned the task on holes No. 8, No.11 and No. 15 to restore them as close as a possible to the original historical images. According to Eckenrode, the result of their work was outstanding. Two talented golf course superintendent’s also played a huge role as well. Bob Lapic saw through the beginning of the renovation/restoration project before retirement, and Josh Smith came on board to oversee construction and take the helm from there.
“With Todd leading the way, our project stayed focused on all the right things, more shortgrass, more water savings with natives, impactful and thoughtful bunkers, fun recaptured hole locations, and quiet moments throughout the course,” said Golf Course Superintendent Josh Smith. “He continued to show just the right amount of restraint that a golden age-design, like Orinda deserved. We went from a cluttered, tired and forced looking design, to a much more natural and visually pleasing golfing experience. We look forward to future improvements under his guidance.”
Besides six completely new greens, ten green enlargements or restorations, and a complete bunker renovation, other course improvements included completely renovated tees to a more natural shape, total re-construction of green surrounds and approaches (including full sand amendments), implementation of vast areas of fairway and short-cut surrounds, select drainage, tree removals and a new irrigation system.
“Whether it meant restoration, renovation or a combination of both, our design team was committed to improving each hole to its best possible measure,” said Eckenrode. “The membership is delighted with the result and from our standpoint, we feel we were able to turn the clock back a bit, and allow all who play to experience the glories of a classic, 1920’s designed gem.”