Work has begun on the comprehensive renovation of Kenosha Country Club by Drew Rogers, ASGCA, and JDR Design Group. Kenosha CC is one of only two courses in Wisconsin designed by ASGCA Founding Member Donald Ross.
Rogers’ work at Kenosha CC has run more or less concurrently with his firm’s projects at Sylvania Country Club near Toledo, Ohio, and Pine Lake Country Club outside Detroit, both of which sport original Willie Park Jr. designs in similar need of recovery and restoration. These projects come on the heels of Rogers’ restoration at Harry Colt-designed Old Elm in suburban Chicago.
“We’re nearly 100 years into the evolution of these golf courses and any layout will undergo some degree of change over such a long period of use,” Rogers said. “But there’s a spectrum of change that can take place on courses like these, from the ‘Golden Age.’ At one end, there are courses where the greens, tees, and bunkering have been actively modified, moved or replaced with ever-more-modern feature components — such was the case at Pine Lake. At the other end, you have clubs like Kenosha and Sylvania, where most of the original features are still there, still recognizable but have slipped into disuse.
“Ross, Park, and Colt all went about their business quite differently, but the goals for Kenosha, Sylvania and Pine Lake are similar and straightforward enough: We intend to recover the original design intentions and bring them back into play ways that best suit today’s game.”
Kenosha Country Club was founded in 1898, strictly as a golfing club near the shores of Lake Michigan, some 50 miles north of Chicago. The club moved to its current location in 1920, when Ross was commissioned to design 18 holes beside the Pike River, a mile inland from the lake. Rogers and Kenosha course superintendent Paul Bastron secured the original Ross routing plans from the Tufts Archive in Pinehurst, N.C. — these plans, along with other archives at the club, revealed that Ross definitely spent time on-site in Kenosha alongside his trusted construction foreman Walter Hatch, who built the course.
But much has changed in the intervening decades. Rogers got a sense of the restorative challenge at Kenosha when he first walked off the 3rd green two years ago.
“I’m looking out toward the 4th fairway below and I can see a grouping of landforms way out in the right rough amongst the trees,” he recalled. “It was obvious to me they had once been purposeful features that defined that tee shot. It was also obvious the 4th tees had been moved — those forms had been disregarded because they were no longer in play visually or otherwise from these new tees. And here’s the important part: It was clear those features would have remained very much in play — very much part of the hole’s strategy — if the original tees had remained right there beside the 3rd green.
“Well, as suspected, when we got hold of the original Ross plans, we confirmed the original tees were right there next to no. 3 green. The strategy for that hole had been completely lost — along with the defining strategic features — when the tees were moved. What’s more, trees had been planted on both sides of the rough, further negating the strategic intent of the hole. In a nutshell, that’s the story of nearly every hole at Kenosha. It’s also a blueprint for our reclamation efforts: We just have to peel things back, strategically and fit things back together in the spirit of what Ross originally intended.”
Ross’ work at Kenosha is not unlike many other well-conceived courses to his credit, especially those possessing flat or very gentle terrain. In such cases, Ross defined his strategies by employing man-made earth forms, like those still distinguishable at Kenosha (and quite a few others in the Chicago area). At Kenosha, a good many of these hummocks, cops, banks and faces still exist as originally built — but today they’re completely lost or obscured by dozens and dozens of new-growth trees.
“When we open up these corridors again, through tree removal and fairway realignment, the features will again be exposed to delineate Ross’ very clear design intentions,” Rogers said. “You’d never know it, but these holes will be far better defined without the trees.”
Rogers said his work at Kenosha will follow a popularized 21st-century renovation model, whereby projects are handled in phases, year by year — as opposed to a large, single-phase project that obliges the club to close down its golf course. Already underway is a significant tree-removal plan, redesign of the irrigation system layout, and permitting for several bridge relocations. Projects on the long-term docket for Rogers and Bastron, but beginning in earnest this spring, include:
* Multiple fairway and approach realignments and expansions
* Surface reclamations and green collar expansions affecting all 18 putting surfaces
* Reinstatement of the bunkers, various tees and other elements
The putting surfaces are another example of how strategic interest can be lost, over the course of decades, through benign neglect. The contours on these putting surfaces, according to Rogers, “are incredibly dynamic — as playful and bold as anything I’ve seen from Ross. It’s all there today, intact.”
Unfortunately, like so many 100-year-old greens, Kenosha’s have shrunk over time — to the point where their dynamic contour has rendered significant portions of these smaller putting surfaces “uncuppable”.
“There’s an important relationship between contour and green size,” Rogers said. “Today, at Kenosha, these dynamic feature slopes within the putting surfaces sort of negate the ability to cup certain parts of the green. When we push outward and recover lost square footage at the green’s perimeter, all of a sudden those cupping areas formed by the feature slopes can again be utilized.”
Rogers has more at his disposal than the original Ross plans for Kenosha: He and Bastron have secured aerial photography of the course dating from 1937. This has greatly aided in the pending recovery of lost bunkers and green perimeters. This vintage imagery also delineates — for Rogers, superintendent Bastron, and the entire Kenosha membership — how rampant tree growth has warped Ross’ intended strategies.
“Paul Bastron is so experienced and already had a really clear vision for what trees should stay, and which should go — but these aerials confirm everything,” said Rogers. “He has already developed a list based on our many site visits and the aerial imagery. He’s not waiting around. He’s has started chipping away at them in a very prioritized manner, beginning last fall. He’s also developing a turf nursery that will give us the ability to generate matched turf for modifications around the greens — and areas where trees have been removed.”