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Transforms Into Faster, Firmer,

More Strategic Golf Course by Jay Flemma

Has any golf course architect’s design philosophy undergone a more complete and complex trans- formation than that of Robert Trent Jones, Jr.? His evolution is one of the most fascinating career arcs in the history of the craft. From parkland style to links, from aerial golf to the ground game, and from penal designs to strategic, students of the craft can affirmatively trace the progression of Bobby (as his friends call him) as his courses become wider, faster, firmer, more ground game- friendly, and more strategically interesting as the years pass.

Jones’s links epiphany began with his work at Spanish Bay (which had links elements, but also several penal hazards) and reached a rousing

graying matron drank deeply from the Foun- tain of Youth and is now a trim, toned super- model, much to the delight of the members, the Pebble Beach Resort guests, and the Northern California Golf Association, who has called Poppy Hills home since it opened in 1986.

The old Poppy used to suffer from an iden- tity crisis: inland from the coast, set in the thick of the Del Monte Forest, its natural setting couldn’t compare to the excitement that Cypress Point or Pebble Beach inspire. Moreover, it also underwhelmed from both design and agronomic standpoints.

“Poppy was very much a product of the times in which it was built,” said Charlton. “Over-shaped, with too much earth moved and too much contour that looked unnatural. Plus, it tended to get wet in places. So when we had a chance to come back in to try to improve water conservation and drainage, we also decided to make the contours more natural and reshape the course so that everything could be mowed and played as fairway.”

Drier, faster, firmer, wider, more interesting, and most importantly, more fun, the result is a completely different Poppy Hills, one that not only culls its identity from architec- tural concepts found at three of the world’s greatest courses, but also showcases

peak with the wildly successful Chambers Bay, the first modern course to be selected to stage the Na- tional Open since 1970 (when his father’s course, Hazeltine National, was the host venue). Since then, Jones has been riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave of acclaim and applause. Many golf architecture experts believe that, at age 76, Jones has never been better - high praise for a man who was considered golf architecture royalty when he was less than half that age.

Happily, Jones has been able to not only revisit his past, but rewrite it as well. His 2014 redesign of Monterey Peninsula’s Poppy Hills Golf Course in Monterey Peninsula not only turned a penal-style course into a strategic marvel, but solved drain- age and conditioning problems that had plagued the course from its inception. Through Jones and design partner Bruce Charlton’s work, a once-

state-of-the-art agronomic problem solving.

“In the first iteration of the course there were four different soil types - a topsoil luff, a decomposed granite, clay, and a little sand, and it was this variety of soils that made Poppy drain poorly,” Jones explained. “So we removed 25% of the clay – areas that originally had to be irrigated - and put sandy wastelands in their place. Then we sand-capped the entire playing surface: tees, fair- ways and greens. Now Poppy has a firm and fast playing surface in all seasons,” Jones concluded.

The lynchpin was an ultra-modern water-sensitive irrigation and moni-


Golf Course Trades

toring system. With so many different soil types, many areas of the golf course needed different amounts of water at varying times of the season. Poppy desperately needed a method where they could individually tailor the amount of water to par- ticular areas of the course at different times.

“Toro provided us with a system that allows us to constantly fine tune the water usage all across the golf course,” Jones observed. “We were able to map the subterranean geological areas, and determine the specific water needs of each region. Now we can care for the exact needs of the veg- etation in any particular place at any given time.”

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