Chris Wilczynski, ASGCA and C.W. Golf Architecture secured spots for two of his designs on Golf Digest’s “Best New Courses for 2014” list. The two – Esplanade Golf & Country Club, Naples, Florida and Esplanade Golf & Country Club at Lakewood Ranch near Sarasota, Florida – are the only new residential development courses on the list.
“These were the first true residential development courses I’d seen built from scratch since the housing bust of 2008, which in itself is both newsworthy and encouraging,” said Golf Digest Architecture Editor Ron Whitten, who compiled the Best New Courses list.
“Chris is trying to distinguish himself and I think is doing so in subtle ways,” says Whitten. “While he still adopts the sensible bunkering style of Arthur Hills, ASGCA, with flat sand bottoms and grassed faces – which aren’t always visible but are far easier to drain and maintain – he’s added a wrinkle to the bunker faces on his Esplanade courses by adding ‘nicks and shadows’ that he rakes out of the soil by hand before seeding. He also experiments with diagonal bunkers far more that we’ve ever seen on Arthur Hills’ designs.”
Wilczynski worked for Arthur Hills & Associates (now Hills & Forrest) for nearly 20 years. He was a partner in the renowned firm before leaving in 2010 and starting his own design service, C.W. Golf Architecture. His company’s other recent projects include renovations of Stoneybrook Golf & Country Club in Sarasota, Florida, and prestigious Wanakah Country Club in suburban Buffalo, New York.
“I feel like I won a lottery for golf course architects,” says Wilczynski. “My company is only five years old, yet I’ve been fortunate enough to have two new course projects in a hot area for golf. For them to be recognized by Golf Digest is truly gratifying.”
Of Esplanade at Lakewood Ranch, Whitten wrote: “Fashioned from old farm land dotted with ancient oaks, Esplanade’s holes are wide, its bunkers shallow and its greens gentle, all to provide comfort to golfers.”
That reflects Wilczynski’s design philosophy, which emphasizes playability and aesthetics. He believes the one positive aspect of the shrinking golf economy is that the downturn ended a 20-year era of architectural one-upsmanship, when designers built ever more difficult and lengthy courses. “Sad to say, but I think we forgot about the player during that time,” says Wilczynski.
Whitten notes Esplanade Naples was, “a tougher site to build on than its sister course to the north, cut from pines and rocky soil in an old hunting preserve.”
Blasting through a subsurface of coral rock at the Naples site was a time-consuming task. “We had to excavate the rock formations and create storm water lakes, which enhance community water quality and provide flood protection areas,” says Wilczynski. “Many of the holes are adjacent to the lakes, but the water is strategically located so as not to burden the average player.”
While some might question the wisdom of building courses at a time when the golf economy is struggling, and more courses have closed than opened in recent years, Whitten says the two Esplanade projects have the ingredients for success.
“Their locations are relatively accessible in major golf areas, and they will eventually be stocked with homeowner/members,” says Whitten. “In this new economy, location has to be a prime consideration for most successful golf operations. The new economy needs more Esplanade-type courses.”
In writing about the Best New Courses of 2014, Whitten notes a “shift in attitude” toward creating courses that are golfer-friendly instead of penal, which he says offers, “hope for the future of the game that is refreshing and encouraging.”